Stepping Through That Door

"Do you like Guinness? No, I've never had one”Sometimes we have an opportunity to do something different, something that takes us out of our comfort zone and challenges our courage. At that point we have a choice to make. Do we grasp the opportunity with both hands, jump in with both feet, or do we tell ourselves that it’s more prudent to back away and take the safe route?

Years ago, when my Dad retired, we went to the pub together, just the two of us, and one of only a handful of times we ever drank together. Now my Dad was a really good man, he stood up for his principles and he cared for his family as all good men do. He was always risk averse, never went out on a limb, always taking the prudent path.

I remember asking him that night in the pub, “Do you like Guinness Dad?” to which he replied “No, I’ve never had one”. It was funny, it was very much my Dad. He would not leave his comfort zone, even for a different beer. Now my aunt has often said that I am “Just like my father” and in some ways I am, and proud of it. But with this opportunity, I’m going to be different, I’m going to leave my comfort zone and grasp it with both hands. I’m going to use all the wisdom, courage and compassion at my disposal and make the most of the opportunity.

Change Can Make Us Better

Life is made of funny stuffLife is made of funny stuff, isn’t it?

I’m currently going through major changes in my life, in my job, where I live, everything.

Now I have been very careful to scrutinise each and every situation, and make educated guesses at what these changes might encompass.

But we can never be sure of the outcome, no matter how carefully we plan. That’s the excitement that life provides, the not knowing.

Going back over your mistakes, asking yourself painful questions and giving honest answers is a difficult, but cathartic experience.

We’ve all made mistakes in life, some more serious than others, but thinking them through, trying to explain why you made that decision at that point in time, makes you re-examine your own values. In my case, having changed through my Buddhist Practice, it also becomes clear that I would have made different decisions in many cases.

Our history is set in stone, we cannot go back and make those decisions anew. But we can try to make amends, apologise for any hurt we have caused, and, above all, be honest with ourselves and others.

The changes in myself, that I see and feel, the way I view life, and my responsibility for events affecting me and people around me, have come about through my Practice and my study of Nichiren Buddhism.

As I have said before, once you see things in a different light, you cannot undo that change. Nor would I want to, because even though I know I will make other mistakes in the future, I know that those mistakes will be made despite honourable intentions, and with a great deal more Wisdom, Courage and Compassion.

On Making Decisions

Fork In The RoadLife is a journey full of possibilities, for which we have to make decisions, and for which in turn, we are all accountable.

Wouldn’t it be marvellous if there was a What-If machine, which you could use to play out each possible choice, see which one worked out best, and then make your decision based on that outcome?

Sadly there isn’t, nor will there ever be. So it is left up to us to make the best decision at the time, and then live with the consequences.

Of course, many of the decisions we make are of little consequence, tea or coffee, red or white wine, vote or abstain etc. none or these will, in all probability, change your life. But there are some decisions that, whichever way you decide, change the course of your life irrevocably. Not only that, but whatever you decide, you will never, ever know how things would have turned out had you made the opposite choice.

When I find myself faced with such a conundrum I chant, and chant and chant, until the possible outcomes are clear in my head, as well as all the reasons for why I might make each of the choices available, that I have identified all the pros and cons, I make the choice, and it is made with wisdom, courage and compassion. Once it’s made, there should be no going back. There is nothing worse than flip-flopping between decisions. It does no good, and can do a lot of harm, so stick to your guns.

On Being Open And Honest

HonestyWhen you find yourself in a situation where you have to decide what happens next, you must be completely honest, with everyone concerned, including yourself. When that decision is possibly not what others expect or want, you must be compassionate when you announce it.

Of course you can hurt others if when your decision is contrary to theirs, but you will hurt them more by delaying or by going along with them, just to go with the flow. Eventually, your feelings will show and the result will only be more angst for all.

So when you feel that you have to make a decision that will be difficult for others to accept, make it quickly, announce it gently but firmly, and reduce the pain, to you and those affected, to the minimum.

Having made the decision, you must stick to it. There can be no going back, and doing so only makes it worse for everyone concerned.

Just Bite Your Tongue

Just Bite Your TongueSome situations in life just get stuck, they just refuse to offer a resolution, be that through indecision, lack of control or reluctance to move on.

Having the patience, with a person or situation, to see things through to their conclusion takes Wisdom, Courage and Compassion for the following reasons:

The Wisdom to see that the desired path is both achievable and may lead to the correct outcome.

The Courage to stick to the path, despite setbacks or obstacles.

The Compassion to see things from another’s viewpoint, whether it agrees with your viewpoint or not.

One big problem with being patient, is that you never know what the outcome will be until it’s happened.

On Endless Possibilities

This Hubble photo is of a small portion of one of the largest seen star-birth regions in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula.

The challenges of daily life require us to makes choices or decisions.

When we are open and engaged, we experience the greater self.

When we are closed off, we are exhibiting our lesser self.

The lesser self is a deluded condition, whilst our greater self is synonymous with our Buddha nature.

To live for the greater self means to recognise the universal principle behind all things and, being awaked in this way, rise above the suffering caused by the awareness of impermanence. A belief in something eternal is needed to enhance our quality of life.

By believing that this world is the be-all and end-all of existence, we will miss out, we will not live a truly profound life. When our viewpoint expands beyond the boundaries of our present existence to include the entire, eternal universe, we can finally live deeply fulfilling lives.

Make A Splash

Make A SplashOne of the principles of Nichiren Buddhism concerns the Oneness of Self and the Environment and how that connection affects all of us in ways we sometimes fail to grasp.

If you drop a pebble, no matter how small, into a pond, the ripples generated spread out in all directions and interact with everything in their path.

This principle states that there is a connection between the person and others around him or her. It is therefore clear that changes in our life-state, the way we relate or react to others and changes due to our Practice will affect those whose lives we interact with.

Some of these effects are very obvious. If we walk around with a happy demeanour, we find that people are more likely to be pleasant towards us. If, on the other hand, we walk around in a bad mood, with a scowl on our face, we find that people are less friendly and may try to avoid us completely.

Ok, so no rocket science there then, but there are more subtle ways in which changes can be felt. In my own case, my Practice has allowed me to stabilise my life-state, generally I am now more often in higher Worlds (see The Ten Worlds) than lower ones. The result of that is that I am better placed to create value, for myself and those around me.

My Practice has changed me and those changes are affecting others. That’s why it is so important for me to ensure that as these changes take place, my Wisdom, Courage and Compassion increases too, so I can make sure the changes are all good ones.

What Is …

What Is PoetryRemember the scene in the movie Dead Poets Society, where Mr Keating is introducing the concept of poetry to the class?

He cites from the fictional weighty tome “Understanding Poetry”, by Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D. which tries to describe a formula for evaluating poetry in pseudo-scientific terms:

To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme and figures of speech, then ask two questions:

1) How artfully has the objective of the poem been rendered and

2) How important is that objective?

Question 1 rates the poem’s perfection; Question 2 rates its importance. And once these questions have been answered, determining the poem’s greatness becomes a relatively simple matter.

If the poem’s score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of a graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness.

A sonnet by Byron might score high on the vertical but only average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great. As you proceed through the poetry in this book, practice this rating method. As your ability to evaluate poems in this matter grows, so will, so will your enjoyment and understanding of poetry.

Of course Mr Keating tears the theory to shreds and encourages the boys to rip the whole section out of the book, an action that comes back to haunt him later in the film.

But what is poetry, what is love? Certainly it appears to have a slightly different meaning to each and every one of us.

Here are my thoughts on poetry:

What is poetry?

What is poetry?
A simple question
But I think you’ll find
That the meaning is different
To each person asked
And it’s more of a state of one’s mind

What is poetry?
A stupid question
When asked out of the blue
‘Cos the meaning is different
So what’s this thing to me
May be that thing to you

What is poetry?
A searching question
‘Cos it holds our passions and fears
It can capture just an instant
And at any time later
Remind us of joy or tears

What is poetry?
What a question

You decide …

So what is love? I don’t think I’m even going to try to quantify or qualify that one.

On What Ifs

What If?Sometimes, we find ourselves in situations, or potential situations, were we are a little unsure of what the outcome may be.

Our minds race, we mull over the possibilities, the what ifs, the maybes, and it can be all too easy to form ideas in our minds as to how things will pan out.

That’s fine, and perfectly normal, as long as we don’t let these expectations run away with us. Having a notional or preconceived idea is one thing, but pinning our hopes on that idea is a recipe for disaster. Things rarely, if ever, go exactly as we imagine.

So the trick is to keep a level head, let events unfold as they will, and be tolerant of the inevitable differences between what we expect, or would like, and what actually comes to pass.

But as someone once said ‘Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it’. Conversely it has also been said that ‘That thing you wished for, the thing you never got, might have been the most fortunate moment you could ever imagine’.

So muse away, daydream to your hearts content, but remember that at the end of the day, the truth of the situation will become clear soon enough.

Choose Happiness

Choose HappinessIt may seem to be a strange thing to say, but our happiness, or otherwise, is actually a choice we make for ourselves. It’s basically tied to the way we view the challenges that life throws at us.

When something happens, something we would rather hadn’t happened, we have a choice to make. Do we throw our hands in the air and go into a mood of depression, or do we face the issue head on?

If we take the former route, only seeing the bad side of things, the issue will seem to get bigger and worse than it actually is. Our depression will make things even worse, and a negative spiral ensues. This is not a good route to a positive outcome, and even if we were to conquer the problem, it would take us longer and require more effort in the long run. How often have you got into a state over something, only to realise, in the fullness of time, that it really wasn’t as bad as you thought?

The other way to approach things, is to remain calm, look for the positives, and there will be some, rather than focussing on the negatives. A calm mind works better than a frantic mind. Focussing on the positives actually raises our life-state, which makes us feel more energetic and more able to do what needs to be done and meet the challenges head on.

Enlightenment has been described as a state in which we are continuously happy. Now that might sound a bit far fetched, but if we make the right choices, consciously and subconsciously, we can maintain a state of happiness.

To attain the ability to control our minds to such a degree that we make the right choices every time is no small matter, which is why the path to enlightenment is long and winding. But I know that I am further down the path each day, and the goal is worth every ounce of effort.

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