An Unexpected Visitor ~ by Chris Yeomans

This month, Dew on the Grass features writing and artwork based on the theme of “An Unexpected Visitor”. Our first piece is by Chris Yeomans and in it, she explores ways in which we are conditioned in our reactions to situations and how the practice of Buddhism throws light on this, leading to a change in our responses.

 

https://i0.wp.com/www.snobsknobs.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Visitors-Brass-Door-Bell-76mm.jpg?resize=357%2C358&ssl=1The doorbell rings and the dog rushes headlong from one end of the house to the other, barking frenetically. A man and a woman with a leaflet. ‘The Watch Tower.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses.

My mother, a woman of decided views, hated them, and I realise that my deeply hostile reaction to them comes directly from my childhood. I do feel hostile towards them, but I reflect that actually I know next to nothing about them, and my views and reactions are based purely on learned behaviour which I have never questioned. I look up what they stand for, and realise that there is almost no common ground between us and that much of what they believe and practice is alien to my own beliefs and practices. But I didn’t know that when my opinions and reactions were formed.

Years ago, I would have told them, forcefully, to go away, and I would have shut the door in their faces. More recently I have resorted to telling them that I am a Buddhist and have no interest in what they have to say. More recently still, I think that perhaps it would be a good plan at least to try to model the basics of the practice, and I speak more gently, explain that I am a Buddhist and suggest that they are wasting their time. Sometimes they react as if they have seen the devil incarnate. Perhaps for them, it seems so.

All of which has led me to look at my beliefs and opinions and to realise just how much has come to me from my mother, even if only in such a way that I am instinctively opposed to something that she would have supported. Like the Conservative Party. Very few of my critical and judgemental beliefs are based on any extensive knowledge.

That is one of the things that allowed me to become involved with Buddhism. Somehow early on I was either told or read that it was permitted, even encouraged, not to blindly accept what anyone said about the practice. That the true way was to try it for myself, to open myself to experience and to see where it led me. In other words, to accept nothing unless it seemed to be true to my own experience or in some other experiential way to have truth in it.

Of course, this way, the whole business becomes subject to the person that is me and so is refracted through my individual body/mind. There can be no other way. But I have also learned that what is true for me in the way in which my beliefs are formed, must also be true for others. So, if another’s beliefs differ from my own, I am more inclined to let it be and to remind myself that that person cannot really help the way they think and feel any more than I can. Each of us has a different body/mind, a different education, a different culture, a different pre-disposition.

Sometimes it’s hard. There are certain beliefs that I continue to think are simply wrong. Particularly if they seem to me to do harm to others. But at the very least I can be more tolerant and more understanding that the holders of these beliefs come from a different place and are as much victims of their own brains as I am.

But I still won’t be reading ‘The Watch Tower’ any time soon.

Waiting: Not Waiting-Just flow ~ part of the ‘What Are You Waiting For?’ feauture ~ by Karen Richards

Continuing our theme of “What Are You Waiting For?”, this week Karen Richards recounts a personal experience of the teaching that comes from “waiting”.

Many years ago, whilst walking in the Northumberland countryside with a monk friend, she told me the story of when, as a novice monk, she had been given the task of picking up a senior monk from the railway station. The train was late, with no confirmed time of arrival, leaving her waiting on the platform. She described the thoughts and emotions she felt: anxiety, uncertainty, irritation, and boredom. But then, a quiet voice in her mind said “You know how to wait” and she was able to let go of the frustration she was feeling and just be still.

As a carer to someone who finds movement difficult, I often have to wait for him to complete basic actions that most people take for granted. – to stand, to sit, to walk across the room, to take off socks – before I can help him with the next task.  It requires patience on both our parts. Sometimes patience comes naturally, sometimes it does not.

There have been times when, just like the novice monk, on the platform at the station, I have felt anxiety and impatience in that waiting space between the beginning of an action and its completion but the quiet statement that she spoke to herself, and which she shared so generously with me, “You know how to wait” has echoed down the years and has become a personal mantra that, when spoken gently and without self-judgement, reveals a vast openness within and engenders great love and compassion for the husband that I care for, for myself, for our difficulties and the difficulties of others. It is possible, at this point to understand where the anxiety and impatience come from – a sense of loss in my case – and things can be seen more clearly for what they are.

This change in viewpoint also has the effect of dissolving the concept of “waiting” altogether, as one moment, whether it be a moment of action or inaction, follows on in one continuous flow. I am grateful to that wise monk for her teaching and in awe of the process that is Buddhist training.

 

Waiting for the Last Bus ~ by Chris Yeomans ~part of the “What are you waiting for?” series

This week, we begin a series of posts on the theme of “What are you waiting for?” Our first offering, by Chris Yeomans, is a reflective review of the book, Waiting for the Last Bus” by Richard Holloway.

 

I have long been an admirer of Richard Holloway, who managed to talk himself out of his job, not only as Bishop of Edinburgh but as Head of the Scottish Episcopal Church, when he realised that he could no longer believe in what he was supposed to be preaching. A man who, in trying to find out whether ethics or spirituality could exist without a God, inevitably found himself at odds with the established church. In the preface to an earlier work ‘Looking in the Distance’ he says, “There is a rich and diverse range of human spiritualities in the world, and countless people follow them without reference to religion or any necessary sense of God. I have written this book for that great company because I now find myself within it.”

So I was, of course, more than pleased when he published this book about old age and death, being as how some of us are now drawing much closer to that period of our lives than hereunto.

It’s an alluring image, the idea of standing by the bus stop, waiting and wondering, knowing that there are no longer infinite opportunities yet to come. In the book, Holloway uses another similar image: that of getting on a train, used by a dying friend. “Her metaphor for death had been the train not the bus. She knew she’d have to board alone, but she wanted me there up to the last moment. ‘Make sure you buy a platform ticket,’ she warned me. (…). That’s where she wanted me, as close as I could get to her departure. I was there when the train drew in and she boarded.’

The book explores aspects of being old: how it might be good to be, what human values persist, what fears, myths and legends persist. But, mostly, it is memorable for those two images, which anodise death by making it seem like an ordinary lifetime event. Which of course it both is and isn’t. Ordinary because it will come to us all. Extraordinary because for each of us it will come only once. And as the years pass, we find ourselves inevitably pondering upon it more, and, if not exactly waiting, (which implies a suspension of activity), at least wondering.

Sometimes ~ by Chris Yeomans

This week, Dew on the Grass offers you this beautiful and evocative poem, written by Chris Yeomans.

Sometimes
I want to dress
in burgundy and mustard
and cross the world
to see the Dalai Lama.

Sometimes
I want to offer a white silk scarf,
which, in my mind,
is like the scarf that
gentleman used to wear
with evening dress.

Sometimes
I want to hear
the turning of prayer wheels,
the flapping of flags
and to see the stream
of cloud from the summit
of Mount Everest.

Sometimes
I want to go back
to the smoke-filled temples in Hong Kong,
to wipe the incense dust
from my fingers
to blink
in the glow of flickering oil lamps
and to hear the dissonant chants of foreign monks
singing in an alien key.

Sometimes
the everyday ordinary
here at home
is just too much.

Spider Web ~ by Karen Richards

Continuing with our theme of Spider Web, this week Karen Richards describes a very personal encounter with a spider

Autumn, the season of the spider web. Of course, spiders are with us all year round but in autumn they are more visible to us. Most will be found outdoors, stringing their webs across pathways, the cornices of outbuildings, and even across shrubs and vegetable patches. Those spotted indoors may have sought refuge from the cold but more likely, having been born somewhere in the house, in the spring and early summer, have emerged fully grown and looking for a mate.

~~~~~~~~~

Early morning, still dark outside, I go to light my gas hob and, looking up, see a web hanging from the ceiling just above the cooker hood and, suspended within it, a small spider. Momentarily, I consider knocking it down with a duster. It is by now hanging directly above my pan of bubbling porridge and I calculate the odds of it falling to a hot, sticky death and me having to ditch my breakfast.

Yet, despite its appearance of fragility, there is something stalwart about this small being and I decide to leave it be, for now. Each time I return to my kitchen to cook, I check on the spider’s progress. It’s still there, holding fast. Each time I consider removing it, a more powerful sense of ‘let it be’ prevents me. I am intrigued by my reluctance to decamp it, which could be done quite quickly and humanely. Over several days, I realise that I have now developed a relationship with the little creature. I look up and greet it before I light the flame and periodically, during my cooking, check to make sure it’s still safe.

One morning, when I reach out to get my breadboard, I see a tiny chrysalis formulation, lying on the worktop. It’s dead, I think but raising my eyes, I see that the previously diminutive black body is still alive but is much bigger, and is now beautifully speckled with gold. I pick up the tiny skin that it shed in the night and hold it to the light. A small amber miracle, which I place on the window-ledge with a gassho.

For several days more, I continue this communion with the arachnid until one morning it is gone and all but a fragment of the web has disappeared with it. I learn later that orb spiders routinely eat their webs when they have finished with them. Spider webs are full of amino acids, apparently.

So, I take a duster to what is left of the web, scoop up the tiny skin from the window ledge and, opening the backdoor wide, release the remnants on the wind, whispering a quiet goodbye and thank you before going back inside.

Small KIndness ~ by Danusha Laméris

We are taking a little detour from our current topic of Spider Web, to bring you some thoughts on kindness. Thank you to SiafuAntony, for reminding us about this piece of writing, by Danusha Lameris, which is both poignant and beautiful. The rock, in the photograph, is from a collection, which I spotted on my walk to a local green area, called Paddock Mound, in Telford, UK. They appeared during the pandemic, to lift our spirits, and are very much in keeping with the theme of kindness.

I’ve been thinking about the way when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by.  Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.

And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.

We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead – you first,” “I like your hat.’

Danusha Laméris

Offered to us by SiafuAntony

A Garden Reflection by Karen Richards and Calm Abiding by SiafuAntony ~ from the Small Moments series

In this week’s post, in the Something that Happened in a Small Moment series, Karen Richards shares an experience of sitting in her garden, this past summer. This is followed by a reflection, in a similar vein, by SiafuAntony.

What a privilege it is to sit amongst the flowers and watch the workings of the garden.

All morning, I have tussled with bed linen, managed the washing, prepared vegetables and cooked.  Now, as my energy slackens – I used to be able to do this stuff all day long; not so much, now – I retreat to a quiet corner, while the sun lasts, and listen to the insects quietly hum.

I watch a bee dancing on the head of a clover. He makes the blossom shake. A small fly rests upon the page as I write until the vibration of my pen, against the paper, makes him fearful of the human who has just invaded his space and he flies away in fright. This quiet place, in the undergrowth, is their domain after all, not mine.

I hear a lorry rattle along the road and voices in adjoining gardens, where neighbours talk and children play. Somewhere, in the distance, a lawn is being mowed and, through open windows, kitchen sounds of saucepans, cutlery and plates clattering in preparation for the midday break.

And as I reflect, my mind turns to thoughts of other souls in less idyllic surroundings than mine.  Those being born and those dying; those in places where war is rife or personal liberty is curtailed. To those whose suffering seems to know no bounds, I offer the merit of this small moment and then, rising from my seat, I bid my leave and go and wash the dishes.

Karen Richards

*********************

A daily ‘small moment’ that has regular healing potential for me, follows immediately after the two bell chimes on completion of morning zazen.
I am fortunate indeed to live in an area which is generally almost continuously silent and peaceful. Usually, I find myself in a state of ‘calm abiding’ following meditation; these two chimes quietly ‘roar’ into the ‘ether’.

 

I visualise the sound they produce simultaneously echoing right across the entire universe, all universes, travelling at inexpressible speed, moving and yet not moving. So their effect is immediately felt by all sentient beings both on our tiny planet and also each and every planet in the universe.
It brings me a ‘small moment’ of harmony, joy and connection with everything.

SiafuAntony

Singing in the Choir ~ part of the Something Done in a Small Moment series by Mo Henderson

Continuing our Something Done in a Small Moment series, Mo Henderson describes her experience of singing in a choir and how one small moment changed her understanding of what it is to “‘sing’ together “
Many years ago while attending a long retreat at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in Northumberland, I had the opportunity to practice with the choir. My only previous experience was at school when I was chosen to be in a choir by the music teacher. At that time I was rather reluctant and thought I may not be too good at singing. The experience of practising with my school friends was actually very enjoyable, we even won a competition at the City Hall in Newcastle. I will never forget the sense of being together and the mutual support and happiness I felt. In hindsight I believe this must have brought confidence to many of us, it certainly helped me.
I had never put myself forward to join a choir again, until years later having the opportunity to practice with the monks’ choir at Throssel. I was asked to intone a few notes to find out what kind of voice I had, then I was allotted a place to stand in the choir. As I was there for a few months, I was able to share choir practice on a number of occasions and just as at school, I enjoyed the experience immensely. I gradually came to realise the gifts of being part of a choir.
I think the main one was simply playing a part with others, hearing all their different voices including my own voice to create a whole harmonious sound. I found the concentration on listening and following the music, although not easy at first, eventually became effortless. Then, during one practice, something happened, time seemed to stand still and the joy of it all seemed like one endless moment. There was a deep appreciation for the mutual support of everyone, while at the same time the synergy of sound was as one voice.
I have not had the experience of singing with a choir since that time at Throssel. However, in my daily life, I like to take time to reflect and to recognise how others, things and nature around me are showing helpful support and how I can appreciate and mutually help too. In the past I know I have not always looked in this way and know there must have been much support I have not noticed. This does not involve needing to sing, but I believe there are many ways we can ‘sing’ together if we take a moment to listen.
Mo Henderson

Something Done in a Small Moment ~ by Chris Yeomans

Continuing our theme of “Something Done in a Small Moment”, our second post is a very moving piece by Chris Yeomans.

In June 2014 I drove over to Ely from my home in Norwich to collect my new puppy. Unsure how keen he would be on travelling, I decided that he could be contained in a large plastic garden tub, out of which he would not be able to climb. The puppy did not share my views. I settled him in it on the passenger seat, secured the seat belt around the tub and got into the driver’s seat. Immediately he decided to try to climb out.

He was eight weeks old and still had those piercing, puppy blue eyes, which later turned the usual adult dog brown. I put my hand into the tub to try to settle him. He looked up at me and met my gaze directly. Our eyes locked and I think in that moment of intensity, he bonded with me. He settled down on the blanket, keeping one eye on me, and has been reluctant to be very far away from me ever since.

Some twenty years earlier, I went to Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey for the Jukai (lay ordination) ceremonies. I hadn’t really got any idea what I was letting myself in for. I was a relatively new member of the Norwich group and a rare opportunity arose of having some childcare, which allowed me to take the week away. So I booked in. The ceremonies were memorable and often spectacular. It was a great week to be at Throssel and I had, of course, decided to commit to the practice and to the Order. But on the whole, I was underwhelmed.

I did what I was told to do, walked where I was required to walk, and meditated when scheduled to do so. And then came the part of the ceremony where the new ordinee is presented with his or her bloodline certificate, the Kechimyaku. I went up to the altar where Reverend Master Daishin was seated. He handed me the beautifully folded envelope. For a brief moment, I looked up at him and he looked straight back at me. It felt as if some kind of intuitive understanding passed between us. And that feeling has never left me.

It suddenly felt like such a huge thing. Here it was, a certificate with my name on it and a red line going directly to this Master and beyond, through the whole lineage. Connecting me, someone totally unknown and pretty insignificant, me, with this mighty inheritance. And there was and is no going back. That was a commitment which is unbreakable. And there have been times during the journey when I have seriously thought about trying to break it. But I can’t. I can have barren periods where I seem to do very little except just be, I can have more active times, I can just live an ordinary daily life, but I can never not be a part of that line.

Just one small moment of direct eye contact and my world was altered in perpetuity. I had neither sought it nor expected it. It just happened. And it still takes my breath away.

Reflections on an aspect of Dharma practice: ‘leading a horse to the water…’ ~ By SiafuAntony ~ Part of the ” Something that happened in a small moment” series.

Over the next few weeks, Dew on the Grass is featuring writings, photography and artwork around the theme of “Something that happened in a small moment”. Our first offering is a lovely piece by SiafuAntony, with accompanying images.

I learned a lesson last evening. Having my eldest grandson on a visit, 18 years young, on the threshold of adulthood age, I really do not know him well; extremely taciturn, he does not readily convey his inner thoughts, although I do get the impression he is quite a “deep thinker”.

I took this time as an opportunity to get to know him, to discover what motivates him, moves him, and so on. I thought to take him on a gentle amble at sunset, to a spot I prize over a bridge at the local railway line, facing west, where the sun sets perfectly over the hills, about 8 miles distant.

It is one of my favoured places that I love to visit, especially at the moment of dusk, as the rapidly changing light presents (to me, at any rate) a feeling of “time standing still”  and a glimpse of the “eternal here and now “.

As we sat by the pavement’s edge, I noticed that he looked tired, bored and intensely irritated by the hovering flies, glancing at his watch and then at me; it became obvious that ‘the moment’ entirely escaped him!

 

It forced me to reflect on a passage somewhere in the Dharma literature, which states that one should never impose one’s beliefs willy-nilly onto another!!
Lesson learned…