A bench and a mat

Last week I went out to join in with a local ‘mixed’ meditation group.  It being late when I got home, I left my meditation bench and zabuton in the back of my car.

The following day, having to transport some passengers unexpectedly, I took the equipment out and left it temporarily on the roof of my husband’s car which stands next to mine in the garage. And forgot all about it.

My husband rarely goes anywhere in the car, but, unusually, was taking his grandson to the train station that morning.  By sheer chance, I looked out of the bedroom window to watch them drive off and was horrified to see my meditation equipment still on the roof of his car!  I yelled out of the window but of course he couldn’t possibly have heard me.  So I rushed downstairs and jumped into my car in pursuit, (Follow that car!), thinking it would certainly have fallen off at one of the series of bends on our country lane.

Not a bit of it.  I reached the main road and, about 100 yards from the junction, there were my bench and zabuton lying in the middle of the road.  I stopped, put on my hazard lights and retrieved them. What a relief.  But the whole episode prompted some interesting thoughts.

I have had this bench and mat for nearly thirty years, having bought them in the days when Throsssel Hole Buddhist Abbey still made and sold such things.  Although mostly these days I sit on a chair, (old age, disease and death), they are still very precious to me.  And I treat them, as we treat, for instance, our kesas and our altar equipment, with respect and love.  So to see them lying in the middle of the highway was truly shocking.

Of course, my mind ran on, as it does, and I imagined how it would have been if they’d been run over by traffic, which had in fact clearly avoided them.  But one big truck would have wrecked them, smashed the bench and ground the mat into the mud.  How unbelievably fortunate that I happened to look out of my window, sentimentally really, to wave goodbye.  Because if I hadn’t, I might never have realised what had happened, and even been baffled and distressed by their apparent ‘disappearance’.  And would I ever have seen the mangled wreck on the road, or even identified it?

The whole episode reminded me of a trip we made years ago to Disney, and one of the rides which took us through various ‘scenarios’ (before plunging us over a precipice to certain, well almost certain… death).  One of these was some sort of desert scene, with sand and a smashed buddha statue.  Landscape, cinema, but I remember being shocked and actually offended at the time, that something that represented important beliefs for me was lying broken and used as part of a tourist experience.  

We invest objects with importance beyond their value.  And we need of course sometimes to be aware of that. Bells, gongs, incense, water have no magical properties; but how fortunate we are to have human brains which allow us to value things in different ways and to use objects and association to bring us back to what really matters to us.  A smashed bench would not, in the order of things, have been a huge tragedy, but the pain for me, because of all that I have associated with it, would have been very hard to bear.  

The Healing Buddha (accessible) Retreat

Shallowford House, Shallowford, Stone, Staffordshire, ST15 0NZ – Karen Richards


A retreat aimed at people who train with long-term physical illness and disability and who feel that they would benefit from some time with others in a similar situation is to be held during the five days of Monday 13th of April and Friday 17th April 2020. There will be the same spiritual focus and purpose of a regular retreat but with a high degree of flexibility and time for rest and personal reflection. Both Reverend Saido and Rev. Mugo will be attending.

All activities will be made as accessible as possible and one of the key features will be the opportunity to explore different postures and ways of meditating that work for the individual. There will be time for sharing experience of training with a long-term physical illness or disability both in a group but also more informally with the other retreatants.

Arrival is between 2 pm and 4 pm on Monday 13th April 2020. The rest of the day will be ‘settling in time.’ From Tuesday through Thursday there will a flexible schedule of optional activities so that people can judge for themselves when they need to rest. The retreat will end after breakfast on Friday the 17th.

Shallowford House is very welcoming and accommodating of people with illness and disability. Most bedrooms have an en-suite bathroom. There are limited bedrooms on the ground floor but there will be a lift, able to take people (and wheelchairs if used), up to the first floor. Apart from one small internal step, it is fairly easy to move around the building. We are asking people to let us know their specific mobility and general comfort needs so that we can make the retreat work for them. This might include aids to help them shower, sleep, sit comfortably and rest well. Just ask and we will try our best to provide it.

For people who need a carer, we have some limited accommodation for them to stay, too. Carers are welcome to take part in the retreat itself or simply take time out to enjoy Shallowford’s walks and scenery.

We are asking for donations, in the usual way. We do not want anyone to be excluded on the grounds of finance. However, for guidance, a suggested donation would be £340 per person for the 4-night stay, to include all meals, towels and soap. Please do not send money in advance of the retreat; there will be a begging bowl available during the stay.

Please contact Karen Richards at healingretreat@tbpriory.co.uk for further details. You are also welcome to speak with Reverend Saido or Reverend Mugo if you prefer.

“Do Not Covet”

Charlie Holles

I have recently been considering the third of the 10 Great Precepts, perhaps due to challenges that my life is giving me at present. The definition of covet is ‘to crave or long for something, especially that which belongs to someone else – even to lust after’. In general, I think of coveting as cravings, perhaps jealousy, of material things owned by another or perhaps jealousy of their status or achievements.
I wonder if coveting could be extended to include health? Currently I am experiencing difficult health challenges, which are in part due to age. At times I can look at others (especially people of my age or older) who seem to be in much better health and feel a little frustrated at my situation. This is particularly so because at times things impact quite a lot on the many commitments I have.
Yet this coveting of the state of someone else takes me away from exactly what my life is right now. It is a lack of acceptance, a clinging to how I would like things to be and this causes further mental suffering on top of the physical difficulties. Of course, accepting does not mean that I should not do what I can to work with medical and health practitioners to improve things. But as the Buddha taught, the source of our peace of mind is completely within the mind and I am coming to accept that it is possible that there might not be a lot of improvement.
I have friends who enquire about my health, knowing that things are pretty hard for me at the moment. Of course, they do this out of concern and I am grateful for that but there is a danger that they and I can begin to define me by my illness. That is not who I am. Now I try to respond by saying that ‘it is what it is’ rather than saying that I have had a bad few days or week.
It seems to me that most dissatisfaction stems from a lack of acceptance of conditions as they are. This does not mean we should be fatalistic and not try to make positive changes if appropriate. Yet, in many ways, life happens to us and we have very little control over much of what comes our way. Over the last couple of years, I have come to a greater understanding of what acceptance means for me. This has been a great relief as I have always been someone who has gone out to plough my own patch; to do things, often against the odds. As a result, I have led a rich and varied life (for which I am grateful) but if I am honest it has often been far from a peaceful and contented one. Difficult though things are at the moment I am also finding gratitude as I can learn much from how my life is and acceptance of the conditions can help me find greater peace of mind. After all, ‘the koan arises in daily life’. The bedrock and practice of our Buddhist training is in all that comes our way each day.