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.

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

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.

Music of the Spiderweb

Continuing our theme of Spider Web, this week, Anna Aysea discusses spider webs as an art form, and in so doing revisits the common feature of all of our blog pieces, this month, the interconnectedness of all life.

Tomas Saraceno
On Air, Tomas Saraceno

As a maker, I am utterly fascinated by the web of a spider and its construction. The architectural design is mesmerizing.

This time of year, the garden is full of spider webs. Last week I saw one hanging from a base thread which was spanning more than six meters, a whopping distance for such fine yarn to hold. The thread was so fine, it was visible only when the light hit it from a certain angle. An on looking neighbor may have wondered why I was bending in strange angles while going from one side of the garden to the other as I was following the thread, trying to find its beginning and end point.

The silk of a spider is one of the strongest fibers in existence. According to researchers it is five times stronger than s­­teel, if human-size, it would be tough enough to stop a large aircraft. Interestingly, spiders feature in many mythologies. Also, spider divination and asking questions from spiders are still being used today in indigenous cultures which can teach us a lot about communication across species and between species.

Visual artist Tomás Saraceno who has a background in architecture, takes the fascination for spiders and spider webs to the next level. As the initiator of the Arachnophilia Foundation, he cohabitates in his studio with one of the largest collection of spiders consisting of over 7000 eight legged creatures. His large scale installations and sculptures are informed by his extensive study and close observation of how different species of spiders live, work, collaborate and build intricate structures as artworks, cohabitating with one and other and with humans.

tomas saraceno
Webs of Life, Tomás Saraceno

Drawing parallels between spider webs, cosmic webs and the webs of interconnectedness, Saraceno presents the necessity to reevaluate how we perceive and operate in the world and often overlook the sentient beings we coexisted with. His work focuses on interconnected, nonhierarchical collaborations between humans and nonhumans. Tomás Saraceno has a large body of facinating work inspired by spiders and their webs, I like to briefly mention two projects.

The installation “How to hear the universe in a spider web” is a sonification of a spider web. Tiny microphones placed in the web detect vibrations in the silk threads plucked  by the spiders to communicate and make these vibrations audible to the human ear, as the music of the spider web.

The project Webs of Life  in the Serpentine Gallery, London, includes monumental spiders, towering scary monsters who write to us humans movingly in the “An Open Letter for Invertebrate Rights”:

Dear inhabitants of the worlds,

We would like to start by thanking you for your time, by recognizing our rights to inhabit and participate in this exhibition and for not labelling us “urban pests” as many others do. We hope that after this exhibition ends, you would consider allowing our continuing but threatened, unlimited existence.

Many of you are frightened of us in the real world. To overcome this we hope you might interact with a digital version of us.

Your scientific names for us are Bagheera kiplingi* and Maratus speciosus, though we call ourselves differently in our vibrational language. This summer, you will be able to spot our augmented presence around the Serpentine.

Now, after this exhibition ends, you will need to find us in the real world and show a good will of co-existence by not sweeping us away. We could grant you in exchange a certificate of co-existence for a perpetual loan of our avatar friends to be exhibited permanently, under the terms agreed to respect our rights!

We have lived on earth for more than 380 million years, while some of you humans, only 200 thousand years. Can the minority learn to live with the majority of us? We are the 95% of all animals on planet earth asking for the right to weave webs of life, yet we are threatened into extinction by such a small number of individuals.

Do not be afraid. Let us move from arachnophobia to arachnophilia by sensing new threads of connectivity, or else face the eternal silence of extinction.

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.

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

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

Spider Webs ~ part of the Spider Web series ~ by Chris Yeomans

This week, we begin the theme of Spider Web on the Dew on the Grass blog. Our first offering is from Chris Yeomans and in it she describes how the practice of meditation changes our relationship with everything, including the spiders that live in our bathroom.

I have an affectionate relationship with one, or maybe more than one, spider in my bathroom.  When I say spider, I think it may not technically be a spider.  Wikipedia tells me that it is an arachnid or spider-like creature.  It is supposed not to spin silk.  There are definitely no spider webs around it, but when it moves about, it looks as if it is using a silken line to suspend it against the wall.  The bathroom has no window and no foliage, and I wonder what on earth it lives on.  It thrives, and I may have established a relationship with several generations of this creature that I have always thought of as a harvestman spider.  Perhaps it lives on things we call house dust mites.  There’d be plenty of those in our house.

To me, the distinguishing feature about this creature is its utter fragility.  It is so fine and delicate that I wouldn’t even think of touching it. I am astounded that such a creature even has life.  What a miracle its legs are.  When I meet with it, I look upon it with wonder that such a thing could even exist.  I am struck by the tenderness and protectiveness that I feel towards it and realise too that I have come to feel like this (if not quite so acutely) about other living creatures such that I liberate them from buzzing in windows or hastening across carpets.

It has not always been thus.  Decades ago, I would have been influenced by my mother, who did not hesitate to swot flies, stamp on ants, kill wasps.  These things were regarded as a nuisance, unclean and to be eliminated.  I didn’t think too much about it.  Then I got involved with Buddhism and began to think more carefully about such things.  Did it matter if I washed a stranded spider down the plughole instead of relocating it?  What about drowning rats?  Shooting grey squirrels.? All taken for granted in my childhood.

Then one day I watched a monk rescue an ant, which had strayed onto the dining table at a place where we were having a weekend retreat.  He spoke to it, brushed it into his hand, and put it out through the window onto the border.  Seeing this compassion in action was a game-changer.  I was at the ‘trying very hard’ stage of practice, and this seemed like something I could manage to do.  And over many years now, thanks, I am sure, to the practice, this compassion towards all living things has grown, almost regardless of any effort I might make, until it has become second nature.

As any senior monk will tell you, ‘Meditation works.’