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Posts tagged ‘Buddhism’

Before You Die

Looking for a good book to read in order to distract myself from the discomfort of existence, I came across this article, “7 of the best books to read before you die.”

I’ve seen these articles before. “The top ten places to visit before you die.” “Fifty great films to see before you die.”

It struck me that the words “before you die” under these circumstances might be somewhat superfluous. I would be intrigued by an article entitled “7 of the best books to read after you die.”

Titles might include “What Was All That About?” “Letting Go of Past Lives.” “Bardo for Beginners.”

Perhaps these words are simply a helpful reminder that we will indeed, die, and therefore any activities that we wish to undertake must precede this unpredictable event. In which case they are not entirely superfluous – they communicate a sense of urgency, a feeling that life must be lived now.

What are we to do in the face of this slow emergency?

What happens in that strange indefinable period of time between birth and death, where the only thing that is certain is that it must end?

The modern world offers a bewildering choice of ways we could spend our time. This is where lists could be potentially helpful. However the drawback is that they might suggest a discrimination between the meaningful and the mundane.

Navigating a period of extreme grief in which simple tasks are often all I can manage, the feeling of the breeze across my face in the morning often the highlight of my day, this idea makes me sad. Is a life without adventure a waste of time? Must we continually extend ourselves in order to experience depth? Is there a case for just being?

When I was at school we did a lesson involving woodlice. This stuck in my mind because living in a damp old house woodlice were pretty frequent guests. I also liked the word “exoskeleton” and the way this protected them even if you dropped them on the floor.

We put these creatures into what was referred to as a “choice chamber.” There was a dry section and a damp section. And then a control, which had nothing in it at all.

Maybe the control section is like just being. Protecting us from overwhelm. Without that we don’t really have a choice because we just get buffeted from desire to aversion and back. The emptiness of the control provides us with the clarity to discover what kind of louse we really are. Emptiness may not be entirely comfortable, but at least it’s honest.

7 Things To Do Before You Die:

Look at a blackbird
Look at its shiny eye
The way it jerks its head from side to side
And bounces and sings
A tiny clown
Visit the corner shop
Speak to the people there
See the grooves in that man’s face
The way he walks
His cheerful manner
His expression when he thinks no one is watching
Smell the air on an autumn night
Smoky and crystalline
Damp moss and crisp leaves
Bringing in hallowe’en
And the yawn of winter
Touch the fur on a cat’s back
Soothe your fingers with its greasy softness
Feel its sinuous spine
Curling against your hand
Listen to the laughter of an old friend
The familiar chimes of a shared history
Warmth and love
Taste water in a state of thirst
A primal quenching that has no equal
Lay down on the ground under a summer sky
Touch its vastness
Air on skin
Deep space
Know that you are all of these things and more
Ephemeral as dust
Blessed to breathe breath
Even in a crisis
Such as life is

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no struggle

trying not to think of you
is like trying not to think of a tiger
seeing an image of you is like bathing in fire and ice altogether
life continues to emerge day after day
like a persistent wildflower
neither beautiful nor ugly but in the eye of the beholder
drenched in futile plans and dreams
lost chances that were not really chances
lost hopes that evaporate into silence
trying not to love you is like trying not to love the ocean
empty hours filled with waves of longing
work is done or not done and nothing changes
moments of joy punctured by the memory of loss
trying not to miss you is like trying not to miss what is missing
drawing a neat fabric over the cracks left by your absence
doing a fine job of it whatever it is
and sometimes breaking into wet folds like a deep egg
coming together again for the sake of continuity

let me explain

let me explain
i’m a warrior
non-violent
bleeding in all the right places
heart, womb, mouth
heavy and light
i like the warm days
and the cool nights
sweat on your back like daisies
smile of a dragon
don’t believe in nothing
for a reason
everything happens
or doesn’t
but i’m a warrior
still and moving
forward and back
hot train on a spiral track
can’t be found underground
but flying
open and wide
free as a moon
balancing on the dark tide
i’m a warrior
woman all over
brighter than pools
of rock faced sea
just being what it fits me to be

Tax Return: A Spiritual Guide

Business description:

This is my favourite part, every year!

There is a limit of 42 characters.

Describe the indefensibly chaotic way you have chosen to just about survive in this world, in 42 characters…

“Pain causes art which sometimes pays bills”

“Waiting tables while dreaming of big break”

“Watching all my illusions slowly crumble”

It’s a fun game! HMRC is helping me to lighten up and enjoy life. At the same time sharpening my mental agility and integrating my heart and mind.

And not only that, it’s a profoundly spiritual exercise.

Enforced brevity is making me think long and hard about what it is I’m doing with my time.

This year I am going to come up with something really blinding and succinct that I can also use to describe myself to people at parties.

I find myself fantasising about a recognisable job title that does not provoke further questioning.

Ah the misty-eyed myth of the artist – so lucky to be doing what they love all day every day and making millions from it

Oh the dreamlife of waking at midday, lounging in cafés, sauntering round art galleries soaking up inspiration, occasionally injecting heroin into one’s eyeballs

HMRC tolerates no such frivolity!
Self-employment is a serious business. A sobering term that suggests responsibility, stability and independence.

Self-assessment is the annual retreat of the self-employed. A time for inner reflection. What’s working? What’s bringing me down? What’s totally bankrupting me?

Of course if one were to get into a true assessment of self, the ultimate end point would be utter dissolution into complete space and openness.

Only it’s hard to convey that to the tax authorities. In 42 characters. But I’m game for a try.

Describe your business:

Birth, something something something Death

Gaily wasting time in blizzard of eternity

Living, loving, learning, longing, losing.

 

Abraham Cruzvillegas’s installation at the Tate Modern – as a self-employed person I could literally stand and stare at this all day.

Abraham Cruzvillegas’s installation at the Tate Modern – as a self-employed person I could literally stand and stare at this all day.

Protection

Most of the time I find it pretty hard to have an open heart and recently I found myself wondering if it’s really such a good idea. I see people with layers of protective armour and I see them finding ways to avoid feeling the sadness of the world; I see them moving on quickly from relationships that take my heart sometimes years to heal from. I can’t do the armouring thing so I wonder if I am at a disadvantage. Maybe humans were right to find all these ways to escape from reality because it’s so painful. But then I hear something like this and I am so grateful for my feeling bleeding heart because it allows me to taste this exquisite sound right to the core of my being and in some way begin to heal me from the inside.

We are not so different, you and I. Whatever wrongs you have done, I have probably done too. However you squirm and struggle to get things to go your way, I am likely doing the same. I wonder if as a species we will ever stop projecting our aggression outwards and realise that we are all simply trying to get by, to love and be loved, to make the best of this unfathomable existence. If we can forgive our own confusion about how best to do this, perhaps we could begin to forgive others’ too? It’s not easy when the confusion of others causes us pain. But perhaps one way to try is by feeling more connected to each other rather than separate. I find it hard to hold on to my anger, my rage, my disappointment, my loneliness and my fear when I hear music like this. I find it hard to hold onto anything.

Perfect Love

 

Last night, as I prepared to launch my new music video for ‘Perfect Love,’ I discovered something rather curious, and wonderful. Chögyam Trungpa, Buddhist meditation master, teacher, poet, artist – the list continues – and perhaps the most important person in my life that I never met, also wrote a poem entitled ‘Perfect Love.’ It’s published by Shambhala Publications, in a volume called ‘Mudra,’ including poems that he wrote between 1959 and 1971, described as ‘spontaneous and celebratory.’

Whilst I am in no way comparing myself to this great teacher, I can’t help but be excited by the coincidence, especially since the manner in which I came up with my song could also be described as spontaneous and celebratory. I was actually rehearsing another song at the time, and as I struck the last chord, I made a mistake. However in stead of stopping to correct myself, I simply kept playing, and the new song just kind of rolled on out.

A frequently quoted phrase of Chögyam Trungpa’s is ‘first thought, best thought.’ As I understand it, this doesn’t exactly mean that the first thought you have is necessarily the best, but rather the unedited version, the spontaneous one, the one that just comes out when you are totally on the spot – the one it can be hard to trust because you didn’t exactly ‘do’ it.

When I was writing the song I didn’t fully know what it was about, it was more like uncovering a code than constructing something new. Then when I realised what it meant, I decided to dedicate it to a couple of friends that were getting married and had asked me to sing at their wedding. A nice kind of synchronicity.

In Trungpa’s poem, which you can read in full on the Chronicles website, he says:

‘What is going to be is what is,

That is love”

Some kind of acceptance of things as they are? When I played my song to my best friend she asked me if my boyfriend was upset, because the song suggested things weren’t perfect. Firstly I said, ‘well you know, it’s not exactly just about me…’ and then I explained that I don’t see it as a negative thing to accept what is – rather it’s an aspiration for me.

That’s not to say that you should just make do and never try to improve a situation that’s not working. But that you can’t even begin to improve things if you don’t accept how they are now… And in any case, striving for absolute perfection – does that ever bring about happiness?

There is much more to his poem, and I hope that I will continue to understand it more and more. But for the moment, until the next craving seizes me, I am content in the knowledge that our creative paths crossed for a moment, his and mine.

And to complete the circle, another song on the Water Snakes EP, ‘Save Me,’ is dedicated to him.

You can stream and/or purchase the full EP on Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Gogoyoko; it’s also available on iTunes.