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”



“ 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





“ 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)


Darkness and Light ~ by Karen Richards

The Dew on the Grass team has taken a break, during the month of August. Now, as a rather overcast summer turns into a spectacularly beautiful Autumn, it is back with another post, on the dual themes of Darkness and Light.


On rereading Chris Yeomans’s July post, in which she explores her sense of being “a terrestrial, and part of this creation”, leading to a realisation of having “no separate existence”, I was reminded of my own experience of Oneness, which occurred in a dream not long after I had begun practicing meditation some years ago. Although the circumstances and background ‘scenery’ are different in these two accounts, I believe that what they point to is the same. See what you think.

I sit in an empty space, with no sense of material substance around me. There is no light and no darkness, either. Simply, there is an endless absence of anything. As I sit in this emptiness, I suddenly become aware of myself as a separate being and I panic.

After some time in a state of sheer terror, I begin to steady my breathing, calm myself, and settle back into meditation, but this time I am meditating as an act of will in full acceptance of what appears to be empty, grey nonexistence. The premise of my acceptance is that if all that exists is the mind of meditation, then I will meditate for eternity, be content with that, and want nothing more. As I sit with this newly found acceptance, something miraculous happens; the hitherto empty space fills with light – it shimmers with a brightness akin to stars and mirrors but are not stars and mirrors but something unique and I am in joyful awe.

To some, this account may sound ‘off the wall’, but when I awoke, the next morning, a change had occurred. I was still me, with all my own biology, opinions, and difficulties of daily life. I still had all the attributes of a quite separate human being and at the same time, I knew with certainty that I was not separate from anything in the Universe.

Knowing this transforms the way we view the world. It does not make us immune to suffering, our own or other people’s, if anything, as we soften up and develop awareness, we feel it all the more, but we begin to understand the heart of it and the compassion within it. And this makes all the difference.




Darkness ~ by Chris Yeomans ~ part of the Darkness Series

This week, as part of our ‘Darkness’ series, Chris Yeomans writes a beautiful reflection on the experience of being  “a terrestrial, and part of this creation”.

I am not too keen on total darkness.  In strange houses, I often need to open the curtains when I go to sleep, to catch the faint light from the night sky.  Years ago, I suffered from bouts of claustrophobia, and darkness pressing against my eyeballs felt as if I was being smothered or suffocated.  I don’t think I’d do too well in one of those flotation tanks where you are supposed to experience weightlessness and some sort of total sensory deprivation.

Night Sky by Colin Lloyd
Night Sky by Colin Lloyd

I remember very clearly, one winter night, finding the bedroom and the house itself to be a prison.  I wanted to break out. To see.  So I got up and went out into the frosty garden, where there was the glimmer of stars, the faint glow of streetlights.  I looked up at the sky and, rather unhelpfully, panicked that I was trapped on planet Earth.  I couldn’t get off it.  I could only survive within the oxygen bubble that surrounds us.  I felt very much like a fish in a pond – trapped in water, unable to climb out and walk away.  It was bizarre but extraordinarily powerful.

The experience has stayed with me, but the claustrophobic intensity has gradually faded.  I remember talking to a monk about it, who seemed bemused: ‘That’s a bit of a problem, isn’t it?’ After all, it is rather a weird thing and not easy to put into words to share.

Over many years though, I have come, I think, to a greater understanding.  This experience was actually the experience of being one with all things, not a separate being.  At the time it was frightening.  I wanted to scream and struggle and escape. I had no idea how or to where.

But gradually what I felt then has become a comfort:  a very clear awareness that I am a terrestrial, and part of this creation.  That I have no separate existence.  This is a concept that sometimes we struggle to understand, but over time I have been lucky enough to realise that what I felt that night was actually to experience it, to feel it in my blood and bones, rather than to intellectualise it. It was a gift.

The Gift ~ part of the ‘Where I Sit’ series ~ by Karen Richards

This week, as part of our “Where I Sit” series, Karen Richards takes us with her on her ‘Respite Day”, which she sees as a gift.

It is respite day. Not a whole day, but my son and daughter-in-law come and look after my husband for a few hours so that I can get a break.

I head off in the car, free to choose where the tyres tread, unsure of my destination. In my rucksack is my laptop and a notebook and pen, a gift from a friend. Its virgin pages have been calling for some time. I have the need to write and walk. I will do both.

Still unsure of where I will end up, I have a thought, and pull up in a lay-by to check my purse. It’s there. My National Trust card. Half an hour later, I arrive at Attingham Park.; several acres of sprawling fields and woodland, with the River Severn running through them.

It is still only 9.30 am and already the carpark is filling up with vehicles, from which emerge couples and families and, from almost all it seems, a dog. It is buzzing. Is this really where I want to be? I think so.

I head for the coffee shop; the walking will come later, but for now, I will write. I buy a large mug of coffee – the price of a seat at a table, and a welcome pick-me-up. A sip and then I flip up the screen of my laptop and open up a document that I have been working on for some time.

It doesn’t take long to slip into the zone. All around me, people drink and eat and talk but I am cocooned in a cave of creativity, and an hour and a half passes, almost imperceptibly;  just the thread of thought that flows through my mind, my fingers, the tapping of the keyboard and other people’s conversations, like swarms of half-muted bees about my being. They are reassuring. I am alone in my industry and yet not alone. It is a good place to be.

Time for a walk.

I head off, through fields of deer, along the side of the river, and then another choice: the shorter but busier route or the longer one, through a wooded wilderness. I opt for the latter. As I walk, all thoughts of what I was writing slowly diminish. Other thoughts push their way in and then exit just as quickly. I become aware of my feet, how they move, how they connect to the earth. It is warm but every so often, a shower of rain. A breeze picks up, rustling branches and the grasses along the path. Occasionally, people pass by me and we exchange a word or a nod of acknowledgment and then walk on.

An expanding awareness of my surroundings draws me into a thicket, where I am alone, except for the birds and the breeze and that sublime odour of wetted leaves and decomposing wood. I press my back against a tree trunk and let my body relax. A joy springs up and I am grateful for this time, this place.

And then a prompting to move on. Don’t stay, keep moving. Soon, I meet the river again, and three carefully honed and placed logs, invite me to sit. I meditate.



The gifted notebook calls from my rucksack and I reach in and take it from its little bag. It is quite beautiful, with its cover of purple and pattern of sea creatures in turquoise, orange and yellow. As I open it, a previously unseen card falls from between the pages. The beautiful head of a Kanzeon* on one side and a message from the giver, on the other. I am moved to tears.

I look up. People, children and dogs cross over the river, via a bridge. Someone asks me the way to the deer park and I point, with some scant instructions and a nod. Time to move on. It is idyllic here but an inner prompting calls time.

As I walk, I realise that I have joined the main path and it becomes quite crowded. A children’s playground is to my right and to my left, small clearings where benches have been placed. I begin to take photographs of these sitting places – lots of them! All are thoughtfully positioned to give rest to weary walkers. I sit on some but not for long. I need to eat.

Returning to the coffee shop, I order lunch and take a long slow drink of water. I chat to the waiters and smile at the children of a family, across the way, all restless to be somewhere else other than sitting at a table.


Out in the courtyard, a choir begins to sing contemporary songs. People stop to listen. For a short time, so do I but it feels like it is time to head home, where I am greeted by cheerful voices and a hot drink. Stepping out for a while makes it easier to step back in. This is my life. It is good. It is the place where I sit. It is a gift.

* Kanzeon (Japanese), also known as Avalokitesvara (Sanskrit) or Kuan Yin (Chinese), is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, in Buddhism.







One Ripe Strawberry by Karen Richards

This week, under the theme of Wiki -What I Know (or don’t know) Is – Karen Richards recounts an ancient tale about a Buddhist monk and a strawberry and what the story means to her.

A friend once told me a story about a Buddhist monk who, in ancient times, was chased to the edge of a cliff, by bandits. At the very moment that the monk fell, he spotted a  wild strawberry, growing from the cliff face. He reached out, plucked it, and smiling to himself, ate it. “Ah, what a delicious strawberry,” he said. Then fell to his death.

When I first heard this story, my initial response was one of awe at a strawberry growing out of a rock face. Arguably though, this is not the meaning that either the author or indeed the teller of the story was pointing to!

Indeed, it is an interesting tale and, unpicking it a little, one which has layers of possible meaning. Perhaps, if a snapshot of the falling monk, picking the ripe strawberry, were to be circulated on social media today, for instance, it might have the caption, ” Eat the strawberry while you can, life is short!”, in the style of many such parables attributed to different celebrities and commentators from Keanu Reeves to the Buddha, himself. To relax and enjoy all that life has to offer is not bad advice but I’m fairly sure that that isn’t what is being pointed to, either.

Then, there is the possibility that the story is about ‘being in the moment’. For although, when the monk fell from the cliff there was the potential for his physical death, as he saw, plucked, and then ate the strawberry, he was still very much alive. These were the moments before his death; the death moment was yet to come.  Expanding a little further, even as we approach the end of our lives, when death seems all-consuming and inevitable, each moment is a moment unique to itself, and is as bright as the strawberry, a jewel shining in the outwardly barren and desolate rock face.

To quote Eckhart Tolle, in his book “Oneness with All Life”,

“Time is seen as the endless succession of moments, some ‘good’, some ‘bad’ – yet, if you look more closely, that is to say, through your own immediate experience, you find that there are not many moments at all. You discover that there is only ever this moment. Life (and death) is always now”

Yet, even this profound explanation is not quite ‘it’ for me. Initial responses, though sometimes seeming superficial, often hold what is true for us at the time that we hear a teaching,  a line of scripture, see a piece of art, read a poem, or get some friendly advice. So, going back to my more visceral reaction to the complete awesomeness of a strawberry growing on a mountainside, it feels to me that the strawberry, with its bright burgeoning potentiality, encapsulates that which lies both within and beyond all concept of now, then or maybes. It is the eternal nature of all things, the universe itself; ripe and shining. I like to think that this is what the monk saw in that strawberry and that is why he took the time to appreciate and consume* it.


It had been “a bit of a day”. My husband, recently discharged home from hospital, was “all at sea”. Impatient with himself for not being able to do the things he wanted to do, hot and bothered by the June heatwave, frustrated by failing eyesight and gradual hearing loss, his mood was low. For my part, my usual patience was wearing thin. Moment by moment, trying to fix things that could not be fixed – our voices, flowing back from one to another, sounded tetchy. Each time we spoke, we missed each other’s meaning by a mile.

And then, as the day was closing and I had helped him back into his bed, I stepped out into my backyard in the fading light of evening, and there I saw it. That, which only a few hours ago had still been green in parts, was now a fat red strawberry, in the shape of a heart. I instantly remembered the story of the monk on the clifftop.

It was a beautiful fruit, full of brightness; complete of itself. I took my phone and photographed it before gently plucking it from its stem. I took it indoors and, collecting a small knife from the kitchen en route, I went into my husband’s room. He was still awake. I held up the strawberry and he smiled. Then, taking the knife, I split it down the middle and gave him half.

He took it from me. “You shared it with me!” he said, before eating it.

“Yes”, I said “Good night!”


* Consume, in this sense, is to hear the Dharma.




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.

April is (not)the Cruellest Month ~ reflections on TS Eliot’s The Wasteland ~ by Karen Richards

In our final post, on the theme of Bright, Karen Richards reflects on why she does not share the view of TS Eliot when he claims that “April is the Cruellest Month” in his poem, The Wasteland.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Thomas Stern Eliot

Eliot’s opening lines of The Wasteland have been ruminating in my mind, recently. It is April and, as suggested in the poem, the life that has been slumbering below ground, and on bush and tree, have stirred with the ‘spring rain’ and life, that was out of sight, during the winter months, is well and truly visible, again.

The statement, ‘April is the cruellest month’ has had literary commentators discussing its meaning, for decades. When I first read it, back in my English A level days, I took it to mean that April is full of promise, with lighter days, buds and fruit blossoms, camellias in full bloom and cheerful daffodils and tulips but that it doesn’t always deliver the brightness that we have been craving, with its rainstorms and cold winds, as in our present April.

This is as good an interpretation as any, although it is generally accepted that, written in 1922, it is essentially a poem about the spiritual state of Europe, where people prefer to be asleep to their spiritual nature, to live their ‘little life with dried tubers’, enjoying the winter, which ‘kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow’ because they don’t have to take spiritual responsibility for themselves. If this is Elliot’s true meaning, I find it rather harsh and judgemental. I see people taking responsibility and revealing their True hearts, all the time.

If you enjoy poetry, particularly the art of poetry, it is well worth reading The Wasteland in its entirety, if you have never done so – though I suggest you do it with your feet up, a mug of brew and an open mind. It is technically brilliant, though strewn with puritanical judgements, which reflects Eliot’s tortured state of mind, during its writing, following the breakdown of his marriage and committal of his wife to a mental institution.

So, why is this poem in my mind right now, apart from it being April, of course? And why has it dominated my thoughts, whenever I have come to write on this month’s theme of Bright? Perhaps, because there are times when the world, nations and individual people appear to live in perpetual winter and it can seem like we are existing in the Wasteland, where compassion, love and wisdom have been buried deep beneath the ‘forgetful snow’. Times when all seems lost and there is no hope. Or times when there is hope but we haven’t the physical capacity to fulfil our heartfelt dreams. The world is in such a state as this, right now, don’t you think?

Yet lilacs do breed ‘out of the dead land’. Lotus blossoms flower because their roots are nourished by the mud into which their roots are secured. And when we are personally in despair, the simple act of looking up at the sky can change our viewpoint, both physically and spiritually. If you have never tried this, it is highly recommended. In winter or in spring, our spiritual ‘blossoming’ is in our own control. So, I am sceptical of Eliot’s Wasteland imagery and, great though the poem may be, I find its bleak despondency and moral judgement not to my taste.

Because for every dark night of the soul, there is a bright awakening. For every dark winter, there is a spring. And, come to think of it, whatever the weather, April is not the cruellest month, at all, merely a state of light and darkness, of warmth and cold. The bright nature of things revealed.

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.

Dew on the Grass
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