Saturday, 28 February 2015

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Importance Of Meditation

"Many years ago I was once much preoccupied with this sonata. That was during the period of my free studies, before I was called to teaching and later to the post of Music Master. At the time I was ambitious to work out a history of the sonata from a new point of view; but then for a while I stopped making any progress at all. I began more and more to doubt whether all these musical and historical researches had any value whatsoever, whether they were really any more than vacuous play for idle people, a scanty aesthetic substitute for living a real life. In short, I had to pass through one of those crises in which all studies, all intellectual efforts, everything that we mean by the life of the mind, appear dubious and devalued and in which we tend to envy every peasant at the plough and every pair of lovers at evening, or every bird singing in a tree and every cicada chirping in the summer grass, because they seem to us to be living such natural, fulfilled, and happy lives. We know nothing of their troubles, of course, of the elements of harshness, danger and suffering in their lot. In brief, I had pretty well lost my equilibrium. It was far from a pleasant state; in fact it was very hard to bear. I thought up the wildest schemes for escaping and gaining my freedom. For example, I imagined myself going out into the world as a itinerant musician and playing dances for wedding parties. If some recruiting officer form afar had appeared, as in old tales, and coaxed me to don a uniform and follow any company of soldiers into any war, I would have gone along. And so things went form bad to worse, as so often happens to people in such moods. I so thoroughly lost my grip on myself that I could no longer deal with my trouble alone, and had to seek help."

He paused for a moment and chuckled softly under his breath. "Naturally I had a studies adviser, as the rules require, and of course it would have been sensible and right as well as my duty to ask him for advice. But the fact is, Joseph, that precisely when we run into difficulties and stray from our path and are most in need of correction, precisely then we feel the greatest disinclination to return to the normal way and seek out the normal form of correction. My adviser had been dissatisfied with my last quarterly report; he had offered serious objections to it; but I had thought myself on the way to new discoveries and had rather resented his objections. In brief, I did not like the idea of going to him; I did not want to eat humble pie and admit that he had been right. Nor did I want to confide in my friends. Nut there was an eccentric in the vicinity whom I only knew by sight and hearsay, a Sanscrit scholar who went by the nickname of "the Yogi". One day, when my state of mind had grown sufficiently unbearable, I paid a call on this man, whose solitariness and oddity I had both smiled at and secretly admired. I went to his cell intending to talk with him, but found him in meditation; he had adopted the ritual Hindu posture and could not be reached at all. With a faint smile on his face, he hovered, as it were, in total aloofness. I could do nothing but stand at the door and wait until he returned from his absorption. This took a very long time, an hour or two hours, and at last I grew tired and slid to the floor. There I sat, leaning against the wall, continuing to wait. At the end I saw the man slowly awaken; he moved his head slightly, stretched his shoulders, slowly uncrossed his legs, and as he was about to stand up his gaze fell upon me.

"'What do you want?' he asked.

"I stood up and said, without thinking and without really knowing what I was saying: 'It's the sonatas of Andrew Gabrieli.'

"He stood up at this point, seated me in his lone chair, and perched himself on the edge of the table. 'Gabrieli?' he said. "What has he done to you with his sonatas?'

"I began to tell him what had been happening to me, and to confess the predicament I was in. He asked me about my background with an exactness that seemed to be pedantic. He wanted to know about my studies of Gabrieli and the sonata, at what hour I rose in the morning, how long I read, how much I practiced, when were my mealtimes and when I went to bed. I had confided in him, in fact imposed myself on him, so that I had to put up with his questions. but they made me ashamed; they probed more and more mercilessly into details, and forced me to an analysis of my whole intellectual and moral life during the past weeks and months.

"Then the Yogi suddenly fell silent, and when I looked puzzled, he shrugged and said: 'Don't you see yourself where the fault lies?' But I could not see it. At this point he recapitulated with astonishing exactness everything he had learned from me by his questioning. He went back to the first signs of fatigue, repugnance, and intellectual constipation, and showed me that this could have happened only to someone who had submerged himself disproportionately in his studies and that it was high time for me to recover my self-control and to regain my energy with outside help. Since I had taken the liberty of discontinuing my regular meditation exercises, he pointed out, I should at least have realised what was wrong as soon as the first evil consequences appeared, and should have resumed meditation. He was perfectly right. I had omitted meditating for quite a while on the grounds that I had no time, was too distracted to or out of spirits, or too busy and excited with my studies. Moreover, as time went on I had completely lost all awareness of my continuous sin of omission. Even now, when I was desperate and had almost run aground, it had taken an outsider to remind me of it. As a matter of fact, I was to have the greatest difficulty snapping out of this state of neglect.I had to return to the training routines and beginners' exercises in meditation in order gradually to relearn the art of composing myself and sinking into contemplation."

With a small sigh the Magister ceased pacing the room. "That is what happened to me, and to this day I am still a little ashamed to talk about it. But the fact is, Joseph, that the more we demand of ourselves, or the more our task at any given time demands of us, the more dependent we are on meditation as a wellspring of energy, as the ever-renewing concord of mind and soul. And - I could if I wished give you quite a few more examples of this - the more intensively a tax requires our energies, arousing and exalting us at one time, tiring and depressing us at another, the more easily we may come to neglect this wellspring, just as when we are carried away by some intellectual work we easily forget to attend to the body. The really great men in the history of the world have all either known how to meditate or have unconsciously found their way to the place to which meditation leads us. Even the most vigorous and gifted among the others all failed and were defeated in the end because their tasks or their ambitious dream seized hold of them, made them into persons so possessed that they lost the capacity for liberating themselves from present things, and attaining perspective. Well, you know all this; it's taught during the first exercises, of course. But it is inexorably true. How inexorably true it is, one realises, only after having gone astray."

The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Fire Monks

Wood, dirt, stone, bare skin: These are the materials that Tassajara is made of. Natural, sturdy, porous, impermanent. The smell of lemon-ginger scones.

It may sound confining, but the schedule is not intended to restrict. It's meant to release. Without a schedule, you have to wonder what you should be doing from one moment to the next. Should you wake up now or roll over and go back to sleep? Preferences must be weighed decisions constantly confronted. And since reality does not align itself with personal preferences, organising yourself to support them is usually an invitation to suffering.

Zen has a solution to this problem: "The great way is not difficult, just avoid picking and choosing." Just follow the schedule. Take up the tasks of whatever position you've been assigned, without being tugged around by likes and dislikes, and stop when the bell rings. Cook. Clean. Serve meals. Turn compost. Trim candles. Scrub toilets. Sit meditation. One is not higher than the other. A Zen student undertakes work as a practice - this is in the rules, too - "by entering deeply and wholeheartedly into the work given us to do."

But hope can be held too tightly. Zen cultivates a mind that doesn't tether itself to any fixed view or perspective - the belief that the buildings at Tassajara must be saved or, by contrast, that physical structures aren't important or worth saving. Hope is fine, as long as it doesn't lead to inflexibility.

"When you're living in the present moment, you're not so involved in hope or invested in a particular outcome," said the abbot. You do what needs to be done simply because it needs to be done, accepting that your actions may not bear the fruit you intend - and that this does not render the actions themselves fruitless.

A clever Zen teacher might say that standing back and letting the monastery burn belies a kind of attachment to the idea of non-attachment. In trying to save Tassajara from the fire - or your own life from disaster - you can't be sure you will. In fact, you can lose everything you love in a moment. And that's not a reason to give up. If anything, it's a reason to turn toward the fire, recognising it as a force of both creation and destruction, and to take care of what's right in front of you, because that's all you actually have.

From Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire, Colleen Morton Busch

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

In the mail...

I received this in the mail today. I love it, love it, love have I not heard of this book? These things make Jenny happy!

I read the book in one sitting. It's one of those multimedia books where you get to take out the letters from their envelopes, carefully unfold them and read beautifully crafted letters, the kind I wish I could write.

Oh well, I can always keep working at it.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

I do it for one person

You ask how in the midst of all this chaos, I have the wherewithal or the sheer mulishness to go with this blog and to update it every day when you know, I have let so much else of my life and my resolutions slip away, unheeded. Wherefore the novel? I lost interest in the lead character. I killed off the only one I found interesting (he had to die) but with his death, I was no longer interested in writing...the tapestry has fared a little better. I force myself to add to it, at least a few stitches a day. And I watch it grow and become beautiful and exquisite.

What else? Well, the books I want to read, day by day - I'm getting through them. Have already made my way through three books of poetry and one book of Zen lectures. Yes, that is as it should be.

Ille introduced me to Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game. And now I sort of see why she is so intent on getting people to talk across disciplines. To come up with a common language so we will all understand each other. I also see why she keeps coming back to this book over and over again. What it is she seeks to find there. It is deep. So deep. It bears re-reading.

I will be excerpting part of the book here, so stay tuned.

I have decided to buy a bunch of copies of this book...because, well, I think it is one that everybody should read. But I am not sure it is one that everyone will enjoy. The popularity lies with his earlier, easier novels. Siddharta. Narcissus and Goldmund. Suchlike.

This one, which encapsulates his view of life as he neared death, scarred by the events of that horrific century, is harder to take in. Sort of like eating an elephant. You digest it little by little. And it takes a long long time. And you've got to be willing to take a long long time.

Are you?

We live in a skimming culture. In one that multitasks, moving from stimuli to stimuli. Nothing quite holding our attention for long.

You can see something of this craziness here. How many books do you reckon I'm reading all at the same time?

I don't know.

So, scattered as I am, unfocussed as I am, flighty as I am, why do I continue to update this blog.

For one person.

And that person is you.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Week 8: Do Something Kind For Someone You Do Not Like

This week, do a consciously kind thing for someone who, for whatever reason, gets under your skin. If it's hard to do this for a specific person, try to find a situation in which you are feeling sour towards someone and respond by doing something kind for that person. Doing so anonymously is perfectly okay.

Among the many interpretations of this theme include doing something kind for someone you know well, maybe even love (you just don't LIKE them in a specific moment), as well as doing something kind for someone you've just met who just rubs you the wrong way.

Be creative!

After completing your action, please summarize it for yourself in your journal. To get even more from the experience, include in your summary what you found most difficult about this exercise.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Muslims fasting for Lent

A friend posted this on Facebook and I loved it so much I thought I would repost it here. The Bright Side is the right place for such stories and those looking for hope, rather than despair:

Lent begins on February 18 in 2015, marking the 40-day fast many Christians partake in leading up to the Easter holiday. In a display of solidarity and interfaith appreciation, some Muslims are pledging to fast alongside their Christian neighbors this year, and they hope it will become an annual tradition.

Muslim-American Bassel Riche started the campaign using the hashtag #Muslims4Lent and has promoted it through a Facebook event page and on Twitter. Riche is also the creator of EidPrayLove, a website that aims to showcase "the true teachings of Islam: peace, unity, and coexistence."

"Thus far, the reaction from Muslims and Christians alike has been wonderful and overwhelmingly positive," Riche told The Huffington Post in an email. "Many of my Christian friends have responded showing their support and appreciation for these interfaith efforts. I hope this is just the beginning."

Last year, Riche invited Muslims around the country to participate in #BringEidToWork2014 by sharing sweets and greetings with their co-workers as a way of spreading awareness about the faith.

"The hope is that by doing these things we are making ourselves accessible to people to ask questions about Islam to help bridge the gap of understanding and to reclaim our voice that has been hijacked by our extremists," Riche told HuffPost.

#Muslims4Lent has a similar agenda to promote interfaith understanding, this time by engaging Muslims in a holiday period typically only observed by Christians.

The idea is not entirely a novel one. In 2009, prominent Christian pastor Brian McLaren announced that he and other Christians would be observing the Muslim season of Ramadan in order to "come close to our Muslim neighbors and to share this important part of life with them." The idea caught on with some Christians, though others objected on theological grounds.

"[Observing Ramadan is] an explicit affirmation that this is a good and holy thing," Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told The Associated Press that year. "From a New Testament perspective, it is not a good and holy thing."

But Muslims who observe Lent and Christians who observe Ramadan might disagree with Mohler's analysis.

"Fasting, either the Christian or the Muslim way, makes one feel the suffering of those who do not have food," Mike Kanawati, a Christian resident of Bethlehem, told Al-Arabiya News.

For Riche, the #Muslims4Lent campaign offers an opportunity for dialogue and greater understanding between faiths.

"It seems that nowadays hate can spread a lot faster than love," Riche said. "We put so much focus on the people that attack Islam and Muslims, but I'm willing to bet for every one of those people there are 100 that have extended their hands in kindness and respect."

With Lent just a few days away, here's what some participants are giving up:

Saturday, 21 February 2015

A Vision Of The Future For Man

This is a chapter from Healer's Journey Into Light. I read the book in the 1990s and bought a whole bunch of them and gave them out to my friends. My own copy got lost when a friend borrowed it to send on to a fiancé who had dumped her. It didn't work. He didn't come back. But he didn't send the book back either. And for years, I have looked for it, and tried to find it on Google and then finally, there it was on Google Books for only about RM40. And last night as I was in a taxi that I had successfully ordered from MyTeksi (it was probably the most painless taxi-ordering experience I ever had), reading this particular chapter (it was past 9pm and it was dark in the cab and the only thing I could read was my phone and luckily, the book happens to be in my phone). And this is the chapter I was reading. And I thought, hey I want to put this up on The Bright Side. So this is why you are reading it here.

The most exciting part of this great adventure, mankind's journey back to God, is about to commence. We have left the infant school and are entering the junior level of our progression. The Piscean Age brought all our emotions to the surface, teaching us many lessons. Hopefully we have, to some degree, managed to control the passionate fires, which in the past stampeded through our physical and spiritual bodies. Our astral vehicles should, by this time, be well developed and more restrained. The Aquarian age will focus new energies upon us, enabling us to begin to build strong mental bodies. This era will allow us to take a huge step forward, and our potential as "Gods" in the making will advance a stage further.

The earth, however, will not be so heavily populated as it is today. We will no longer feel the need to procreate in large numbers. Our sexual appetites will have diminished and our cravings for carnal pursuits will have faded. We will still enjoy liaisons, but in a more tender and gentle manner. We will learn to give as well as to receive. The true relationship between men and women, or even between the same sexes, will be understood. We will work to create from the mental level, instead of the fervent astral plane. Our love will till be intense, but at the same time, dispassionate. This love will become unconditional and universal, not just reserved for a few close friends and family. Our bodies will become purer temples for our souls and our reproductory systems will only be used to bring into incarnation those members of humanity who can benefit from the Aquarian Age. A large proportion of mankind will be left behind, because they will be unable to adapt to the higher vibrations being poured down onto mother earth. You will again see, therefore, how important it is that we bring our minds into line with our hearts NOW and not at some future date. The stragglers of our race will, of course, progress on the upward spiral, but it may be on another planet in some far-flung corner of space. I do not mean to frighten, only to quietly warm and sympathetic heart to make the grade and enter into the new age.

We are, at the moment, only using a very small portion of our brains. This wonderful computer has countless cells just waiting to be of service to us. Everything we have ever experienced is stored somewhere within this wonderful instrument. Nothing has been lost, but we have to mature sufficiently, to fully appreciate the pictures that will be shown to us. Unfortunately, mental simulation and growth will bring its own problems. The depressions and mental instabilities which are with us now, will continue far into the new age. Our treatments should, however, have advanced by leaps and bounds. An Aquarian will have, intuitively more insight into the cause of his own problems and if he is unable to put it right himself, there will be a wide variety of therapies open to him. Counsellors working with problems of the mind, will be operating from a high mental level. They will have access to the akashic records and will see plainly what the effects of past karma is having on their patient. There will still be a need for trained surgical specialists but complementary therapists will take their rightful places alongside the physicians.

Natural cures and remedies will become the normal rather than the alternative methods. We will gain considerably more knowledge about the use of plants and herbs, with fields and meadows being given over for their growth. Etheric healing, similar to the method described earlier in this book, will be used as a preventative and diagnostic tool. Colour healing will be widely used as a ray treatment, in combination with a psychological analysis of the qualities contained within the rays, appropriate to that particular patient. Large sunny treatment centres will be open to all of humanity, combining sports facilities with massage, sauna and all known healing restoratives.

Slowly, over the years, man will lose his fear of death. His understanding of the other planes of existence will increase, bringing with it wisdom regarding his own immortality. Instead of doom and gloom, funerals will be replaced by celebrations of joy and happiness. We will have acquired the ability to slip gently out of our physical frame where our terms in the schoolroom of earth has finished. Once we lose our horror of death, then we will have no further need for spare part surgery to keep us alive. Organ transplants will be ancient history and all animal experiments will cease. The animal realm will be given back its dignity and all exploitation in circuses and zoos halted. They will forget their fear of humanity, allowing us to walk amongst them, learning to communicate with this kingdom. Domestic pets will decide for themselves whether or not they want to share our homes. With freedom for the animals will come deliverance for mankind.

Our diet will also reflect our health. As we move further into the new age, the Aquarian will stop killing his brother for food and all people will be vegetarians. The slaughterhouses will be replaced by large organic farms. With a smaller population to feed there will be no starvation anywhere on the globe. We shall have more room to spread ourselves, so each household could have a large garden and be self sufficient if they wished. I believe, however, that most of us will live in groups, sharing and providing for each other's needs on a global scale. Money will slowly lose its importance, as it will be divided equally, thereby forfeiting its power over our thoughts. Fertilisers and pesticides will be banned, leaving the way clear for insects and worms to bring balance and health to the soil once more. The age of throw away junk and chemicals will have passed, with recycling becoming a proven and basic law.

Teaching meditation and relaxation in every school will encourage healthy minds, bodies and spirits. In this way it will become a part of life and we will be able to explore not only other levels of consciousness, but other planets and past civilisations. We will begin to realise the enormity of the power, which lies within our higher minds. The young will no longer wish to take drugs or sniff glue, for they will achieve the same euphoria through contemplation. Slowly the atoms of our bodies will become lighter and more etheric. The atmosphere of the Earth will also lighten, as we travel the same road towards illumination. This is already starting to occur and many people are once again communicating with the Ascended Masters and the Angelic Kingdom. There will be one government for the whole of the planet. Wars will die away and we will obtain the fulfilment of a prophecy, which is two thousand years of peace. Visitors will come from outer space and there will be a sharing of information and ideas. As well as world unity, we will accomplish universal unity. Spiritual growth will put an end to personal desire and ambition, allowing the spread of love and compassion, with each man helping his neighbour to climb onto the next step of the path.

Even in utopia, however, there is danger, as I was to discover when I fell asleep one night and experienced one of my walkabout dreams. I was met as usual by one of my guides and we journeyed to a distant planet that lay beyond our solar system. My first recollection was of walking through an archway, which had been carved and hand painted, reflecting beautiful and strange hieroglyphics. We passed under these writings and I found myself in a land of light and wonder, with a population that was calm and serene. Everybody seemed happy and content, with no stress or anxiety to ruffle the smooth waters of their lives. Their faces were composed and untroubled, but in a strange way lacked character, with a rather wooden expression. They were very polite, but they never seemed to touch each other or give any sign of love or affection. For a time I thought I had entered paradise, but then I slowly realised that something was very very wrong. Nobody really did a great deal or achieved anything. Their lives were static and terribly dull, just as if they had been standing still for eons of years. An attractive dark haired girl had joined us, who was also visiting this planet from another part of the galaxy. Before very long, she turned to me and said, "I can't stay here, I'm going home. This civilisation is dying of boredom, their planet has stopped evolving and will soon perish". She also added: "They have forgotten the words engraved on the archway." When I asked her to translate them for me, this was the message that had been recorded:

"Curiosity is the saviour of Wisdom. Complacency the slayer."

I had been given an accurate and authentic vision of a world and its inhabitants who had lost their ability to advance on the ever-expanding spiral of progression.

This is a lesson that man must never forget. It is our inheritance to surge onwards and upwards, towards the next goal, always striving to overcome the obstacles, which obstruct our pathway. In millions and trillions of years time, the ancient wisdom tells us that we will have reached the stage where we will have become Gods. We ourselves will then have the ability to create universes from our hearts and minds. "What happens to us next?" I hear you ask. At this celestial and hallowed level, I am sure that we will still advance to glories unknown and unimagined. Our infant minds are unable to conceive or envisage anything beyond this point but, as it stated over the archway, our curiosity will always urge us on to larger and more magnificent feats of achievement.

How, then, can man progress without the pollution caused by a large industrial community? With the birth of fewer people, wanting lesser commodities, the demand for huge factory units will diminish. We will again discover the satisfaction of handcrafted items. A system of bartering will return, whereby our simple needs will be met by various artisans working once more with the natural products of our Earth. Synthetic materials will no longer be considered practical or necessary. We are already discovering that certain plants can be grown and harvested in the fields to give us paper and fibre without the necessity to chip down our trees. Everything we require for our everyday use will be grown and nourished by an uncontaminated earth. The simple means of existence will be rediscovered.

Old mysteries from bygone cultures will once more come to light. Great and remarkable instructions to aid the future growth of humanity are buried at certain points around our planet. Some were concealed at the dawn of history by angels and helpers from other galaxies. Others were hidden by the priests of civilisations about to face extinction. In 1947, the Masters considered that it was time for mankind to unearth one of these buried "treasures". A Bedouin shepherd boy was looking after his goats on the western shores of the Dead Sea in Israel. Whilst clambering over some rocks he discovered the opening of a cave and, being curious, tossed a stone into its depths. His missile happened to smash into an object on the floor of the cavern, which was a jar containing parchment scrolls. The lost library of the Essenes was once more to see the light of day, after two thousand years. Following the first excitement and much elation in the world's press, most of the contents of these manuscripts disappeared from public view. What should have been a celebrated revelation was thought to be too controversial for general publication. It was decided that the contents of these Holy Scriptures would upset the theological opinions and dogmas of our churches. Once more truth was set aside in the mistaken belief that it would threaten the origins of Christianity. Once more we showed ourselves unready for the unveiling of any more progressive knowledge.

This situation will change, however, once our true potential as spiritual beings rises to the surface. A volcanic explosion under the sea will uncover some of the secrets of Atlantis. Buried deep in the bowels of the earth is an enormous crystal, whig was used by the Atlanteans as a source of power. It gave light to their homes and worked the machines needed to grind their corn and weave their clothes. It has even been hinted that it provided the energy required to fly machines through the air. When we have advanced sufficiently, this gift from our ancestors will be found, and will give us a clean and safe means of fuel and transport. It will combine its powers with the rays from the sun, bringing into operation the old key lines and ancient stone circle sites. As Mother Earth yields up her secrets, the pyramids in Egypt and Mexico will once more glow and radiate. The esoteric meaning of their construction is already being investigated as the mathematical genius of their exact measurements in relation to the sun and other constellations is appreciated. The chakras of Mother Earth are also being explored allowing us access to their inherent significance. It is said that Great Britain is the heart centre of the world, so she will spread the energy of her love all across the globe. America will develop as the throat centre allowing the next great spiritual thrust to come from her shores. In the far distant future, Russia will open up as the head centre, forming a magnificent triangle between these three countries.

The education of our children will incorporate all the mystical philosophies of the world, combining this with the history and geography of our lands. Science and mathematics will be used to prove the existence of other planes of consciousness, so the reality of these realms will be taught within our schools. Thought transference, healing arts, astrology and other occult sciences will all be part of their curriculum. The importance of laughter and recreation will be emphasised, making their classrooms ring to the sounds of happy, gleeful children. Colour, words and sound will play a large role in the development of future generations. They will be able to bring through images and compositions from the spiritual levels, whose brilliance we can only hope to glimpse in dreams during our existing age.

It has been prophesied that the reappearance of the Christ will occur at some time during the Aquarian Age. I have pondered long and hard as to what form this will take. I believe that it will happen physically, as well as in the hearts of mankind. The Christ is a representative of God's pure light, which is love, compassion, and devotion. Once this light has found its way into the hearts of men, then the road is open for the awakening of our brow and crown chakras. I believe that we shall meet the Christ on all levels of consciousness. He will bring with him a vast army of helpers both angelic, human and galactic. Keys will be given to us, allowing entry into certain areas of the mental and spiritual realms, bringing knowledge and enlightenment.

The Christ is not only an illumination for Christians; He is the light for every religion and spiritual organisation throughout the world. His second coming will unite every belief and creed under one banner. East will meet West in the understanding that every road leads, eventually, back to God. This in turn will bring together countries, races and cultures under one banner. Discrimination between nations, colours and sexes will be unknown. Instead of separatism we will have UNITY with humanity walking hand in hand towards an illustrious future.

As I have already mentioned in a previous chapter, the Master Kuthumi will act as a physical channel for the Christ Light during the coming golden age. He will not appear until we have brought to this earth a degree of balance, as it would be useless for Him to manifest while we still torture and abuse the other three kingdoms of nature. Man must stop fighting his neighbour and cease from creating thoughts of hatred and intolerance before he will be able to appreciate the teachings of this Ascended Master. His purpose on Earth during this age will be to lead us towards major initiations. This will not just happen to the chosen few; during the next two thousand years, mass initiations will occur, enabling mankind to march confidently into the next great Age of Capricorn.

This is the end of my story within the pages of this particular book. I hope the message that I have endeavoured to write will fill you with love and hope for the future. I ask you to join the ever-increasing band of pioneers, striving to avert the major catastrophes which have been predicted. Open up your hearts and act as a channel for the peace which passeth all understanding. Together we will unite with the Lord of our Universe, to bring in a future filled with joy and happiness. Let the heavens, and the whole of our galaxy, ring with the song of the Earth. Let the love from our hearts shine forth as a an inspiration for all travellers throughout the Universe.



Friday, 20 February 2015

The Rescue of Elliott

The neighbours were firecrackering up a storm. Elliott was going crazy, trying to dig into furniture, hide behind furniture and generally make a nuisance of himself. Oh yeah, and climb up the furniture and burrow his way into the sofa which was expressly forbidden. I let him sleep outside in the hall. He had already toppled a stack of CDs and upturned my chair and really, I just wanted to rest and watch really stupid shows on youtube without this dog jumping up in fright every two minutes.

Well, in the early hours of the morning when I was still in the deeps of sleep, I could hear Dadda shouting. Apparently he had discovered Elliott on the sofa. He shooed him out into the porch. I turned over and fell asleep again, briefly noting the fireworks that were going off like gunshots and wondering what Elliott was doing because, well, he was quiet. Not scratching at the door trying to get in or howling away.

Anyway, when I finally untangled myself from the sheets and sleepwalked through the morning chores and went to take him for his walk...I realised he was under Mum's car. Deep under it. So deep that he had got his head stuck in the undercarriage. I tried to poke him out with a stick. He growled, snapped and bit the stick. I threw a bucket of water under the car (Elliott hates to be wet).

No cigar.

At this point I started to get worried. Mummy's car has lain in state in the porch for nearly two years now. At some point the battery stopped working and Dadda stopped trying to start it every day and run a random wet cloth over its body. It lay neglected there and the tires sighed and flattened.

I called Dadda out and he suggested that we try to lift the car to allow for Elliott to scramble out. Well, Mum's car is heavy. Real heavy. We couldn't lift it a centimetre, let alone an inch.

I declared I would go out look for the car wash guys. Maybe they could help lift the car so Elliott could get out. I went to take out some money first. If I got those guys over, I would have to pay them for their services. I worried about Elliott - who had been stuck there since morning. It was now past 3 in the afternoon. Which meant that he had neither had water nor food in that time and the ground, well, the ground was incredibly hot. Poor, frightened silly dog.

Wouldn't you know it, it being the first day of CNY, those overworked car wash guys had been given the day off.

My mind scrambled around in panic as I drove around blindly wondering who to ask for help.

Suddenly, unbidden an image came to my mind of this van that I sometimes see driving around the neighbourhood - Jaws Auto Rescue. I also thought of AAM of which I am still not a member. Never mind. I would try Jaws Auto Rescue first. I found the number online and called.

At first I didn't seem to be making any headway. The guy, Uncle George was clearly in the midst of celebrating. I had to shout over the phone to make myself heard. But, guess what? He was only a street away. So he came and although I had explained it badly, got the picture when he saw Elliott's legs sticking out from under the car. He was quick with the jack and lifted it up enough so the recalcitrant, much-embattled dog could scramble out. Elliott came out gratefully, wagged his tail at this stranger and then proceeded to follow him around sniffing at him. He also ran out to pee for a bit and then came back and ate his food with gusto and relish. The relish of a formerly trapped dog.

Uncle George filled all the tires...and then as he opened the car doors (which were stuck from not having been opened for over a year), he recoiled. The floor was submerged in slimy water. The car had been leaking for all this time and we had not been aware of it. Before this, we had been idly discussing selling the car. Now, he said, no one would buy it...all the circuits would be shot. We would have no choice but to sell it to the "kereta potong", the people who would buy the car for scrap.

I paid him (pay whatever you want, he said, then asked why I was paying so much) and then patted Elliott on the head and came back inside the house and ordered a pizza. Actually two. One for Dadda and one for me (since I am vegetarian for Lent). Elliott is resting comfortably on his green bed inside the house, fed, watered and well, having cleared his bladder and bowels by himself.

I am sitting at the computer, waiting for the pizza. After that, I think I will go out for a movie or something. It's miraculous how the right kind soul can just turn your day around.

But that is what Uncle George did, while filling me in on all the gossip of the neighbourhood. About the old man who kept the dog (Blackie who was a cute schnauzer that wandered free around the neighbourhood trying to make friends with the other dogs; Arnold was jealous of him) who died a couple of years ago, the car wash Rela guy who had also had a stroke and died (he was a friendly man who had once said to me when I went there for a car wash; miss, why you so fat-fat?).

Anyway, it was a good day. A good start to the Year of the Goat.

Gong Xi Fa Chai.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Zen Seduction

Zen is not something to get excited about. Some people start to practice Zen just out of curiosity and they only make themselves busier. If your practice makes you worse, it is ridiculous. I think that if you try to do zazen once a week, that will make you busy enough. Do not be too interested in Zen. When young people get excited about Zen they often give up schooling and go to some mountain or forest in order to sit. That kind of interest is not true interest.

Just continue in your calm, ordinary practice and your character will be built up. If your mind is always busy, there will be no time to build and you will not be successful, particularly if you work too hard on it. Building character is like making bread - you have to mix it little by little, step by step, and a moderate temperature is needed. You know yourself quite well, and you know how much temperature you need. You know exactly what you need. But if you get too excited, you will forget how much temperature is good for you, and you will lose your own way.

This is very dangerous.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Letter from God on Lost Pet

I came across this story on someone else's blog and loved it so much I thought I would share it here. This happened in October 2006 and it reminds me of something the Postables from Signed, Sealed and Delivered, would do.

Some of you may know that our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month (8/23). The day after she died, my 4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her.

She dictated and I wrote:
Dear God,

Will you please take special care of our dog, Abbey? She died yesterday and is heaven. We miss her very much. We are happy that you let us have her as our dog even though she got sick. I hope that you will play with her. She likes to play with balls and swim before she got sick. I am sending some pictures of her so that when you see her in heaven you will know she is our special dog. But I really do miss her.

Meredith Claire

P.S.: Mommy wrote the words after Mer told them to her
We put that in an envelope with 2 pictures of Abbey, and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Mer stuck some stamps on the front (because, as she said, it may take lots of stamps to get a letter all the way to heaven) and that afternoon I let her drop it into the letter box at the post office.

For a few days, she would ask if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had. Yesterday, for Labor Day, we took the kids to Austin to a natural history museum. When we got back, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch. Curious, I went to look at it. It had a gold star card on the front and said "To: Mer" in an unfamiliar hand.

Meredith took it in and opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers, When a Pet Dies. Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God, in its opened envelope (which was marked 'Return to Sender: Insufficient address'). On the opposite page, one of the pictures of Abbey was taped under the words "For Meredith." We turned to the back cover, and there was the other picture of Abbey, and this handwritten note on pink paper:
Dear Mer,

I know that you will be happy to know that Abbey arrived safely and soundly in Heaven! Having the pictures you sent to me was such a big help. I recognized Abbey right away.

You know, Meredith, she isn't sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me — just like she stays in your heart — young and running and playing. Abbey loved being your dog, you know. Since we don't need our bodies in heaven, I don't have any pockets! — so I can't keep your beautiful letter. I am sending it to you with the pictures so that you will have this book to keep and remember Abbey.

One of my angels is taking care of this for me. I hope the little book helps.

Thank you for the beautiful letter. Thank your mother for sending it. What a wonderful mother you have! I picked her especially for you.

I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much. By the way, I am in heaven and wherever there is love.

God, and the special angel who wrote this after God told her the words.

As a parent and a pet lover, this is one of the kindest things that I've ever experienced. I have no way to know who sent it, but there is some very kind soul working in the dead letter office. Just wanted to share this act of compassion :) dear friend — hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Do Something Kind For Someone With Whom You've Lost Touch (Week 7)

For this week, I'm encouraging you to reconnect with someone from your past. Consider this an opportunity to clean up some unfinished business or just a little push, even an excuse, if you need it, to look up someone you'd like to see.

Start by thinking what it would be like for you to hear from someone who has lost touch with you, specifically someone you'd really like to hear from. Is it an old classmate, a distant friend, someone who has moved away, a relative? Having imagined that, think for whom you'd like to provide that kind of a positive surprise. Make a list of people you haven't seen for some time or those whom you miss. It need not be long.

Next, choose one of these people and take steps to reach her/him. Any style of communication is fine, but you will get more from this exercise if it extends beyond Facebook, email, or voice mail to some kind of an exchange. If that act of connecting isn't a kindness act in itself, then extend the action to include doing something kind for this person.

If you find this theme difficult or problematic, please feel free to interpret it another way. See if you can stick to the theme of reconnecting, though, perhaps by reconnecting to something other than a person from your past.

In your journal, write about your connection to this person, why you chose her/him, and summarize your kindness act.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Meaning of Music

I am reading The Glass Bead Game now. Ille, whom I had a lovely breakfast that turned into lunch recommended it. Ille is a pretty special person, and a scientist. She loves exactly one opera, Salome, the opera that was based on Oscar Wilde's play. And she loves exactly one book of fiction, The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse. She says she reads it over and over again and every time she gets something new. So I ordered it off Kinokuniya (did you know they don't have it and it took more than two weeks for this book to come? For shame!) and am now in the middle of the introduction. I found the following passage which I am sure is fictional (Hesse interspersed real history with invented history) but I loved it so much I thought I would put it here This is apparently from the chapter on music by Lu Bu We's Spring and Autumn:

The origins of music lie far back in the past. Music arises from Measure and is rooted in the great Oneness. The great Oneness begets two poles; the two poles beget the power of Darkness and of Light.

When the world is at peace, when all things are tranquil and all men obey their superiors in all their courses, then music can be perfected. When desires and passions do not turn into wrongful paths, music can be perfected. Perfect music has its cause. It arises from equilibrium. Equilibrium arises from righteousness, and righteousness arises from the meaning of the cosmos. Therefore one can speak about music only with a man who has perceived the meaning of the cosmos.

Music is founded on the harmony between heaven and earth, on the concord of obscurity and brightness.

Decaying states and men ripe for doom do not, of course, lack music either, but their music is not serene. Therefore, the more tempestuous the music, the more doleful are the people, the more imperilled the country, the more the sovereign declines. In this way the essence of music is lost.

What all sacred sovereigns have loved in music was its serenity. The tyrants Giae and Jou Sin made tempestuous music. They thought loud sounds beautiful and massed effects interesting. They strove for new and rare tonal effects, for notes which no ear had ever heard hitherto. They sought to surpass each other, and overstepped all bounds.

The cause of the degeneration of the Chu state was its invention of magic music. Such music is indeed tempestuous enough, but in truth it has departed from the essence of music. Because it has departed from the essence of real music, this music is not serene. If music is not serene, the people grumble and life is deranged. All this arises from mistaking the nature of music and seeking only tempestuous tonal effects.

Therefore the music of a well-ordered age is calm and cheerful, and so is its government. The music of a restive age is excited and fierce, and its government is perverted. The music of a decaying state is sentimental and sad, and its government is imperilled.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Love and Other Trifling Lunacies

Since this is also my year of reading Shakespeare's plays I am being introduced to the ones I have never considered reading before. The following passage is from Much Ado About Nothing and in truth I find it more romantic (in the truest sense of the world) than the moonings of Romeo and Juliet. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, these two have met before and Beatrice, from what we can understand, did fall in love with Benedick. But he played her for a fool. And now, when they meet there is a "merry war" between them, a skirmish of words...I loved Emma Thompson as Beatrice and Kenneth Branagh as Benedick. The movie is available on YouTube and I seriously recommend you watch it.

BEATRICE: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.

BENEDICK: What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?

BEATRICE: Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.

BENEDICK: Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and Iwould I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none.

BEATRICE: A dear happiness to women: they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.

BENEDICK: God keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some gentleman or other shall 'scape a predestinate scratched face.

BEATRICE: Scratching could not make it worse, an 'twere such a face as yours were.

BENEDICK: Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.

BEATRICE: A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.

BENEDICK: I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer. But keep your way, i' God's name; I have done.

BEATRICE: You always end with a jade's trick: I know you of old.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

No Trace

In order not to leave any trace when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of your self will be left in what you do. You will have something remaining which is not completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes. This is the goal of our practice. That is what Dogen meant when he said, "Ashes do not come back to firewood." Ash is ash. Ash should be completely ash. The firewood should be firewood. When this kind of activity takes place, one activity covers everything.

(Shrunyu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

As Though I Had Just Solved Fermat's Last Theorem

I was considering all of this while making dinner when the Professor suddenly appeared. Usually, when he was wrestling with a problem, I hardly saw him. I wasn't sure whether I would be interrupting his thinking if I spoke to him, so I continued seeding the peppers and peeling the onions. He walked over, leaned against the counter, folded his arms, and stood there staring at my hands. I felt awkward with him watching me, so I went to get some eggs out of the refrigerator, and a frying pan.

"Did you need something?" I asked at last, no longer able to stand the silence.

"No, go on," he said. His tone was reassuring. "I like to watch you cook," he added.

I wondered if the problem had proven so difficult his brain had blown a fuse - but I broke the eggs into a bowl and beat the with my chopsticks. I went on stirring after the spices had dissolved and the lumps were gone, only stopping when my hand had grown numb.

"Now what are you going to do?" he asked quietly.

"Well...," I said, "next..., uh, I have to fry the pork." The Professor's sudden appearance had disrupted my usual routine.

"You are not going to cook the eggs now?"

"No, it's best to let them sit, so the spices blend in."

We were alone. Root was off playing in the park. The afternoon sun divided the garden into patches of shadow and dappled light. The air was still and the curtain hung limply by the open window. The Professor was watching me with the intense stare he normally reserved for math. His pupils were so black they looked transparent, and his eyelashes seemed to quiver with each breath. He was gazing at my hands which were only a few feet away, but he might have been staring off into distant space. I dusted the pork fillets in flour and arranged them in the pan.

"Why do you have to move them around like that?"

"Because the temperature at the centre of the pan is higher than at the edges. You have to move them every so often to cook them evenly."

He nodded as if I had just revealed a great secret. The aroma of cooking meat drifted up between us.

I sliced some peppers and onions for the salad and made an olive oil dressing. Then I fried the eggs. I had planned to sneak some grated carrot into the dressing, which now proved impossible with the Professor watching me. He said nothing, but he seemed to hold his breath while I cut the lemon peel in the shape of a flower. He leaned in closer as I mixed the vinegar and oil, and I thought I heard him sigh when I set the piping hot omelette on the counter.

"Excuse me," I said at last, unable to control my curiosity. "But I'm wondering what you find so interesting."

"I Like to watch you cook," he said again. He unfolded his arms and looked out the window for the spot where the evening star would appear. Then he went back to his study without a sound. The setting sun shone on his back as he walked away.

I looked at the food I had just finished preparing and then at my hands. Sautéed pork garnished with lemon, a salad and a soft yellow omelette. I studied the dishes, one by one. They were all perfectly ordinary, but they looked delicious - satisfying food at the end of a long day. I looked at my palms again, suddenly with an absurd sense of satisfaction, as though I had just solved Fermat's Last Theorem.

(Yoko Ogawa, The Housekeeper and The Professor)

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Want To Be Happy? Slow Down...

In 1972, Matthieu Ricard had a promising career in biochemistry, trying to figure out the secrets of E. coli bacteria. A chance encounter with Buddhism led to an about turn, and Ricard has spent the past 40+ years living in the Himalayas, studying mindfulness and happiness. In this free-wheeling discussion at TED Global in October 2014, Ricard talked with journalist and writer Pico Iyer about some of the things they’ve learned over the years, not least the importance of being conscious about mental health and how to spend time meaningfully. An edited version of the conversation, moderated by TED Radio Hour host Guy Raz, follows. First, Pico Iyer on how he became taken with the idea of staying still:

Pico Iyer: When I was in my twenties, I had this wonderful 25th-floor office in midtown Manhattan, in Rockefeller Center — and I had a really exhilarating life, I thought, writing on world affairs for Time magazine. And it was so exhilarating, I never had a chance to find out if it was really fulfilling me, or if I was happy in a deeper sense, because I was constantly happy in the most superficial kind of way.

And so I left all that behind. I moved to a single room on the back streets of Kyoto, Japan, and now I’m probably the rare journalist who’s never used a cell phone. I live with my wife in a two-room apartment in Japan; I have no car, no bicycle, no media, no TV I can understand. Essentially, no internet. And I still have to support my loved ones as a travel writer and a journalist. It’s only by keeping a distance from the world that I can begin to see its proportions and begin to try to sift the essential from the fleeting. I feel that so many of us now have the sensation of standing about two inches away from this very crowded, noisy, constantly shifting big screen, and that screen is our lives. It’s only by stepping back that we can see what the screen is communicating.

Matthieu, in 1972 you were a molecular geneticist in France. You had just completed your PhD, and you made a life-changing decision to seek a different path. Can you describe your journey?

Matthieu Ricard: I had a fantastic adolescence. My father was a philosopher and my mother is a painter, so all these people, writers and thinkers were coming to our home. I was a musician myself — I met Stravinsky when I was 16 years old. My uncle was an explorer, and I was in the lab with two winners of the Nobel Prize of medicine. You could not wish for better potential for looking either this way or that way at life.

Then when I was 20, I saw some documentaries on all the great Tibetan masters who had fled the Communist invasion of Tibet. And when I saw those faces I thought, “Wow, here is Socrates, St. Francis of Assisi, alive now. I’m going there!” So I just went. And then at one point I thought, “Well, it’s nice to study the cell division of E. coli, but if I could have a little insight on the mechanism of happiness and suffering …”

So I retired when I was 26, and I’ve done my post-doc in the Himalayas for 45 years.

Pico, you were working on a book about the Dalai Lama when you first met Matthieu about a decade ago. What struck you about him back then?

PI: What struck me about both Matthieu and the Dalai Lama is they present happiness not as something peculiar to Buddhists or monks, but available to everyone whenever you want. I once went for my annual checkup with my doctor, and he said, “Well, your numbers are all fantastic, but you’re getting on in years so you should spend 30 minutes every day in a health club.” As soon as he said that, I signed up the next day, and I religiously, so to speak, observed that practice.

But when another friend of mine asked me, “Have you ever thought of sitting still for 30 minutes every day?” I said, “Oh no! I don’t have time, especially now I’m on the treadmill for 30 minutes every day.” Not beginning to think that of course the mental health club or just sitting still is much more essential to my well-being, my happiness, and probably even my physical health than the treadmill. And I think it so often happens that somebody says “change your life” and you repaint your car rather than re-wire the engine.

Matthieu, what does the word “stillness” mean to you?

MR: There is outer stillness, which is relatively predominant in this room, except that we’re making a little noise, but there’s also inner stillness. The real question is how can you integrate those two?

There is often this feeling that we put all our hopes and fears outside ourselves. “If I have this or that then everything will be fine. If I don’t have it, I cannot really be happy.” Of course we should improve the condition of the world — I run 140 humanitarian projects so I know what it is to be at the service of others and I rejoice in that — but in the end, we deal with our mind from morning till evening, and it can be our best friend or our worst enemy.

If we don’t deal with the inner condition for well-being, then we are really in trouble. And so that’s what inner stillness is — not that cliche about meditation, that you blank your mind and relax. Stillness is to avoid the chaotic aspect of the mind, and then you can deal with thoughts and emotions, or sometimes you just sit or rest in that pure awareness. That’s a place of immense peace.

PI [to MR]: What do you say when people say, “Here we are in Rio, there are probably three million people here without enough food, or there are crime problems in the street. Isn’t it selfish just to go and investigate the mind or go on retreat or sit still?”

MR: I hear that a lot. And if you were just going there to escape paying tax or seeing nagging people, then of course that would be some type of selfish. But if one of your chief goals is get rid of selfishness, how could you call that selfish? It’s like saying to someone, “Why do you want to build a hospital? That takes years! You should do surgeries right now in the street!” When you build the hospital, making plumbing or doing cement work obviously doesn’t cure anyone, but when the hospital is ready, how much more you can help. I see now, working in the humanitarian world, we start to help people, and we get derailed by conflict of ego, corruption — human shortcomings. So the best thing you could do instead of training to run an NGO or make accounts would be to start to become a better human being so that you can serve others better and not be distracted by trying to make everyone perfect on the way. That’s the job of the Buddha, not your job.

Is stillness a physical act and is it the same thing as quiet?

PI: On my way here I was in that most exalted of places, Los Angeles airport, and I was in the United Airlines lounge, and suddenly I saw a quiet room. It was five feet from where everyone was grabbing pieces of cheese and watching CNN, but I just stepped into that place and it might have been five miles away. It was softly lit, and there were candles, and all I really wanted to do was read or close my eyes but suddenly, quiet was right there. So certainly in that case, the stillness was a kind of active presence. It wasn’t the absence of noise, it was the presence of a kind of quiet that they had laid out.

I think that’s why people like me, who are not part of a religious tradition, will often go on retreat to monasteries, because suddenly you can listen to everything and you’re not endlessly talking and you’re not trying to impress everybody around you, and you’re not being distracted by emails and texts … Suddenly when you start to watch things and start to listen to things, even if you’re a journalist without religion, the world becomes much richer.

Sometimes people assume that going on retreat is a very ascetic thing, but in my small experience, it’s extremely sensuous. Suddenly you’re hearing the birds, you’re seeing, you’re listening to the tolling of bells, you’re seeing detail.

You’re hearing your own heartbeat.

PI: Matthieu, I loved it when I met you here yesterday night, you said you’re on retreat a lot of the time still — sometimes with your 91-year-old mother. In other words, you’re on retreat, but it’s about compassion, and it’s about tending to your loved ones. So my sense is that going on retreat is a waystation to coming back into the world with more to give.

MR: We say that a beggar cannot give a banquet. If I have nothing to give you, I cannot invite you for lunch.

It’s not uncommon for our culture to confuse stillness with being idle, with maybe wasting time. Practically speaking, how can we go to that place, even if just for a few minutes every day?

MR: I hear that all the time too, people saying they’re so busy, how can they possibly take another 20 minutes? It’s just as Pico said about physical fitness before. If people from Nepal come to Paris and they see people jogging early in the morning or going on a bicycle that goes nowhere, they think they are mad. Because they are running in the mountains all day, so they don’t need that. If 15 minutes of stillness change the 23 hours and 45 minutes left in your day, including your sleep and your human relations, it seems to be worthwhile. So to say “I don’t have time” is like going to see a doctor for treatment and then when you hear it saying, “Oh Doctor, it’s impossible!”

So much of our lives plays out in our heads. This process of trying to experience stillness can also be a process of working through anxiety, can’t it? I’m sure I’m not the only person in this room who has woken up at three in the morning in a quiet and still time to find the mind racing. You can’t stop it, and it’s actually not very pleasant.

PI: I go on retreat four times a year — for the last 22 years at a Catholic monastery, though I’m not Catholic. Initially it was like walking into pure radiance and liberation, and I was so excited by that first experience. But inevitably, at some point I was just thrown back on myself — everything I was trying to evade in my day to day life would come up, shadows, demons, bad memories, terrors, but I thought, well, better to face those than to run from them as I would in my normal life. If that happened in my bedroom, I would be able to go and click onto YouTube or turn on a baseball game or do something to run away from that, and I was grateful for the fact that there was no place to hide there.

MR: I remember one time I translated a 1000-page autobiography of a great Tibetan master from the 18th century into French and English. It was a beautiful biography — and then I was giving an interview in France, and someone was presenting the life of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, one of those mystics who had those dark, dark nights, and the interviewer said, “Your autobiography is very inspiring, but it’s kind of dull, because it doesn’t say anything about all those obstacles, about those storms.” And I wondered why this doesn’t happen so much in this kind of practitioner. And I thought maybe it has to do with the view that pervades different spiritual traditions. Look at Mother Teresa’s nagging doubts. If everything is to relate to an absolute deity, whatever you call God or other names in other traditions, then of course, if you have complete confidence that such an entity exists then there will be this incredible richness. If suddenly you think maybe it’s not there, everything sort of collapses.

What’s the difference in Buddhist practice? It’s more like being at the foot of Everest — there is no doubt that the mountain is there, but you might have doubt about being able to climb it. Will I be observant enough or determined enough? In the case of Buddhism there’s no mystery. Enlightenment is eliminating mental confusion, eliminating hatred, jealousy, mental toxins, cravings. That’s very simple and straightforward. Whether you can do it or not is another matter. But you don’t have those big fundamental existential doubts; it’s more like sometimes you feel tired on the way, and you have to reach out your strengths, but I think it’s quite different in a way.

I think that many of us deal with the noise in our minds by seeking out distractions, right? By avoiding those periods of stillness?

PI: Yes. And the distractions are the problem. The more we run from a problem, the more we’re actually running into it.

Pico, there’s a concept you talk about in your book which you describe it as “going nowhere.” Can you tell us about that?

PI: I think it refers to two things: first, sitting still. I’ve been lucky enough to go to Bhutan and Easter Island and Ethiopia and I’ve had extraordinary experiences there, but none has compared with sitting in one place. Second, just what Matthieu and Leonard Cohen and others have done, which is not to feel like you always have to get somewhere. When I was growing up and I was going to overpriced colleges, they were always telling us, “You’ve got to accumulate a wonderful resume, you’ve got to climb this hurdle and this hurdle and this hurdle, become partner, become editor-in-chief, become Supreme Court judge.” And that seems to lead to permanent dissatisfaction, because once you become a Supreme Court judge, you want to become the head of the court in the Hague, or once you get the Pulitzer Prize you want the Nobel Prize, so there’s never any end to that craving. So I think going nowhere in some ways seemed to me a more promising alternative than always trying to get somewhere. And Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman and so many of America’s great writers have always extolled the virtue of sitting where you are.

Many of us remember a beautiful TED Talk by Brother David Steindl-Rast [Want to be happy? Be grateful], and he had a very simple piece of advice for those seeking happiness, which was to express and to feel gratitude on a daily basis. Is finding those places and seeking that stillness and searching for those things that easy? Because it seems like it’s actually hard work.

Want to be happy? Slow down. | ideas.ted.comMR: It’s easy and hard. It’s easy but it takes time. The Dalai Lama often says, “The problem in the West is people want enlightenment to be fast, to be easy, and if possible, cheap.” So by cheap, he doesn’t mean by paying money, but cheap in the sense of “you know, just do it casually, it will work.” But you don’t become a good pianist instantly; we’re not born knowing how to read and write, everything comes through training, and what’s wrong with that? Skills don’t just pop up because you wish to be more compassionate or happier. It needs sustained application. But it’s joy in the form of effort. Everybody who trains to do something, musicians, sportsmen and so on, says there’s a sort of joy in their training, even if it seems to be harsh. So in that sense, it does take time. But why not spend time? We don’t mind spending 15 years on education, why not the same to become a better human being?

PI: William James, who I think is one of America’s great psychologists, said, “The greatest weapon we have against stress is to choose one thought over another.” And of course, stress has been called the single biggest epidemic of the 21st century. But to choose one thought over another has to do with mind training. At the end of the day you can think of all the things that have gone wrong, or you can think of all the many, many things that we take for granted that have gone right. Day after day people ask his Holiness the Dalai Lama how to deal with challenge or loss or whatever. And he says, “see it in a wider perspective and change your mind.”

In that sense, it’s like Shakespeare’s wisdom, “There’s nothing either good or bad that thinking makes it so.” We have more power, I think, than we imagine and more choice to look at any event from any angle.

Of course, this is not always easy. Pico, do you find yourself sometimes slipping or not giving yourself the space you need and the time you need to go to those places?

PI: I’m permanently slipping! My whole life is slipping. When I landed in Rio on Saturday, I realized that was the 12th airport I’d been to in three and a half days. So yes, I travel much more and I take in more data than I would like, but I do try consciously to maintain some kind of balance and not just surrender to the pull of the modern moment, which is towards being almost drowned in more information than you know what do with. But I think in tiny circular ways — when I go on the treadmill, I try not to turn on the TV. When I’m on a plane, sometimes I try not to watch a movie or read a book, but just sit where I am. Every day there are small moments when we have a choice: will we take in more stuff, or just clear our minds out for a bit? I try to lean to the latter.

In your book, you mention that we are actually working fewer hours in the West, and yet we still seem to have fewer moments to give to ourselves. Is there something about the moment we are living in now that’s different, that’s changed?

PI: Even 20 years ago, I don’t think most of us worried about information overload or multi-tasking in the same way or with the same urgency. And remember, the world is not going to get slower, and devices are not going to uninvent themselves. Ten years from now, we’ll be dealing with things that make texting and Skype look really old-fashioned. And the machines aren’t going to teach us how to keep our sense of balance. That part is up to us. The information revolution came without a manual. The one thing technology can’t teach us is how to make the best use of technology, how to keep our sanity in the face of technology. For that, we can’t go online.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Do Something Kind For A Stranger

This week's exercise is intended to help you to experience how it feels to do something kind when reciprocation is not likely. Please extend a kindness action to a stranger, someone you do not know on a personal level. Typically, these are the people you pass by or hear about as you go on with your day.

It's holding the elevator door open for someone. It's anonymously buying coffee for someone behind you in line at the coffee shop. It's going to the library and putting up money for the next $10 worth of fines. That sort of thing.

For an extra challenge this week, try completing a spontaneous kind act for a stranger each day. These are fairly easy to perform as opportunities to do so are being presented to us any time we encounter another person. They can be as simple as a smile.

As you perform your actions this week, I encourage you to put your heart into them and let doing so warm you. And for a super-duper double bonus challenge, try to plan in advance and then perform one kind act for someone you do not know that requires a little bit of advance planning.

Per usual, please summarize your experience in your journal, keeping your summary concise yet complete.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Shining in the Distance

Already my gaze is upon the hill, the sunlit one.
The way to it, barely begun, lies ahead.
So we are grasped by what we have not grasped,
full of promise, shining in the distance.

It changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something we barely sense, but are;
a movement beckons, answering our movement...
But we just feel the wind against us.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up

She awoke by herself at the moment the landing light went on, and she was as beautiful and refreshed as if she had slept in a rose garden. That was when I realised that like old married couples, people who sit next to each other on airplanes do not say good morning to each other when they wake up. Nor did she. She took off her mask, opened her radiant eyes, straightened the back of the seat, moved the blanket aside, shook her hair that fell into place of its own weight, put the cosmetics case back on her knee and applied rapid, unnecessary make-up, which took just enough time so that she did not have to look at me until the plane door opened. Then she put on her lynx jacket, almost stepped over me with a conventional excuse in pure Latin American Spanish, left without even saying goodbye or at least thanking me for all I had done to make our night together a happy one, and disappeared into the sun of today in the Amazon jungle of New York.

(Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane, Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Friday, 6 February 2015

God Speaks

I am you anxious one,
Don't you sense me, ready to break
into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings,
Can't you see me standing before you
cloaked in stillness?
Hasn't my longing ripened in you
from the beginning
as fruit ripens on a branch?

I am the dream you are dreaming.
When you want to awaken, I am waiting.
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.
And with the silence of stars I enfold
your cities made by time.

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours 1, 19

Thursday, 5 February 2015

I thought your book an imposture...

The following is an excerpt from "A Reader's Book of Days" which my friend Zarinah Hayes gave me for Christmas. I found it amusing and thought I should share it with you guys.

1775: Samuel Johnson had long been an irascible skeptic of the "Ossian" poems then taking Europe by storm, which the Scottish poet James Macpherson claimed he had translated from the work of a third-century Gaelic bard. Asked in 1763 whether any modern man could have composed such poetry he growled, "Yes, Sir, many men, many women, and many children." And his final reply in his exchange with the equally fractious Macpherson is legendary: "You want me to retract. What shall I retract? I thought your book an imposture from the beginning...Your rage I defy...and what I have heard of your morals disposes me to pay regard not to what you shall say, but what you can prove." But though most came to agree with Johnson that the poems were a fraud, their popularity only increased, gaining admirers from Goethe and Wordsworth to Jefferson and Napoleon.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Hallmark Movies Full Length - Signed, Sealed, Delivered 2013

This is one of my favourite TV series...I actually paid for the episodes on iTunes. This was what led me to it...the pilot movie, the one that launched it all.

It has old-fashioned gentleman who quotes Shakespeare, two goofy sidekicks who are secretly in love with each other..and letters, letters, letters...the old fashioned kind, beautifully written.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Weekend Feasts (continued)

This weekend I made a dry mutton curry (I finally found the Malaysia cookbook wherein lies the recipe in the balcony of our JB house - thought that this book had been lost forever), asparagus belacan and a cocoa cake. The dry mutton curry and asparagus belacan turned out very well. They tasted so good that I'm afraid I was pretty greedy.

As for the cocoa cake - I left out the cream of tartar when I was beating up the egg whites (apparently it's supposed to let the whites set) and I left out too much sugar so it was not tasty. All that, and I forgot to get the ingredients for the glaze and improvised, as you see here. Despite all this...I think the weekend feast turned out pretty well.

I walloped the food and Dadda did too. But I had a reaction. It may be that during the weekdays I eat strictly healthy non-spicy food. And no meat. So well, let's just say that I may be planning chicken and fish dishes for the next few weeks to come.

Here are the pictures:

I think the whole point of this year is not that I have to make a spectacular success of everything I do, but that I should follow through on everything that I said I would. I know Dadda is happy to come along the weekend feast ride.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Do Something Kind for An Acquaintance (52 Weeks of Kindness, Week 5)

Somewhere between friend and stranger are those people we call acquaintances. They might be friends of friends, or people who provide us a regular service (the postal carrier, the grocery clerk, the people at the dry cleaners), or even certain neighbors. We don't have a strong disliking or liking for them. We know of these people. We just don't KNOW them. Our relationship with them is "neutral."

This week's exercise is to choose one of your acquaintances and perform an act of kindness for her/him. We do this exercise as an acknowledgement of all the acquaintances we have, to recognize that they exist. In performing this act, we recognize that fundamentally our acquaintances want and deserve the same things we do, to be happy, to have good health, to be appreciated. In celebrating one acquaintance, we celebrate all of our acquaintances. In celebrating all of our acquaintances, we celebrate everyone.

It is very important that you consider your act mindfully, but it is not necessary that you get to know your chosen person well enough to personalize your act. Choose something that acknowledges your common humanity. If you prefer, perform your act anonymously. Your acquaintance need not know you are the one who completed the act. Do something that resonates from a warm place inside you, perhaps doing something for your acquaintance that you would like being done for you should your roles be reversed.

After completing your action, please summarize it for yourself in your journal.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Madonna, The Early Years

Trying to be a professional dancer, paying my rent by posing nude for art classes, staring at people staring at me naked. Daring them to think of me as anything but a form they were trying to capture with their pencils and charcoal. I was defiant. Hell-bent on surviving. On making it. But it was hard and it was lonely, and I had to dare myself every day to keep going. Sometimes I would play the victim and cry in my shoe box of a bedroom with a window that faced a wall, watching the pigeons shit on my window sill. And I wondered if it was all worth it, but then I would pull myself together and look at a postcard of Frida Kahlo taped to my wall, and the sight of her moustache consoled me. Because she was an artist who didn't care what people thought. I admired her. She was daring. People gave her a hard time. Life gave her a hard time. If she could do it, then so could I.

Madonna, Harper's Bazaar.