Invisible Borders ~ by Mo Henderson ~ part of the Borders, Boundaries and Barriers series.

This week, we continue our series on Borders, Boundaries, and Barriers with a very informative and enlightening piece by Mo Henderson, in which she outlines the work of Doctors Without Borders and how we, too, can live without borders.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) which translates to Doctors Without Borders was founded in 1971 in Paris by a group of journalists and doctors. Today, it has grown into a worldwide movement of nearly 68,000 people. They provide medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare and are bound together by a charter guided by medical ethics and the principles of impartiality, independence, and neutrality. They are a non-profit, self-governed, member-based organisation and members agree to honour their charter principles, these include:

1  Providing assistance to populations in distress.

2 Helping victims of natural or man-made disasters and victims of armed conflict, irrespective of race, religion, creed or political convictions.

3 Having neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance and claims to full and unhindered freedom in the exercise of its functions, while respecting their professional code of ethics and maintaining complete independence from all political, economic or religious powers.

4 Finally, as volunteers, members understand the risks and dangers of the missions they carry out and make no claim for themselves or their assigns for any form of compensation other than that which the association might be able to afford them.

I am deeply impressed by people who selflessly offer their service for others in this way, how do they move towards suffering, not knowing what to expect? Individually, they may have all kinds of reasons, but without their help, many would not survive.

Volunteering to go and help others you don’t know must be a particular kind of calling, and not everyone would deliberately seek such work. Those who choose to engage in humanitarian work in difficult conditions, such as war, famine, or natural catastrophe, and who consistently return to those conditions must be blessed by having cultivated specific virtues. For example, courage to take risks,  patience to be with difficult circumstances and the diligence to wholeheartedly be with the process, applying effort and hard work to protect the team and everyone in many different ways, while at the same time not abandoning the humanitarian principles illustrated in their charter.

The faith to do such work without knowing the outcome is essential to carrying on. Having the courage to continue this work is often supported by the reciprocal relationship, which survivors reflect through having their faith in humanity encouraged by experiencing the existence of human kindness, which seeks the good in people and being accepted despite their identity as allies, opponents, race, gender, religion or political convictions.

I never cease to be amazed when I see, on TV, acts of kindness within the most extreme struggles of war. People focusing wholeheartedly on rescue work, holding and hugging those who have lost loved ones and struggling to do the best they can for their families and friends, while all the time surrounded by the horrors of war.

In a sense this humanitarian example is comparable with what the Buddha taught, that suffering exists and there is a way of responding to it with practice in our daily life, the virtues described are not too far removed from the practice we as a community do our best to cultivate. We may not be called to travel to other countries and our daily life may not be so extreme, although relatively speaking we can experience wars of a different kind, where suffering can be created. With practice, our work could be viewed as becoming border less in a way that frees us to take risks, lessens the hold on grasping at identity and helps us to let go of the uncertainties of life. Having faith in the work that comes to us and making decisions to act, or not, needs courage and focus in order to do our best for all, not forgetting ourselves in this process. I don’t doubt the humanitarian work described is well supported by their organisation, educational training, and working teams. Similarly, the Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are, in our order, an essential foundation in the cultivation of enlightened training.

Thank you to all the helpers, whether it is consciously known or not.
With Bows

Gift of Darkness

This week, we continue our theme of ‘Darkness’ with a beautifully written post by Mo Henderson, in which she tells us about the past trauma and present behaviors of her refuge dog, Chiko, and in so doing reflects upon her own past hurts and how she faces them in the “here and now”

 

Chiko

“ Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. ”

Mary Oliver’s Poem-The Uses of Sorrow

 

Two refuge dogs are part of our family household at present. Shiny is 8 years old, a cross-border collie, who has been with us since he was 10 months old, and Chiko whose age is around 12-15 years, has been with us for the last 4 years. Sadly Chiko was abandoned and found tied to the refuge centre’s gate. We know Shiny was well-loved by his previous owner, who unfortunately had to move away with her job and her accommodation did not allow dogs. He is beautiful, loving, good-natured, and loyal. Chiko also has these qualities, he is adorable and although it has taken 3-4 years he is relaxed and stress-free at home. However, it is a different story when we take him out for a walk. When outside he becomes extremely stressed and is on guard the whole time, alert to any sign of other dogs. If he sees another dog he immediately goes into attack mode, therefore we protect him by keeping him on the lead. Occasionally, when there are no other dogs around, we let him run free for a little while, still, he is on full alert and watchful, his breathing indicates he is highly stressed. It is wonderful to see him spontaneously run free on the very rare occasion when his adventurous instinct takes over and he sees or catches the scent of something interesting to him. We have tried many ways to socialise Chiko with other dogs without success and at his ripe old age we think the old cliche ‘ you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ may be true for him!

We love him dearly and although we like to keep an open mind and would like to see him happy when outside, we will protect him (and other dogs) by keeping him on a leash outside and continue to freely enjoy his life with us at home and in our garden, where he is relaxed and happy. Not knowing his previous history, we believe he must have had some awful experience in the past, particularly with another dog/s and unlike we human beings, he cannot choose to let go of any past hurt or injury.

His care has been challenging and we are grateful that Chiko has grown to communicate with us and trust we understand and love him. He is not a silent dog, it took us a while to realise he was talking happily to us through barking and to many others who visit us. It seems to be his way of initially welcoming people to his home and he loves sitting and being part of any conversation. Happily, he settles down and then we can hear what visitors have to say too.

 

I ponder about what I have learned from Chiko and consider how I have dealt with my own past hurt and loss. By the time we as human beings reach old age, we all at some time or other have experienced some trauma and loss. My reactions to past hurts and losses have brought obstacles such as denying and distracting myself with other things to keep me busy, anything but be still and face my own vulnerabilities. In a sense it took just a few years for Chiko to learn to trust us, yet, it can seem like a lifetime to learn to let go of such experiences and to exist freely.

 

In facing the darkness in life I have not liked the feelings of being lost and vulnerable, sometimes it has felt easier to live with the narrative of past happenings and imagine future possibilities rather than simply be with life as it is now, not knowing what comes next. And yet, expecting an animal like Chiko to do so, when his little body may be carrying trauma must be an enormous task for him, not surprisingly he puts himself on high alert when outdoors!

 

The personal traumas and deep hurts human beings experience can become much lighter when learning to exist now, which, in a sense, is all that there is. I am not the same as I was before these things and never will be. I am learning to see and accept loss and hurt by knowing these things have happened without needing to identify and replay my story as if it is reality now. Somehow this allows space for those precious loved ones lost and for healing personal wounds. More importantly, to venture freely, appreciate, and be grateful for life itself and all the connections and expressions that brings.

 

Little Chiko helped with the gift of a ‘box full of darkness’ in my reflections on his life. I wish him well and best wishes with his struggles and that we can protect him in the best ways possible.

Love and merit to him as we venture out together.

 

Mo Henderson

Verses from the Tao Te Ching-Mo

SAMURES Manor

 

 

 

“ Yet mystery and imagination arise from the same source. This source is called darkness. Darkness within darkness, the gateway to all understanding. ”

Lao Tzu

 

 

Lao Tzu or otherwise known as Laozi is said to have written the Tao Te Ching. The oldest manuscripts in a complete form were discovered early in the 2nd Century, in a tomb that was sealed in 168 BC. The oldest text containing quotes from the Tao Te Ching dates back to the late 14th Century and there is doubt amongst scholars whether the Tao Te Ching was written by Lao Tzu or a compilation of Taoist sayings by many different hands. There are many English translations of the Tao Te Ching and I have chosen three translations of Chapter 1. ‘The Way’.

The first, below, is the earliest written in 1868, followed by another from 1972 and finally one from 1995. In reading these differing versions, I related to the language used in each, in different ways. I wondered how the authors’ spiritual beliefs and background may affect their understanding and how much is lost, because words may not accurately translate the true meaning from the original. Still, this is how it is and I’m grateful for the many attempts to relay understanding. Although the Tao Te Ching preceded Buddhism, there are many similarities.

 

The tau (reason) which can be tau-ed (reasoned) is not the Eternal Tau (Reason). The name which can be named is not the Eternal Name.

Non-existence is named the Antecedent of heaven and earth, and Existence is named the Mother of all things.

In eternal non-existence, therefore, man seeks to pierce the primordial mystery; and, in eternal existence, to behold the issues of the Universe. But these two are one and the same and differ only in name.

This sameness (or existence and non-existence) I call the abyss — the abyss of abysses — the gate of all mystery.

Translated by John Chalmers (1868)

 

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.

The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.

Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.

Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations.

These two spring from the same source but differ in name; 
this appears as darkness. 
Darkness within darkness. 
The gate to all mystery.

Translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English 1972

 

The Tao that can be told
 is not the eternal Tao
.

The name that can be named 
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.

Naming is the origin
 of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.

Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.

The gateway to all understanding.

(translation by Stephen Mitchell, 1995)

 

The Brightness of Springtime & Friendship

This week, we continue our theme of ‘Bright’ with an insightful and moving post about the nature of true friendship and the natural world, by Mo Henderson.

Springtime is here, with its brightness unfolding. The yellow daffodils shine on the roadsides and the delicate forget-me-nots peer out amongst the grasses. In our garden colourful, small birds busy themselves, rummaging for nest-building material, including blue tits, wrens, finches and sparrows. The tree buds burst out in various shades from purple to a fine bright green. The evenings are brighter and as the day extends the garden calls to share the natural worlds awakening to lightness and beauty. I find springtime uplifting after the long dark days of winter and love being outside.

The poet Mary Oliver, who had a traumatic and dysfunctional childhood, describes how, amidst the trauma, she would take a walk in the woods amongst the trees and feel ‘saved’ by friendship with the natural world.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

Quote from-‘Wild Geese’ Mary Oliver.

The natural world seems to awaken a sense of belonging. No matter what my own conditions are, while walking with our two dogs Shiny and Chiko in the forest or on the coast I am relaxed and feel at ‘home’ with myself and the surroundings. I observe the dogs as completely living the walk, catching the scent of another animal, sniffing all the aromas of country life and chasing the birds who come close to our path. My guess is they too are totally at home in friendship with the natural world.

Feeling this sense of mutual friendship and belonging with the natural world is not the same spontaneous process between human beings. In my experience, getting to know someone takes time before feeling able to simply be ‘me’. These days people, in general, appear to have many ‘acquaintances’ but only a very few real friendships, if any. Getting to know someone well is often a slow process and observation of intentions needs wise discernment. There are some, regardless of conscious or unconscious intention, who seek friendship for self-gain, or, use flattery to mimic friendship. These types of half-lies and half-truths can fall away when one is fortunate enough to be mutually nourished by genuine friendship.

“a friend is a person with whom [one] may be sincere, genuine friendship extends its rewards beyond the personal realm and becomes the civilisational glue that holds humanity together. Friendship produces between us a partnership in all our interests. There is no such thing as good or bad fortune for the individual; we live in common. And no one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbour if you would live for yourself”

Seneca, a Roman philosopher, in his magnificent letter ‘On True and False Friendship’

The natural world appears to have no hidden agenda, no purpose but to be as it is, perhaps this is why we often feel a sense of belonging as we mirror and accept both the brightness and harshness of all nature’s expressions, like Buddha in the Flower Sermon, who silently held up the flower to signify the nature of things as they are (suchness).

In ancient Celtic understanding, true friendship is seen as without mask or pretension. In true friendship you can speak with honesty and integrity from your mind/heart, it is an act of recognition, of belonging and this sense of belonging awakens a deep and special unconditional relationship. In the Celtic tradition, this is called ‘anam cara’ or ‘soul friend’.

“With the anam cara you could share your inner-most self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam cara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.” The Celtic understanding did not set limitations of space or time on the soul. There is no cage for the soul. The soul is a divine light that flows into you and into your Other. This art of belonging awakened and fostered a deep and special companionship”.

Anam Cara
John O’Donahue

Love of nature brings a brightness which embraces presence and belonging. It is so easy to see and accept the brightness and unconditional relationship with nature, including our beloved animals. Seeing the light that shines in other human beings needs much trust and faith, can we see it in everyone and more importantly can we see it beyond our own shadows?

The natural world with all its beauty and harshness offers so much opportunity to know what unconditional friendship means. I think being vigilant and on guard with those we choose to be with is sensible, however, perhaps the half-truths and half-lies that some often use to sustain relationships are unnecessary, silence can show truth and kindness, sharing trust and loyalty with all those we meet in our lives can be a foundation for change in ourself and others. This way, like an old and dear friend, the wholesome art of love and care may help us meet our own true nature and be at ‘home” wherever we are.

 

Mo Henderson

The Deep Blue Eyes of the Peacock Butterfly

This week, Mo Henderson continues the theme of ‘Blue’ with a reflection on the life cycle of the Peacock butterfly and how its “natural connection with the world around it” can serve as a reminder of our own purpose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recently saw a peacock butterfly. I can understand how it got that name, so beautiful, just like the colours in a male peacock’s feathers. This one had vivid blue spots on its wings, looking like eyes peering out at you from a bright crimson background. Its expression of life was breathtaking,  how sad this wonderful creature’s life is all but a few fleeting weeks in spring. I looked up its life cycle.

‘In May, after mating, females lay their eggs in batches of up to 500. After a week or two the caterpillars hatch and spin a communal web in which they live and feed. As they grow, the caterpillars increasingly live in the open. They pupate alone, and adults emerge from July. The main priority is to feed-up before the winter hibernation, in dark crevices, sheds and tree holes. Adults emerge again in spring to mate and breed’. 1

That evening I recalled the sight of this stunning little creature and pondered on its existence. Expressing life in that way appears to have meaning because of its functioning and natural connection with the world around it. A butterfly is not searching for meaning, it simply ‘is’, it has nothing to hold on to or search for. It simply responds to the need of the moment. How easy it seemed for this creature to flow with nature, without present concerns based on past memory or future possibilities.

‘I suggest that enlightenment and meaning are functions of the present moment’ 2

As a human being and not a butterfly, I often wonder if my own authentic expression of life is ‘seen’. I’m consciously aware of having an individual story, based on what I have experienced and how I perceive and remember it. I’m sure these elements must intrude on my response to the needs of the present moment. Sometimes I feel distracted from ‘seeing’ what needs doing. Is our real nature always present like the butterfly’s?

At a personal level I believe each of us has a part to play and discovering what that is, and how we can naturally function to express that in a much bigger picture, is a lifetime’s work. This is challenging, particularly in making the ‘right’ choices. Sometimes, I can all but wonder how much my choices will help ourselves and others. There may be a sense of knowing but no absolute certainty.

The daily practice of Zazen (sitting meditation), simply learning to accept and be with what arises in the present moment, is enough to help us see how to respond by making good choices 3.

When I realise I have made a mistake, is this still expressing life as best I can? I believe meditation practice is an expression of our true nature, by giving space to be with and accept life as it is. This daily practice, which permeates into our lives, helps us to ‘see’ ways to help us learn from mistakes and respond to the conditions which arise. For me, rather than blaming myself or others, it has meant having faith in the practice and trusting myself to respond in helpful ways.

Sometimes life seems to flow easily and other times the work which comes is challenging. I am not the butterfly with the deep blue eyes on its wings, but there is a wish to try to ‘see’ with eyes that look closer at expressing what true nature is.

Mo Henderson

1 The RSPB Wildlife Charity
2 Rev Master Daishin Morgan (Page 63 Buddha Recognises Buddha).
3 Rev Master Daishin Morgan (Sitting Buddha-Zen Meditation for Everyone)

What am I Waiting For: And What Waits? ~ by Mo Henderson ~ part of the “What are you waiting for?” series.

 

‘A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us’.

Henri J.M. Nouwen

Waiting can sometimes be a source of frustration. When we are surrounded by a culture of productivity, things can be seen as a test or comparison, the shape of our bodies, the hours we work, what we earn or what we buy can be judged and measured, influencing our attitude towards ourselves and others. When I was nursing years ago, I remember trying to be all things to all people, never saying no to what I thought was needed at the time. I was dedicated. However, on reflection, I was also a workaholic and a people pleaser. The consequence was, I almost suffered burnout, the result of which would have left me useless for all, including myself. Most of my decisions were made hurriedly, I didn’t wait and felt unfulfilled in many ways.

Exhausted and at a very low ebb in my life, a friend and I attended a retreat and I was introduced to Zazen (Buddhist meditation). In the beginning, the experience of practice appeared to make things worse! However, something kept me going and after many years of going on with practice and study, I believe I am discovering more of my authentic self and taking part in something much bigger.

I hope this little poem expresses some of the difficulties of learning to sit still, question myself and see things differently.

So who is it who waits and who is it who acts? I wish to learn from my teachers, know not to copy them, find my real authentic self and play a part in life as best I can. Who will that be tomorrow, I don’t actually know.

What is Waiting?

Will I see colours, blues and purples?
They say blue is spacious and purple is very spiritual,
I read about the bliss and the explosion of light,
Can I feel the same, no, try as I might?

When will the bell ring?
I need to move,
this pain in my back is changing my mood.
This body can be troublesome,
these thoughts are too much,
If things were different, then I’d be in touch.

Who is it sitting here, is it me?
Maybe there’s more to know and to see.
But first, acceptance and patience to wait,
for this little child who will open the gate.
Stepping out to finally greet,
what is always calling me to meet?

Mo Henderson

Spiders Web-In House & Garden -Mo Henderson

Continuing our theme of Spider Web, this week Mo Henderson shares her childhood experience of communing with a spider. It seems that all our contributors, thus far, on this theme, have had similar relationships with these small, eight-legged friends. How wonderful!

As a child, I was always fascinated by watching little creatures and despite the huge differences in image, size and behaviour, my imagination worked in a way which opened a whole world of mutual relationships for me. I remember one particular spider who lived in the corner of my grandmother’s bathroom. Before school, I used to stand on a wooden support made by my grandfather to clean my teeth under the watchful eye of the spider, I would tell her about my morning and future school day.

I was horrified one day to hear my mother was going to remove the spider webs from around the house and, sure enough, the next morning my friend the spider had gone! How she would miss me! Would she understand why she had to move? I certainly didn’t but was reluctant to mention the loss to my mother. For some reason the secret was just between the spider and me;  relationships like that were in my heart and I needed it not to be lost from there too! Over my childhood years, I had many more friends who were also very different and on reflection, I learned a lot from those silent communications with the natural world.

Last week my brother sent me a photo of a ‘Cross Orb Weaver garden spider’. He had received a delivery of smokeless coal and the spider’s web was covering the space where it was normally stored, “So I’ve had to find a new space for the coal bags” he wrote. I was quietly pleased, knowing the spider was staying where it presently was. I looked closely at the photo and thought the web looked quite tattered and weathered, yet there was this beautiful creature sitting there, watching and waiting with such dignity and vigilance in the centre.

‘If thus restrained, freedom original: Is like a tiger that has tattered ears or like a hobbled horse’

The Most Excellent Mirror Samadi

Throssel Retreat Hut

By Siafu Antony Lipski


‘Motivated by the memory of its early morning enchantment, of true freshness and hope, I am in the fortunate position of being able to commit its vision to paper; revelling in the chance to explore a return, on the tail of a long journey, interspersed over many decades with session at Throssel, to a place of peace and serenity.

Each morning began with a stroll to the hut and a quiet rejoicing. What a blessing to discover an eternal home!

Gassho’

_/\_

Reflections of Braiding Sweetgrass Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants-by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass
Braiding Sweetgrass

I loved this book and would like to share with you some thoughts and points which jumped out of the pages and inspired me greatly. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology and also the founder of the Centre for Native Peoples and the Environment in Syracuse, New York. It is a beautiful book that illustrates a synergy of survival, a reciprocal relationship between the earth and its peoples. Kimmerer offers a unique blend of her factual scientific training and her knowledge and experience of indigenous people.

I felt a sense of reverence and humility after reading this book and it sparked a heartfelt wish to understand more about the natural relationships between plants, animals, people, and the earth. Scientific evidence and the events happening on our planet today are at a ‘tipping point’ towards climate change. With fossil fuels diminishing, it is the beginning of resource depletion, this book points to ways of living more harmoniously with nature.

The author illustrates a number of ways learned from native people about reciprocal relationships between plants, animals, and people. I will start with the ‘three sisters’ a way of reciprocity between growing plants. This was a result of their observations and respect towards plants and what they can teach us. The ‘three sisters’ are corn, beans, and pumpkin or squash, the corn is planted first and grows to knee-high becoming strong and stiff. The second sister, climbing beans, are planted to grow and entwine with the corn and spiral upwards. The third sister, pumpkin or squash, steadily grows at the base of the corn and beans, sheltering the soil, keeping moisture in and other plants out, each giving and receiving in mutual support.

Another example from this book of how plants teach is the bitter taste of sour wild strawberries sampled before they ripen (often by impatient children), a lesson of patience and a capacity for self-restraint, an important lesson for us all in these days of short resources.

Research by settlers into traditional harvesting methods revealed natives had guidelines and protocols aimed at maintaining the health and vigour of plants and other species. The long-term observations of native people harvesting wild rice shows they spend 4 days filling their canoes with rice, then they stopped gathering long before all the rice was harvested. At first, the settlers thought this was due to laziness or lack of industrial machinery. Later they understood this was a land-care practice, the natives knew they weren’t the only ones who ate rice, what they left behind was not wasted. Ducks and other birds would not have stopped there if there was no rice left and seeds were spread by the birds to other areas. Similarly, berries spread their fruits on the earth for birds, animals, and humans and the seeds were spread by all to flourish in other areas. This reciprocal life sows richness for all, today, this kind of mutual support is rare with our modern farming methods.

Ceremonies of gratitude after harvesting were a part of life in indigenous communities. In a culture of gratitude, there is a deeper meaning for this gratitude, it is knowing that gifts follow a circle of reciprocity and flow back to you again. The act of generous giving and the humility of receiving are necessary halves of the equation. During the thanksgiving ceremony, the natives always dance in a circle in gratitude for this way of reciprocity, as I understand this, the circle gives us a metaphor for everyone and everything. After the dance one big wooden bowl of berries is passed around with one big spoon, so everyone can taste the sweetness, remember the gifts and say thank you. The author explains how the natives ‘know’ everyone is fed from the same bowl Mother Earth has filled for us and it’s not just about the berries, but about the bowl. How do we refill the empty bowl? Robin Wall Kimmerer offers this lovely poem in her book, it embraces ways of life towards enriching and sustaining our planet.

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last.
Take only what you need.
Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others.
Harvest in a way that minimises harm.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.
Share.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer.

As I read Braiding Sweetgrass familiar quotes and verses from Soto Zen training came to mind, especially these two:

The Five Thoughts
We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come.
We must consider our merit when accepting it.
We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds.
We will eat lest we become lean and die.
We accept this food so that we may become enlightened.

– The Mealtime Ceremony in Scriptures and Ceremonies at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey

And

When we try to teach and enlighten all things by ourselves, we are deluded. When all things teach and enlighten us, we are enlightened.
– Dogen Zenji

Braiding Sweetgrass is sacred, full of enriching and inspiring wisdom, I feel blessed a friend recommended it to me and to pass this on to you.

Mo Henderson

 

A Favourite Book: Kinship With All Life by J. Allen Boone


Had this book just been published today I would highly recommend you buy it. But it wasn’t, written in 1954, it tells the story of ‘Strongheart’ a famous actor-dog and his relationship with the person looking after him. It tells of a bond of friendship which formed between them, an extraordinary ménage of curiosity, observation and study by the carer which was quickly mutually reciprocated by Strongheart. An attitude of curiosity, openness, patience and humility became a catalyst to forming a connective bridge between the human and the animal, a universal ability many ‘modern humans’ have lost.

The author describes receiving a lesson on how humans connect with dogs by an American Indian Mojave Dan:

‘There’s facts about dogs and there’s opinions about them. The dogs have the facts and the humans have the opinions. Get the facts straight from the dog, opinions from the humans’. 1.

This information was invaluable to him and led to the ability to detect motives and intentions, a sense of ‘mind reading’ between Strongheart and himself, a synergy, bridging silent questions towards an intuitive ‘knowing’. This Indian philosophy of recognising mental and physical communication as universal and natural between humans and animals is expressed in the book with this quote:

Ask the very beasts, and they will teach you;

ask the wild birds-they will tell you;

crawling creatures will instruct you,

fish in the sea will inform you:

for which of them all knows not that this is

the Eternal’s way,

in whose control lies every living soul,

and the whole life of man. 2.

Job 12:7-10

From his friendship with Strongheart he goes on to describe his relationship with other sentient beings, including ants, earthworms and his fascinating relationship with ‘Freddie the fly’. The latter by changing his attitude, from finding flies irritable and wanting to swat them, to ‘right see’ with an ‘all good heart’.  His practice of a loving attitude towards even a small fly resulted in a sense of friendship. Freddie the fly used to sit on his typewriter as he worked, follow him from room to room, until eventually he sat on on the palm of his hand getting his wings stroked. Freddie was transformed from a ‘worthless little bum’, a nuisance who deserved swatting, into an intelligent lively companion. All this happened with the offering of a loving attitude.

For anyone who has the opportunity to live or work with animals this book is a must for understanding the principles a loving connection with others. It illustrates how fellow members of nature’s own family communicate with others who understand them, whether a person, dog, earthworm, ant or fly. 

‘To behold all beings with the eye of compassion, and to speak kindly to them, is the meaning of tenderness. One must speak to others whilst thinking that one loves all living things as if they were one’s own children.’ 3.

Mo Henderson

  1. Kinship With All Life (page 47)
  2. Kinship With All Life (page 108)
  3. Shobogenzo: Shushogi-What is truly meant by training and enlightenment, from Zen is Eternal Life by Rev Master Jiyu Kennett (page 160)

Note: 

For those who wish to read this book it is still possible to buy on Amazon or Waterstones.

 

Dew on the Grass
%d bloggers like this: