An ending and a beginning : The origins of Dew on the Grass ~ by Karen Richards

In the spring of 2019 I met, for the first time, with a small group of fellow Buddhists who were administrators of a website called Bright Moon, which was a platform for practitioners of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives to come together and to share their practice through discussion forums, articles of interest and book reviews. It was an ambitious enterprise, which was welcomed by many, disapproved of by some and, at that time, had a dwindling number of regular users. So, the administrators put out a request for ideas on how to make it more relevant. I had some thoughts, which I shared, and was asked to attend one of their regular meetings to discuss them.

I found that I had an immediate connection with the three remaining members of the group: Mo, Chris and Ayse. We had trained together on retreats at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in the past and I felt that their goodhearted intentions, in trying to provide a way for the lay sangha to communicate with one another, was definitely something that I could get on board with. I attended several meetings and helped with some of their ‘last ditch’ attempts to save Bright Moon. Finally, however, despite their best efforts, the decision was made to close down the website.

I remember well the morning that the decision was made, sitting in my conservatory on the Skype call – we hadn’t even heard of Zoom, then – a polite, slightly forlorn silence descended on the meeting. Having only been with the group for a short period of time, I perhaps didn’t feel the loss of Bright Moon as deeply as the others, but I certainly felt their disappointment.

Then, I remembered something? Would it help? I wasn’t sure but decided to speak, anyway.

Some years previously, I had been out walking my dogs on some communal land, at the back of Telford Buddhist Priory. It was one of those lovely autumn mornings, full of mist and mystery, and low-lying light. As the sun broke through the cloud, it lit up the dew on the grass, so that the droplets hung like jewels. I took a photograph.

 

Dogen’s words, from Rules for Meditation, came into my head: “This body is as transient as dew on the grass”. “Dew on the Grass, what a great title for a blog”. It was a random thought but one that was worth nurturing. I went home, searched the internet for an available domain name that contained the title (originally dewonthegrass.co.uk ) and bought the rights to it. But that’s all I did. Year by year, the domain would come up for renewal. I would renew it and think no more about it. At the time, I didn’t have the wherewithal to begin the venture on my own.

But then, on that morning in my conservatory, I put it before the others as a way of going on and doing something new and different. They accepted!

Anna Ayse set about putting her artistic flair and technical wizardry to work and designed the website. We loved it! Chris was first out of the traps and produced our very first post, Toad Watch. Then Mo and I ‘put our toe into the water’. We were delighted to receive some fine ‘guest posts’ too. And so, Dew on the Grass was born.

We have always felt that the blog is an offering. Through it, we first help ourselves. We all agree that each time we contribute a post, it is both a searching and an opening of the heart, which we then share with others if they wish to read or view it. We don’t purport to be teachers of the Dharma but to share our experiences of training in Buddhism. We don’t necessarily have any answers, not even to our own questions. We simply hold them up and let them be seen.

This year, we have begun to write, photograph and provide artwork to a theme or topic. There is a discipline to this and it has helped us to move on from posting only occasionally, when the mood takes us, to become more committed and, as a consequence, developing our relationship with each other and growing our readership.

Speaking for myself, within the parameters of attempting to write in ‘Good English’, I write as if no one is ever going to read it. I yield to that which wants to be written.

The second part of the process is publishing the finished piece. It can be quite scary “putting yourself out there”, but each time I do, I know that something shifts in me, I become more honest with myself – more authentic. I think Mo, Chris and Anna feel similarly.

We welcome others to post, too! In fact, we encourage it! We have a few guidelines (which we are currently revising). This is so that the spirit and integrity of the website are upheld. Beyond that, we are open to a wide range of contributions. If you would like to know more, please feel free to leave a comment or message us privately, by email or through our Facebook page. We hope you enjoy your visit.

Every Morning ~ by Karen Richards

One of the nice things about contributing to Dew on the Grass is that when other people share their experiences those experiences sometimes mirror your own, throwing new light on a situation or behaviour, in a very helpful way. When our friend Chris Yeomans wrote her piece on the theme of “Every Morning”, two weeks ago, in which she shares her morning routine of eating breakfast, gazing at her bookcase filled with beautiful cookery books, the quandary of finding time to actually use them and the teaching that arises from that dilemma, I noticed some similarities and differences with my own morning routine and also noted my reactions to what she had written, as I read it.

The first thing that struck me was the photograph of her bookcase. Many of the cookery books are ones that I use on a daily basis – Hugh Fearnley Whitingstall’s Veg every day’ and ‘Even More Veg’; Helmsley and Helmsley; The Hairy Bikers.; The Green Roasting Tin – It felt good somehow that we had both invested in the works of these chefs, there was a feeling of camaraderie and togetherness. It gave me an approving glow.

I was also struck by the neatness of her bookcase. I looked at mine – not so neat! A little whisper of self-judgement floats by. I must tidy it immediately but of course, I don’t.

And then both the skill and wisdom of her writing began to hit home and I could see other parallels to my own morning routine and life in general, but from a different perspective.

Every morning, when I come in from taking my grandson to school, I make a cup of coffee and get my head around the day ahead. Some mornings have medical appointments for my husband in them; some are dedicated to chores around the house and garden; once a week I have lesson planning to do for the two after-school students that I teach, and all will have some time dedicated to meal planning, which involves the use of my cookery books. I like to sync the meals with my veg box that arrives, each Tuesday morning, from an organic farm that I use, and find the cookery books invaluable.

I notice Chris doesn’t do this and I wonder if my ritual and, some may say, obsession with healthy eating and attachment to my cookery books, to the point that many are now falling apart, is in some way spiritually unhealthy.

But I notice something else, too. Chris acknowledges in herself that the books represent an ideal to a perfect lifestyle that involves a beautiful and productive kitchen garden, great cookery skills and an aspiration to a more ‘mindful, peaceful, focussed life’ and that is my aspiration too!

My house, my garden, and my bookshelf are rarely in perfect order and I often find myself playing a game of ‘catch-up’ to try and get them that way. And, in the pursuit of perfection, there is that slightly uncomfortable breathlessness of always living one step (or more) ahead, in a future created in the mind, where everything is ‘alright now’, unlike the present, which ‘isn’t’.

My Marigold Engevita is still in date, my cookery books are daily used, but the koan is still the same. I too need to work on compassionate acceptance of myself and the life I have; letting go of ideals, in the process. Thank you, friend, for that teaching.

Every Morning ~ by Mo Henderson

Our second post, in the series “Every Morning”, is a reflection on Buddhist training, by Mo Henderson. In it, she reminds us that “Every morning is an opportunity to begin to see again and to trust what is actually happening naturally.” Thank you, Mo!

Beginning daily life

‘When I was at Eiheiji monastery, my life was really perfect because all the 120 monks practised according to a schedule. We got up at 2:00 a.m. and went to zazen. Even though we felt sleepy, we just went to practice. There was nothing to bother me, and every day my life was just like organic energy, going perfectly.
But after three years I went back to my small temple. Immediately my situation was completely different. My temple was at the foot of the mountains, far from the village. Just a cat and the old priest were there. I had to do many things: wash clothes, fix the meals, doing everything by myself. It was completely opposite from life in the monastery. My life became very busy, just like a business. There was always something to do. Time was haunting me. Everyday life was always haunting me, and I was very confused. So even though I understood zazen in the monastery, it was not good enough. There were still lots of things I didn’t know.

Daigen Katagiri-Each Moment Is the Universe

SAMSUNG

Someone in a social media group I belong to gave reference recently to Dainin Katagiri’s experience (above) at Eiheiji monastery and, although very different, it triggered memories of my own experience as a lay person on retreat at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in Northumberland.

I first attended Throssel in the late 1970s and received instruction and guidance on how to practice sitting meditation (Zazen). Over the years I have attended many more retreats, the longest being 3 months. When on retreat I was so well looked after and joining the community brought a sense of belonging, with warmth, hot meals, showers and good nutrition, all within a daily schedule, which included meditation periods, dharma talks and discussion. There was nothing to be responsible for apart from my own attention to following the schedule. The sitting meditation periods seemed to come and go with ease and, after a few days, I began to feel a ‘flow’ which seemed to bring everything together as it naturally is. I began to be more aware of those around me and of what needs to be done as a community.

In the early days going home was quite a culture shock! I was immediately confronted with all the different identities most of us experience in our daily lives. Being a mother, wife, daughter, sister, employee and now Buddhist lay person, how was I going to make time to develop a suitable schedule of continuing practice and to fit it all in?

Early attempts were without success, only the weekly meditation group brought respite from a totally busy daily life. I remember thinking I was a total failure and needed to try harder, why couldn’t I be like ‘others’ who seemed to be much more successful than myself? How on earth did they manage to get time to themselves? Gone was the ‘flow’ of life I had experienced at the monastery.

After battling for what seemed forever, I realised I had a habit of dividing myself into parts, I was viewing all the different roles in my life as separate entities, one part being a mother, another being a wife, and so on, not to mention work, gardening, pet care etc..etc. No wonder I felt exhausted and unsuccessful in time management. At the monastery I had learned an important lesson in living a wholesome life, I eventually realised the schedule was geared to help me let go of being attached to what I was doing and to continually let go, change and move on to the next event.

Every morning we had early sitting meditation and events changed throughout the day, until tea and quiet time last thing in the evening. I believe the ‘flow’ of life I experienced was due to just simply having the opportunity to be there wholeheartedly without distraction, allowing everything to unfold, without me choosing to identify myself with any particular role. Could the busy lay life I had at home unfold in this way?

I very slowly discovered this may be possible, without needing to stick to a set schedule and without thinking I owned my own time. While on the one hand, it was good to have a plan, on the other hand, I needed to be flexible within that. In my view, acceptance of what actually happens each day is essential and the time devoted to things and others is not ‘my’ time, it’s just the continual practice of being with daily life. This involves paying attention to whatever arises. The roles I had were still the same, but somehow they didn’t feel as apart from each other.

Sometimes I feel the ‘flow’ of energy in a wholesome way and other times I can get distracted. Being part of a sangha community is always a reminder for me to continue practice in daily life and to remember not to neglect the formal sitting meditation, which, I believe is fundamental to being still and aware in order to see and trust life and to know that truth embraces everything. Looking around me, I believe I can begin to see the wider sangha, friends, neighbours, animals, and nature more clearly and learn from them too. Every morning is an opportunity to begin to see again and to trust what is actually happening naturally.

‘When we teach and enlighten things by ourselves, we are deluded.
When all things teach and enlighten us, we are enlightened’.
Dogen Zenji

 

 

Every Morning ~ by Chris Yeomans

This month, Dew on the Grass is featuring work on the theme of “Every Morning”. Our first post is a lovely piece written by Chris Yeomans.

Every morning at breakfast, I sit down at the table opposite my shelves of cookery books. Instead of reading cereal packets, my eyes stray to the titles. These people are my friends and heroes – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson. My eyes run over the titles: ‘River Cottage Veg Every Day,’ Much More Veg’, ‘Tender’, ‘The Green Roasting Tin’, ‘How to Eat’, ‘Elizabeth David on Vegetables.’ And on and on. My breakfast companions. My comfort. My hope.

What do they represent? Some sort of fantasy ideal world to which I aspire, where I will prepare beautiful, healthy, delicate dishes, honouring the raw materials and nourishing the soul. And connected to this, there is the lifestyle. Have you ever seen Nigel Slater’s garden? It is perfection. If I lived there in that house, well then surely I’d cook? And River Cottage is my personal Field of Dreams, although of course in my world, the animals would be pets and wouldn’t end up in the pot.

Even Mary Berry and Delia – if I could just be more like them. I would whip up a cake at the drop of a hat and serve sweet delicacies to my appreciative friends.

But the truth is that I don’t often open those cookbooks, and I don’t make the recipes within their covers. Life takes over. The quick, the convenient, the familiar and the easy end up on the dinner table night after night. Sometimes I take the books off the shelves and browse through them. I even mark the pages with stickers of good intention. But I don’t do it. I don’t choose even one new recipe, make a shopping list, plan the time. Or, to be honest, sometimes I do buy the ingredients and then never get round to using them. The Marigold Engevita in my cupboard is dated May 2021. I can’t even bring myself to throw it away.

And this, of course, is about aspiring to a more mindful, peaceful, focussed life. I’m trying not to use the word ‘should.’ But if I could clear my diary, stop chasing out to meet friends, sort out my ‘to do’ list, get on top of other household chores…. If I could stay peacefully at home (and I do have a lovely kitchen, so that’s one excuse gone), then would I feel better? Would I be a more spiritual person? Would I be at peace? How many more years’ training do I have to do before I somehow achieve that frame of mind? Oh, dear.

Maybe I can just work on acceptance. Of me and my failings. Maybe this week I’ll try just one new dish.