Relation With the Body

Continuing our theme of “In the Shadows”, Anna Ayse describes how her childhood experience of pain caused a disconnect between body and mind, as a method of survival, and how Buddhist practice, over time, was  the catalyst for a deeper understanding of ‘reality’, bringing greater harmony and a sense of wholeness into her life.

Wind from the Sea-Andrew Wyeth
Wind from the Sea -Andrew Wyeth, 1947, National Gallery

As a fifteen year old teenager I wrote in a dairy entry that my greatest wish in life was to become as transparent as fine cloth.

That wish was born out of the experience of the body as dense, dark, heavy, claustrophobic. It was born out of the experience of being trapped in this limited form that was being judged, mistreated, medically probed, jabbed, grabbed, pushed and pulled; that was being restrained  by plaster casts, by cold hard gripping metal drilled into it; that was being subjected, many times over, to the deep slicing of the surgical blade, slicing-drawing broad, indelible lines of considerable yardage, creating intricate cord like scars, with a halo of crude stitch marks, as scattered grains of rice. I would often dissociate and retreat from the body so as not to feel the pain that was being inflicted on it. To this day, it does not come naturally to say “my body”, although perhaps it is partly for different reasons now then it was in the past. This type of detachment from the body is a mode of survival, induced when the current experience is felt to be too overwhelming, when the current experience is existential terror.

A few years after writing down my greatest  wish in life and as a slightly older teenager, I traveled to a Buddhist monastery to learn to meditate, lead by a deep intuition that the key for realizing my life’s wish and overcoming the shadow world of the body, may lie there. It was surprising to learn that Buddhists deem a state of detachment as something desirable, something to aspire for. It would long remain a mystery as to why.

Localization in the body

The experience of being localized in the body is a difficult conundrum to crack. Our senses seemed to reinforce that “I” is localized “here” behind the eyes and the world is localized “over there” outside “I”, creating the dichotomy of self and other, the duality of subject and object. Ideas like “a healthy mind in a healthy body” reinforce the belief that we are localized in the body. This mainstream belief is challenged when the suffering becomes so excessive that it forces a disconnect. Existential terror induced at an early age is one of the causes for such a disconnect. It results in a debilitating state of affairs. Nowadays, terms are used like childhood trauma and PTSS. Information and research in that area can help understand the impact of certain experiences, even though solving the root cause falls in the spiritual domain.

The Immovable One

Acalanātha, The Immovable One (J: Fudō Myō-ō) 1199–1399, Art Institute Chicago

Becoming established in the unmoving, unflinching presence of Zazen meditation – vividly personified by Acalanātha, The Immovable One – makes it possible to face debilitating states.

It took about 35 years of remaining present in the experience of being trapped in this body, being in chronic pain and in existential terror, to realize the simple, glaring truth: the body is within “I”, not the other way round. The erroneous belief that the self is trapped in the body, and shares the limitations of the body is a contraction and that contraction is at the root of suffering.

The unbound state

The body being within “I” is glaring because it is our direct experience all along. All that we know of the body is bodily sensations, that is, how the body feels on the inside and sense perceptions of how it appears on the outside. Both sensations and sense perceptions arise within the space of awareness, the space of stillness. This collection of bodily sensations and sense perceptions we call “my body” is an activity within the space of stillness, which is the true “I”. The activity of bodily sensations and sense perceptions is the contained, not that which contains. Ignorance, that is the ignoring of this truth, cannot obscure it completely. Even in the midst of deep suffering, the truth remains as the deep wish in the heart to be free of the contraction, to be free of the belief of being a limited entity. The truth can never be erased and always remains as the deep wish to dissolve the contraction and return to our true home, the unbound state.

Effortless detachment

Coming back to detachment, the disconnect caused by suffering shatters the belief of being localized in this body but it does not eliminate that belief altogether. Even without trauma, the experience of being a limited entity and the wish to overcome that limitation is a form of disconnected detachment. The detachment the Buddhist teaching speaks of is not a disconnection, rather it is the natural outcome of seeing the truth of the matter, which is: the true self does not share the limitations of the body. The body is not an entity in its own right. Seeing it for the activity it is, seeing that the body cannot impact the self, puts the body in its rightful place in the wider perspective. This natural detachment is effortless and intimate.

Old habits

It has been about seven years since the realization of what was obvious all along. I am still processing the implications of this major shift. The ingrained thinking, sensing, feeling based on the belief of being a body, of being a limited object in time and space, are conditionings that have deep roots. These patterns have been reinforced over a lifetime, are still reinforced in the world. The work of reexamining these ingrained habits whenever they arise, aligning them with the truth and allowing them to dissolve is a long process. Some conditionings laid very early on at the time of infancy may never dissolve completely as the imprint is too deep. That is okay. It does not obscure the inherent transparency of the fine cloth.

This article is a brief write-up about an ongoing, non-linear process, Who knows it is of benefit to others.

Without Borders ~ by Anna Aysea ~ part of the Border. Boundaries and Barriers Series.

We continue our theme of Borders, Boundaries, and Barriers, with a post from Anna Aysea, in which she talks about the borders, or lack of them, between self and others and how this is often experienced.

Statue by Julian Voss-Andreae
Statue by Julian Voss-Andreae

Walking into a room where there is a tense atmosphere, you can instantly feel the tension without anything being said. This is one of the ways our interconnectedness is manifested.

A newborn child has not yet developed a sense of a separate self and lacks the filters that come with it. A baby is highly sensitive and impressionable and is not yet able to differentiate between self and other. This changes during the process of socialization the child undergoes when growing up.

Due to a combination of predisposition and environmental factors, this high sensitivity can remain intact in adulthood. In that case, there are no filters in place and the emotions of others are experienced as the emotions of the self, that is, the emotions of others are experienced from the first-person perspective.

Up until around my mid-twenties, I believed that I was emotionally unstable. It was a surprise to discover that not all of the experienced emotions originated from this body-mind.

I used to have a recurring dream about doors. In the dream, I have locked all the doors of the house but somehow the locks don’t work and people can just walk in. They can even come in through the walls.

This borderless state where the feelings of others are experienced from the first-person perspective is confusing, to say the least. In the end, it doesn’t really matter where emotions like fear or anxiety are coming from. How you deal with them is the same in all cases: allowing the feelings to arise within the space of awareness, knowing that that space cannot be disturbed by whatever is arising within it.

When you start to notice a correlation between the arising of certain feelings and being in a particular situation, that insight gives you the freedom to walk away from these situations. The lack of filters as symbolized by the dream of the failing locks is less problematic by becoming more and more established in the space of awareness and the freedom that comes from gaining insight into particular situations.

Darkness In Spiritual Sense ~ by Anna Aysea – part of the “Darkness” series

This week, Anna Aysea explores darkness and the colour black as potential gateways to spiritual awakening.

Suffering is often associated with darkness. This may be due to the fact that some of the synonyms of darkness include obscurity and concealment. It could be said that when our true nature is obscured and veiled by ignorance, suffering ensues.

In this post, I would like to explore darkness and the colour black from a slightly different angle. In spiritual terms, darkness can also mean the absence of manifestation. Sunyata or emptiness refers to ultimate reality being void of name and form as manifestation. In this sense, ultimate reality could also be called limitless potential unmanifest.

Interestingly, the colour black is said to contain infinite colours and in the Zen tradition, newly ordained monks wear black robes, which symbolize their unmanifested potential for enlightenment.

Rothko Chapel by Chad Kleitsch
Rothko Chapel, courtesy of Chad Kleitsch

One of the prominent works of art, which uses the colour black in the spiritual sense of ultimate reality unmanifest, is The Rothko Chapel by the American painter Mark Rothko. It is a non-denominational chapel which serves as an ecumenical centre.

The chapel contains 14 large-scale paintings all in varying shades of black. The paintings appear to be solid black but Rothko uses many uneven washes of pigment to create subtle colour differences and depth. The layered surface of the paintings are alive with myriad variations which can be observed by taking the time to sit quietly with the paintings. Rothko’s intention was to draw the vision of the viewer in and beyond the canvas which serves as a window to “look upon the infinite”. Using human perception to point to something which cannot be perceived by the senses is the goal of all sacred art. Yearly, thousands of people come to meditate in front of the paintings in the chapel. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary, Sotherby made an interesting video about the Rothko  Chapel and the thinking behind the idea of a contemporary spiritual space.

Perhaps there is a work of art that is drawing your vision beyond itself to that which is beyond sense perception? Buddha statues are like that. They can evoke in the viewer the stillness they symbolize as a finite object.

Buddha in Glory

We are grateful to Anna Aysea for this entry on our blog, this week – Buddha in Glory, indeed.

Center of all centers, core of cores,
almond self-enclosed, and growing sweet–
all this universe, to the furthest stars
all beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.

Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
your vast shell reaches into endless space,
and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
Illuminated in your infinite peace,

a billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead.

– by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Wooden Shakyamuni, 12th century
Wooden Shakyamuni, 12th century

It is said the poem Buddha in Glory came to Rilke when meditating seated in front of a Buddha statue in the garden.

Master of light

Continuing our theme of Bright, this week, Anna Aysea writes an evocative reflection, which is “inherently intimate, shining with the light of Being that is beyond time.”

Woman reading a letter – Johannes Vermeer, 1663

Light is a central element of his composition, and because of his skill in how to render it, the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer is called the master of light.

In a Vermeer painting, light entering through a window permeates the whole scene, gently illuminating the figure and the objects in the room, making everything almost shine with an inner glow.

Woman Reading a Letter (for a higher resolution please click on the image) depicts a quiet, private moment where a young woman is absorbed in reading a letter in the morning light. All of the colours in the composition are secondary to the radiant lapis lazuli blue of her jacket.  While the objects in the room cast shadows, Vermeer has deliberately omitted the woman’s shadow, creating an ephemeral, atemporal effect, as if the figure and the act of reading are beyond time, in eternity. The luminous blue acts as a portal to draw the attention, giving the viewer a taste of that which is beyond sensory perception, the infinite nature of Being.

Through the mastery of the artist, as the viewer, we transcend the limits of the body, the limits of time and space and are pulled into the stillness, into the emanating timeless tranquillity. We expand and extend into the domestic scene,  dissolving the seeming distance of the subject-object mode of perceiving. There is just the sweet intimacy of Being.

In the eighties, still the era of the Iron Curtain, travelling through Europe, my first acquaintance with a Soviet country was Hungary. I remember the extreme poverty, the other-worldly urban streets, completely devoid of any commercial signage screaming for attention.

One day, trying to find a place to eat in a suburb of Budapest, I ended up in what appeared to be a soup kitchen. It was located in a dilapidated monumental building of former grandeur. In the great hall with ceiling-high windows, people cued up for the counter where workers were dispensing plates of plain boiled beans for a few cents. Waiting in the cue with locals in ragged clothes, there was a serenity to the whole scene emphasized by the soft shuffling of feet. Light was filtering through the dirt-covered windows, clouds of vapour rising from bin-sized pans, myriad dust particles dancing in the beams of light, the worn down wooden floor, the shabby tables and chairs, the toothless old man in front, the scene was like a painting, intimate, timeless, without distinction between the mundane and the sacred.

With the abundance of spring oncoming, why not take inspiration from the master of light? Ultimately all perception is like a Vermeer painting, inherently intimate, shining with the light of Being that is beyond time.

Reverend Saidō Kennaway – Tribute

Rev. Saidō Kennaway
Rev. Saidō Kennaway

Dear friends, Like many in our community, we are saddened by the sudden death on the 3rd of March of Rev. Saidō Kennaway, our beloved friend and teacher and the prior of Telford Buddhist Priory. Today it is Rev. Saidō’s 73rd birthday and we like to take the opportunity to pay tribute and express our gratitude.

The greatest teaching of Rev. Saidō has been by example. He was the embodiment of kindness, compassion, generosity and wisdom in all his dealings with others, regardless of status or rank. His lightheartedness and quite joy was infectious. Speaking to him would always lighten your mood, even if your burdens remained. Rev. Saidō was a truly humble human being. He deserves recognition for everything he has done for the Throssel and Telford community, for the sangha at large, for his interfaith work as committee member of the Network of Buddhist Organisations and for his work during many decades with Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy.

Dear Rev. Saidō, our heartfelt gratitude and thank you for the light of wisdom you’ve shared,  the difference you have made for so many of us and for the inspiring example you have set in our community and in the world at large. The soft spoken voice, the chuckle, the twinkle in the eye, it will be much missed and held in loving memory.

“When we think sincerely we find that birth and death are cyclic as are cold and heat”   – From the Buddhist funeral ceremony

A small anecdote about Rev Saidō I will always remember. My first stay at Throssel Abbey was as a teenager in the early eighties. One afternoon, I had collected my dried laundry in a basked, before I could process it any further in the old laundry room, I left it there as I apparently needed to do some other errand first. Upon my return, someone had used the same basked – baskets being in short supply – to collect wet laundry out of the washing machine to free it up for the next load.  As I stood for a moment looking at the basked with the mix of wet and dry laundry, wondering what to do, I heard the monk, also present in the laundry room, say: “Oh dear! I am sorry!” He quickly came over to remove the wet stuff out of the basked to prevent my dry laundry getting damp. I remember being quite surprised that, first of all, this monk would notice and get the situation without me having said anything, then he would actually apologize to me, a foreigner and a youngster, and he would make the effort to correct the situation. The small interaction seems insignificant but to be attuned and accountable, to be decent and kind without there being onlookers, without a spotlight, and regardless of rank or status, is the hallmark of true empathy and humbleness. My young self may not have been able to articulate all this but I understood and it left a lasting impression.


Funeral service for Rev. Saidō will be held on Saturday 18th March at 09:30 am, Telford Crematorium. There will be a Live Cast broadcast during the Funeral. Further information also on Jademountains



In our latest feature on the theme of Blue, Anna Aysea explores the origins of the colour blue, the language used to describe it and how our perception of it has developed over time.

Blue pigment
Blue pigment

There is more to blue than meets the eye. Apparently, the colour blue did not exist for our ancestors. Researchers analyzed ancient texts from all over the world, the Hebrew Bible, the Quran, and ancient Chinese, Hindu, and Inuit languages. All major languages seem to show the same development regarding colour: words for black and white appear first as indicators for dark and light, then the word for red as an indicator for danger, then words for green and yellow, the word for blue is the last to appear in the language. In ancient texts, black and white are mentioned the most, to a lesser degree red is mentioned, then green and yellow, researchers found no mention of blue, not once. The word for blue appears only after the invention of blue synthetic dye by the Egyptians about 5000 years ago. Our ancestors did not see blue as a separate colour but as a shade of green.

The reason that there was no word for blue in ancient times is because blue pigment does not exist in nature. You may ask: “Well, what about the ocean, the blue sky, blueberries, my blue hydrangeas, my blue eyes? The blueish colour of less than ten percent of flowers is caused by a natural modification of a red pigment, which is also responsible for the colour of blueberries. The pigments of indigo or woad are variations of violet. The blue of the sky, the ocean and blue eyes are the result of how light is refracted. This is also true for the vivid blue of exotic birds or butterflies. The microscopic structure of the feathers or wings is such that it refracts the light in a way that the surface appears blue.

Lapis lazuli and the ultramarine made from it is the exception as a true blue pigment in nature. The fact that the pigment is so rare may be the reason why lapis lazuli is associated with healing, wisdom and compassion in Buddhist teaching. Also, plants thrive best under blue light. Afghanistan being the major source of Lapis lazuli, the pigment was mostly used in the east in Buddhist and Mughal art for centuries. Its diffusion in Europe began during the Crusades in medieval times, but its rarity and cost meant that it could be afforded for the creation of artworks only for the most wealthy. Hence blue is the colour of royalty.

The ephemeral nature of the colour blue is in fact true for all colours. According to modern science, colour is the way light is absorbed, reflected and scattered by a surface, colour does not exist as such but is an interpretation of a wavelength by the sensory apparatus. In other words, colour is what reality looks like when it is filtered and interpreted by the body-mind. Sense perceptions are not reality but an image, like the map, is not the territory but a representation of it. I am reminded of the Scripture of Great Wisdom which also dismisses sense perceptions as reality:

… in this pure there is no … eye, – ear, – nose, – tongue, – body, – mind; No form, – no tastes, – sound, – colour, touch or objects…

The world is real, but it is not what it appears to be based on eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Form, taste, sound, colour, touch or objects are images, are representations, not reality. Mistaking the image for the territory is entering the world of illusion. Without that erroneous belief, there is beauty and joy in the play of the senses, in the radiant, glorious blue of ultramarine as one of the myriad faces of the one reality.

108 Meditations in Saffron – The familiar seen in a new light ~ by Anna Aysea ~ part of the “Unexpected Visitor” series

Completing our feature on the theme of “An Unexpected Visitor”,  Anna Aysea shares the artwork of David Chatt and his 108 Meditations in Saffron, which is a very unusual and insightful take on the litter that we leave behind.

108 Meditations in Saffron by David Chatt
108 Meditations in Saffron by David Chatt, found objects, glass beads.

Last week as I did a search for something completely different, the algorithm served a most irrelevant image which grabbed my attention. There was something very familiar about what looked like a series of neatly arranged random objects and yet I could not determine what I was looking at. Following intuition, I clicked and unexpectedly found “108 Meditations in Saffron” by American artist David Chatt.

I’d like to share the artist’s statement about the experience which inspired him to turn trashed objects into glass-beaded jewels as a form of contemplation :

“A few years ago I made it my habit to walk every day. I was living in a large city and couldn’t help noticing how much garbage littered my path. I lamented this fact, and wondered, with more than a little sanctimony, what kind of person throws trash to the ground? My indignation increased with each bottle or discarded wrapper. As my regime progressed, I gained a begrudging interest in these objects of contempt. I noticed that there are socioeconomic patterns to street garbage. One neighborhood’s garbage is not the same as the next. I learned the places where homeless people sit and drink. I was fascinated when visiting Kyoto, Japan to discover a city where not one speck of litter could be found. I began to see the detritus in the streets where I live as a record of sorts and even looked forward to what I would find each day. I also began to see items that had not existed until recent years and wondered what a collection of litter from today would look like in ten, twenty or one hundred years.  Inevitably, I began to pick up objects that appealed to me. When I moved to a neighborhood that was less inclined toward litter, I found that I was disappointed not to see so many of these messages from my community along my path. It felt unfriendly. My own transformation complete, I wanted to show this work in a way that the wonderment I felt for these objects could be shared. I think of my walks as meditations and decided to showcase my collection by covering each found item in saffron beads the color of the robes of the Buddhist monks I had seen in Southeast Asia. I collected and covered one hundred and eight items.”

108 Meditations in Saffron by David Chatt
108 Meditations in Saffron by David Chatt, found objects, glass beads.

Visit the artist’s website for more inspiring and meticulous beadwork

The Moths and the Flame

Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night
To learn the truth about the candle light,
And they decided one of them should go
To gather news of the elusive glow.
One flew till in the distance he discerned
A palace window where a candle burned
And went no nearer: back again he flew
To tell the others what he thought he knew.
The mentor of the moths dismissed his claim,
Remarking: “He knows nothing of the flame.”
A moth more eager than the one before
Set out and passed beyond the palace door.
He hovered in the aura of the fire,
A trembling blur of timorous desire,
Then headed back to say how far he’d been,
And how much he had undergone and seen.
The mentor said: “You do not bear the signs
Of one who’s fathomed how the candle shines.”
Another moth flew out — his dizzy flight
Turned to an ardent wooing of the light;
He dipped and soared, and in his frenzied trance
Both self and fire were mingled by his dance
The flame engulfed his wing-tips, body, head,
His being glowed a fierce translucent red;
And when the mentor saw that sudden blaze,
The moth’s form lost within the glowing rays,
He said: “He knows, he knows the truth we seek,
That hidden truth of which we cannot speak.”
To go beyond all knowledge is to find
That comprehension which eludes the mind,
And you can never gain the longed-for goal
Until you first outsoar both flesh and soul;
But should one part remain, a single hair
Will drag you back and plunge you in despair
No creature’s self can be admitted here,
Where all identity must disappear.

From: “The Conference of the Birds” by Farid ud-Din Attar
Translated from farsi by Afkham Darbandi & Dick Davis

Oleander Hawk moth courtesy of Paul Parsons
Oleander Hawk moth courtesy of Paul Parsons

Waiting for Godot

This week, we have a piece by Anna Aysea on the topic of “What are you waiting for?” In it, she reflects on the human condition as depicted by Beckett, in his play Waiting for Godot.

Waiting for Godot

The theme reminded me of the play “Waiting for Godot” by the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. Together with “No Exit” by Jean Paul Sartre, it is considered the most iconic play of the 20th century on psychological human suffering.

In “Waiting for Godot” the two main characters, homeless vagabonds Vladimir and Estragon, engage in a variety of discussions and encounters on a deserted country road while awaiting the titular Godot, who never arrives. The play is set on an empty stage with a single leafless tree. The characters find themselves in an alien universe devoid of any purpose or meaning. Left to their own devices they appear selfish and callous and treat each other with cruelty. In act two of the play, a few leaves appear on the barren tree, apparently as a result of an act of compassion. It has been suggested that Beckett was hinting that it is the arising of compassion the characters/humanity are waiting for, to free them from alienation and the resulting suffering.

I read “Waiting for Godot” in my early twenties and could very much relate to the dystopian view of the human condition. As a sensitive young adult, I felt heavily burdened by the sheer amount of human suffering and cruelty I saw in the world and which Beckett expertly conjures up in his stripped-down, minimalist play. As someone who has experienced the horrors of World War 2, Beckett knew first-hand the depths of the human condition.

A few decades later not much has changed in the ways of the world, cruelty and suffering still very much abound. Yet I do not experience the hopelessness and despair of my young self any longer. The sensitivity to the suffering of the world is still there, but that in itself does not result in fear or despair, these are related to the question of birth and death. That question is now absent as it has been fully settled.

To settle the question: “Who or what was born and is going to die?”, if the answer is “I, this body-mind”, with that belief, others too are reduced to body-mind entities. When the self is understood to be “I awareness” not subject to birth and death, with the same token, the true nature of all beings is not subject to birth and death, not subject to suffering and inherently innocent.


Dew on the Grass
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