Wednesday, October 18, 2006

the treadmill of habit

Some weeks ago, during her Sunday morning teaching, Jetsunma suggested we begin to keep a diary. Not those angst-ridden journals some of us may have kept, especially during painful teenage years, a repetitive cycle of see-sawing emotions(at least mine were). Jetsunma recommended we reflect on how mindful we had been, what virtue we had generated and where we had displayed wise compassion.
Three columns, which I have found extremely hard to actually fill. It is interesting to see at the end of the day how littletime I spend engaged in thoughts or acts that are mindful and bring benefit to others. It is an extremely useful tool, because when I sit with the notebook in hand (often asking Milo what I should enter, but his journal would only be filled with play and being a naughty rascal), I am forced to contemplate my day with a deeper view, and to see that the few brief moments of mindfulness clearly highlight the vast expanse of just getting by.
Of course, the real point of the tool is to begin to change. Because, just like in my tear-stained journals of decades ago, I can see the repetitions of habit that sidetrack me off course. Again. And again.
Change is the tricky bit, because after 50 years (plus whatever before!), i am fairly comfortable with my habits, even the ones that I know will cause me distress. The diary keeps reminding me that I am ultimately sick of the treadmill, yet no-one can get me off except myself.
A current habit is time-wasting on the computer. To remedy this, I offered to do something useful while in front of the screen; to check out potential sources of grants for Tara's Babies. In the process I stumbled across the life of a woman who did not procrastianate, nor waste her days or nights, instead she devoted them to saving wild birds. She is an inspiration to me, because up until her death she spontaneously lived the life of a Bodhisattva (someone dedicated to compassionate acts for others). While I, who have taken that vow, struggle every day.
Here is a little glimpse of Sheena Rees, which i found at
For more than a decade, Sheena Rees, a retired social worker, ran her Bird Sanctuary from a terraced cottage in Glastonbury, Somerset. It was the ultimate expression of her unbounded love and compassion for our furred and feathered friends that went back to when, aged four, she found a seagull with a broken wing on a lonely beach in Arran, Scotland. Taking it home she nursed it back to health, and never forgot her uttermost joy when, returning to the beach, she opened her trembling, cupped hands and set the seagull free - "It's wings took flight and something inside me also soared. From that time on I knew I could never turn away from an injured bird." And Sheena never did! As her Bird Sanctuary clearly bore daily witness.
Finches, Warblers, Sparrows, Blackbirds, Starlings, Blue Tits, Parrots, Owls - all came to Sheena's Bird Sanctuary and into her loving care and keeping. Using a mixture of love, patience, homeopathic remedies and her own special kind of healing she nursed them until they were well enough to be liberated back into the wild.
"What else can I do but take in every little injured scrap of bird-life brought to the door. Bird rescue is my work for God and I give the same 100% to the people who bring the birds as I do to the birds themselves,".
For Sheena, living with and not apart from Nature carried its exacting responsibilities. "I go to bed at 10pm, set the alarm for midnight, then for 2am and 4am and finally at 6am. In this way I work through the night, feeding, watering and cleaning until 9am!" Inevitable exhaustion depleted Sheena's resources and illness increasingly clouded her days.
Tired beyond imagining, she looked straight into my eyes and said: 'As much as I love my birds, they in turn, love me. And in that shared love I am fulfilled.'" -

It is that last phrase 'in that shared love I am fulfilled' that so simply and poignantly describes the foundation of a truly compassionate life. There is nothing more to seek nor hunger for, as the fullness of love given selflessly will equally nourish one's own heart. It is people like Sheena, 'ordinary' people, everywhere on this planet who will change the world. As Jetsunma recently said, one person can change a small group, a small group can change a large group, a large group can change the world.
Changing myself is the challenge i face, but it is not a hopeless one! Every moment of mindfulness is a turning point, the compass is re-calibrated and movement occurs. The habits are there, for sure, no-one knows them better than I, but even as I open the diary and ponder what to write I am beginning to shift. I see the greyness of my day, and the piercing moments of brilliant colour and joy. And am reminded of who, how and where i want to be. Just as the leaves on the vine that wraps around the log cabin wall are changing in hue and beginning to fall, so, with mindful perseverance, will my habits, revealing the strength of compassion, and the source of shared love.

Friday, October 13, 2006

a treasure secured

I suspect everyone reading this blog is 'family', and so is aware of the push to secure this land once and for all, free of debt and the ever-present thundercloud of potential loss. Ever since I have lived here it has been on the razor edge of mortgage payments, seemingly endless; when one gap is filled, the next appears. As each of us has surely experienced on some scale in our lives, the land of credit and loans has as its foundation a timebomb. If you haven't heard, and want to know/help, go to; click on Dakini Valley in the left column for a few pictures.
Well, this will be it for us. This sacred land will be secured for perpetuity, something I can barely grasp. I have not been involved in the hard work of raising the money, and appreciate the time and effort put in by everyone who has, and for the kind generosity of every single donor who shares this vision.
For my part, I have been trying to imbue at least part of my day with prayer and recognition of how important this land is. Of course, I fall into mindlessness most of the time, seeing only the cluttered work bench I need to clear, or the floor which needs to be swept, and seeing these things with very ordinary eyes. And when my alarm goes off - not so very early, I assure you - more often than not i turn it off and continue to doze; i do not leap out of bed to begin a new day in prayer. So even living here, amidst this unfolding beauty and holy awareness - for I am sure it is there - it is easy to forget.
I was contemplating the idea of sacred land, and realised that I have no personal frame of reference for it in my growing-up or culture. Of course, I known of sacred lands - in Australia, they are the cultural heritage of the traditional owners, such as Uluru - the indescribably magnificent red monolith near that continent's very heart. Or here, perhaps of the Native Americans. Or in England perhaps they belong to history, such as Stonehenge. But I cannot think off-hand of sacred land, newly identified, which is 'ours', not associated with another culture or time. Of course, we revere and protect the natural sacredness of pristine landscapes ( some of us wish we did more of this), and these may provide a place for spiritual contemplation. But Dakini Valley, while beautiful, is sacred because of something indefinable, unidentifiable by ordinary mind. It is inherently sacred in ways I do not understand, yet know without doubt to be true.
I read a book some time ago called the "Siege of Shangri-la", about the quest by westerners to discover that hidden valley. One passage struck me at that time, because to me it describes this Valley, our Valley, far, far from the Himalayas, yet not distant at all from Guru Rinpoche's very heart:
" Centuries-old Buddhist texts refer to the hidden valleys, or beyuls, that were scattered throughout the Himalayas by Padmasambava (Guru Rinpoche)...Beyuls are sacred places of mystical retreat, pilgrimage and refuge during times of strife.....Every beyul would have to be found and "opened" by a yogin known as a terton, a "treasure finder", and s/he would be led to the task only when the time was propitious. Certain hidden lands remain unopened to this day. Their discovery awaits the time they are needed."
I find this awe-inspiring to consider, like the blossoming of a rare bloom, long hidden in the wilds, its delicate petals unfolding before our eyes, within our hearts. How fortunate we are to be part of this quest, to be the pioneers who do not conquer, but embrace. Who recognise, perhaps without understanding, that here is something so precious we dare not lose it, for it is not ours. It is everyone's, for always. The documents may describe it simply as 148 acres, but it is boundless, vast. It is a valley no longer hidden, yet secure; and it is aware, awake and welcoming us all.

Friday, October 06, 2006

after the thunder and rain

The day after my last post I listened to Jetsunma teach. Since returning to MD she has often been teaching on Sunday mornings, which is a wonderful blessing; it is what she yearns to do, and it is the nectar we need in order to change.
Because of the time difference it is 8am in AZ. I sit in the small log cabin kitchen, prayer book on the table by the window, and listen, the phone pinned to my ear. It is an extraordinarily intimate experience, I can almost feel her breath on my skin, and it truly seems that her voice arises within my mind, not from outside. I take detailed notes of her very words (i always excelled at dictation!), something I never do when I am present in the Temple, there it feels like a distraction. And because I am alone, the dogs perhaps tumbling in play in the next room, I experience the freedom to respond deeply, spontaneously from my heart. I have sobbed as her words cut to the bone, exposing the confusion of my habits, which lead to separation from the truth, and therefore suffering.
Last Sunday Jetsunma said something that sat me up straight. Probably of less significance to many others, in the context of the entire teaching, but a sharp reminder for me. She was teaching on how important it is to continually engage in activities which create merit or virtue, including prayer and meditation. She pointed out that especially when you don't feel like it, that is exactly the time to do it, because it involves some wisdom and understanding. Then she said (not a direct quote, my pen was stationery at this point) - anyone can do it when they feel good, "anyone can have an experience up on a hill!"
This startled me, because of its simple truth and because even as I wrote my last post I had a slightly queasy feeling that something was not right. The something being, that although I understand the words I write, I do not understand the sense. I mean, I have no accomplishment and no experience. i am definitely the anyone on a hill!
One essence (to me) of the teaching came home in that one phrase. It reminded me I need to be mindful of my actions and speech, to lead a conscious life and never, ever, accidentally or otherwise, appear to be other than where and who I am. Because if not, i am all asquew, no alignment at all. It is the moments of non-choice, as well as the times we are mindful, that all add up!
I guess this is a sort of disclaimer, reminiscent of those things they have to say on American TV ads ( a most peculiar cultural habit)....that truly I am just like you and don't ever mean to suggest otherwise, and that what I hope to do is share with you my journey, because wherever we are, somehow we are in this together.
I went to town this week, something I very rarely do. "Hitched" a ride with Mark; after he dropped me off I walked to the Basha's carpark, where I was ambushed by grief. It's not that I miss shopping at Bashas per se, it was more that it catapulted me into a different time, some years ago, when I lived here alone and used to go with my then 1 dog Gypsy every week or two for our big excursion, or on the way to Sedona to visit friends for a few days, which I did every 6-8 weeks. Those times have long, long since gone - truly water swept over the cliff and into the sea of the past - but somehow that familiar place put me in that out-dated time frame, and I was struck with a sense of loss. It's not that I wish them back, but there they were in my mind. Sometimes the impermanence of our lives is more obvious; although they change all the time, every second, at some particular moment we may recognise this, by hearing a song, or looking at a photo, and we get to taste the sorrow of letting go. Or the joy of forward movement; they are both cut from the same cloth, it just depends on the light as to which colour we think we see.
The weather has been turbulent for the last 24 hours - thunder and torrential rain. In the middle of the night one clap was so low it seemed to arise from the creekbed, not the sky. I love when the sky is cast iron and the air cool. After the rain the land is alive, rejoicing. And ultimately, so am I. Despite the tears or hard times, there is nowhere else I want to be other than in my teacher's heart, her voice awake in my mind.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

the family snapshot

in case you've forgotten how we all look..................