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.

Your Happiness Is Within You

Your Happiness Is Within YouAnother blissfully happy weekend is nearly over, but let’s not get complacent.

Being happy is not something that we can take for granted, problems can derail our happiness at any time.

But we can take steps to ensure that we are aware of the causes and take steps to resolve and correct the effects.

Sensei summed it up perfectly …

Buddhism teaches that we are each responsible for our own happiness or unhappiness. Our vitality—the amount of energy or “life-force” we have—is in fact the single most important factor in determining whether or not we are happy.

True happiness is to be found within, in the state of our hearts. It does not exist on the far side of some distant mountains. It is within you, yourself. However much you try, you can never run away from yourself. And if you are weak, suffering will follow you wherever you go.

You will never find happiness if you don’t challenge your weaknesses and change yourself from within.

So if you are happy with life at present, be mindful of where that happiness comes from. If you are unhappy, challenge the causes of that unhappiness and make the changes you need to make.

Just Another Day … Almost

Just Another Birthday Birthdays are funny things aren’t they When you are little, they are the best thing next to Christmas, you count down the days and they take ages to arrive.

Then you become a teenager and your life changes almost overnight. Shortly after, one day you are a child, the next you are an adult, and so it goes on.

Certain birthdays are real milestones in life. 18, 21, 30, 40, 50, 65, the list goes on. However, 60 isn’t on any list that I subscribe to, so today was really just another day, albeit a very nice one. The last twelve months have been life changing for me, my strengthening faith in Nichiren Buddhism being one of the most important aspects of that.

But now it’s nearly over, and tomorrow will literally be just another day. So it is only left for me to thank all my family and friends for the presents, the cards and the nice greetings on Facebook and the like. I am grateful that I have chalked up another year. When you see the news, every day there are many, many people who don’t. So I should really be most thankful for my good fortune, life in all it’s glory, should never be taken for granted.

Digging In The Past

George Ernest White - Signup Papers - 23/09/1914With the 100th anniversary of The Great War being commemorated all around the country, if not the World, it was amazing to find my Grandfather’s sign-up papers recently. George Ernest White, my mother’s father, joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry regiment on 2nd of September 1914. His enrolment marked the start of a European wide and terrifying journey.

My maternal grandfather died of tuberculosis shortly after I was born, so although we met, I have no recollection of him. He was a respected jeweller, working in the jewellery quarter in Birmingham from the early 1900’s.

Although he survived WWI, he did not come out of the conflict unscathed, being gassed, shot and shelled during his time in Gallipoli, Egypt and France. He was also a machine gunner, the most hated of all roles. Soldiers on both sides of the trenches, performing this role were shot if caught, so devastating was the trail of death they left behind them.

It is difficult to condone the actions of our ancestors, living as we do in an era of comparative peace, but I imagine they did what they were told and had little or no choice in the roles they were given during their service.

I feel no pride for what my grandfather did, nor do I condemn him for his actions. Many lives were lost during the conflicts of the first and second world wars, and what should be condemned, is that those lives were lost largely in vain. We have truly not learned the lessons of human conflict.

I am hoping to discover more about George Ernest’s exploits during the 1914-18 campaigns. We have snippets of his history, but it will be very enlightening to follow his progress through the geography and battles that left so many lying in war cemeteries all over the Europe.

Just Keeping On

Just Keeping On - Ever UpwardsIf you allow the passing of time to let you forget the lofty vows of your youth, you stand to block the source of your own boundless good fortune and sever the roots of limitless prosperity for your family and loved ones as well.

Please never let this happen. Only by remaining steadfast to the vows we have made in our youth can we shine as true victors in life.

~ Daisaku Ikeda

Such A Sad Day

My DadToday is one of those days that none of us look forward to, because as I post this, it is exactly twelve years, almost to the minute, since my Dad passed on.

The day is made all the more strange, because the 27th of September had always been a special day, it was also his mother’s, my Nan’s, birthday.

Just another one of those coincidences that life turns up occasionally.

On that day, 12 years ago, we knew that Dad wasn’t well. He’d suffered from Angina since his early sixties, but that was under control, as were his cholesterol levels. But he had had a silly little accident, dropped a heavy wooden box on his shin, and the resulting wound refused to heal.

Because he was forced to rest the leg, he stopped going out for walks and could usually be found sitting reading, or sleeping, in his chair in the lounge. He started to put on a bit of weight and whenever he did venture out, would have to stop occasionally to draw breath.

But that wasn’t really why he was in hospital that day. He had gone, the day before, to have some routine tests. During the tests they noticed that he had a rather swollen belly, and asked him a bit about it.

It turned out that he had been having a bit of trouble with his ‘plumbing’ and actually had a very distended bladder. They used ultrasound to take a look inside, and decided that they should drain it using a catheter.

Now my Dad was a rather private and quite shy man, always kept himself to himself, and would have been most uncomfortable with this procedure. Not only that, but he was never one for staying away from home, even if it meant driving long hours to be in his own bed that night.

So when they told him that he had to remain in the hospital overnight, just as a precaution, so they could keep their eye on him, he would have been put under further stress. Whether it was as a result of this stress, or maybe the fact that having been drained of five litres of urine allowed his organs to settle into unfamiliar positions, we will never know, but that evening he had his first heart attack.

The medical staff made him comfortable and although it was worrying, when my Mom rang to tell us, we all felt he was in exactly the right place to be looked after and to recover. We talked about coming up to see him at the weekend and left it at that.

I don’t think I had even mentioned the new Jaguar I had picked up that day, but I was looking forward to showing Dad the car, he always loved Jags, though he’d never owned one. But driving to work the next morning, I was unaware that everything was going to change that day.

My mobile rang at about 9:30am, I was in the office, suited and booted as usual, it was my Mom. She was clearly upset, and told me that Dad had had a second, more serious heart attack a couple of hours earlier, and that I should come up to Sutton if I could. It’s a journey of about 100 miles, and I set off at once.

You can do an awful lot of thinking during a journey of that length. I wasn’t chanting back then, though I was a practicing Buddhist. Even the journey was strange. To start with, I was driving this brand new car, all shiny and bright, and trying to get there as fast as possible whilst still trying to break it in gently.

As I came off the M42 at Curdworth, I decided to take the back road to Bassetts Pole and come into Sutton from the North, to avoid any congestion. Big mistake, it was the Ryder Cup, being played at The Belfry, and I drove straight into all the hullaballoo.

A very nice Policewoman stopped me at a checkpoint. Understandably, wearing a sharp suit and driving a brand new Jag, she mistook me for one of the players, or an official, definitely somebody connected to the golf. I explained the situation, that I was rushing to get to the hospital, that my Dad was very ill, she asked me to wait.

I was sandwiched between two pairs of Police motorcycles and we set off at pace. The two riders in front went ahead to clear the route, stop the traffic at islands, lights etc. while the two at the rear leapfrogged at each junction and went ahead to continue the process.

I have never driven so fast on a public road, they were amazing, and we reached the hospital in double quick time. One officer took my keys and told me to go to find my Dad while he parked the car. After it was all over, I wrote a letter to the Chief Constable, thanking them for their help.

I rushed to Intensive Care, where I found Mom sitting in an ante-room. She was looking very worried, but was pleased to see me, we talked about what was happening. Then a doctor came in, asked us to sit down, and gave us an update. I asked whether I could go and see my Dad, I had a heavy cold and didn’t want to make things worse. The doctor explained that I couldn’t make it any worse and ushered me into the room.

My Dad was covered in wires and pipes. A respirator, heart monitor and all manner of machines were gathered around the bed. He was unconscious, and the nurse explained that he had been sedated to stop him from suffering any pain. We sat with him for a while, just watching his chest moving up and down as the machine kept him breathing.

The nurse asked us to go back to the ante-room and told us that the doctor would be in to talk to us shortly. When it came, the doctor’s message was short and to the point, and although he spoke very quietly and calmly, there was no easy way to say it. My Dad was being kept alive by the machines, the damage to his heart was too severe for him to recover, and they asked us whether they could turn the machines off.

I don’t really remember what was said, but they went away to turn off the apparatus, to remove the wires and pipes and to clean Dad up a little. We just sat and waited. When they were ready, we went back into the room, the machines were gone and Dad was lying motionless on the bed.

I say it was Dad. But actually I remember thinking it looked like a waxwork model of him. The total absence of life had changed everything. It looked like my Dad, but it wasn’t my Dad, something very essential was missing.

We took a little while to say our goodbyes, the staff were very kind and looked after us, but their jobs were done. I don’t remember whether I cried, I don’t remember Mom crying, we just looked after each other.

I do remember walking down a long, long corridor towards the hospital entrance. There were people laughing, whistling, running about. Life was going on as usual. But my Dad had just died, what were they thinking?

But slowly the truth becomes clear. We are all part of the Universe, all connected through the universal life-force, and when we die, the Universe continues, life continues, the Wheel of Life continues to roll inexorably on.

So September the 27th is a day I hate to remember, but it is a day I shall never forget. My Buddhist faith has put a different slant on the events of that day. I know that my Dad is back, somewhere, leading his new life. Knowing that takes some of the pain of losing him away, and for that I am very grateful.

I love you and still miss you Dad, it’s a pity you never got to see the Jaguar.

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.

A View From The Other Side

A View From The Other SideMy dear old friend Billy Brown had a favourite saying, ‘that everyone had the right to his opinion’. He was generally joking, but sometimes he meant it.

My view is somewhat different. I believe everyone has a right to their own opinion, whether it agrees with mine, or not.

Seeing things from another’s viewpoint is a critical part of being able to meet that person half way in any situation. That then gives us the ability to resolve, or at least come to terms with any potential point of conflict in a positive and constructive way.

If someone stands by their beliefs, even when doing so might run the risk of causing hurt in some manner, those beliefs must be respected. To do anything else would be to concur with Billy’s idea, and that, I am afraid, is not a recipe for peace, love or understanding.

Passing It On

Ed is having a hard time - at work, in his love life and, well, generally. Then he meets an unlikely Buddhist - who drinks and smokes and talks his kind of language. Bit by bit, things begin to change...When you find something that excites and enthuses you, you want to tell people about it and spread the news. When it is a spiritual matter it can be a more delicate situation, wanting to be enthusiastic without being evangelical or overbearing.

My go to book, as we all know, is The Buddha, Geoff and Me, beautifully simple, brilliantly written and, for me at least, a life changer. So to make a present of the book, to someone you care about, might be an idea.

That way, you show you care, you pass on the idea , but you don’t force the issue. If they are interested they may choose to read it. They also have the chance to pass on the news at a later date, if they so decide. And so the good news spreads.

Nature Is Everywhere

Girl with a swan - click for videoThe day had been billed as being affected by the remnants of hurricane Bertha, and in the wee small hours, it did indeed sound as though all hell had been let loose. However, after a leisurely start, including breakfast in bed, things were looking a lot calmer in the quay.

There is the temptation to draw the blinds and hunker down when the weatherman tells us that it’s going to be a nasty day. But as someone once said, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. So by lunchtime we were out in the very fresh air and down by the quayside.

Scully had spotted Vestas, the lone swan, looking hungry amongst the boats and pontoons. Vestas is my name for him. He is ringed, but he hasn’t got a nametag, so his nickname has stuck. Though how you can tell a swan is hungry is beyond me.

In my experience, swans are always keen to eat any bread you care to give them, and the slice of thick cut wholemeal was gone in very short shrift. Scully has a way with animals, they seem to know that, as a vegan, they aren’t in any danger of being eaten, and seem to trust her just a little more. She, on the other hand, was pretty wary of Vestas’ beak. Even though they don’t have teeth as such, the serrations along his beak could inflict a deal of pain to the incautious.

The theme of nature continued as we walked into Poole. The pavement alongside the road to the Twin Sails bridge was strewn with grasshoppers of all colours and sizes. They seemed to be enjoying the dark tarmac that had been warmed by the midday sun, and were oblivious to the giant footsteps approaching. We had to be very wary of where we walked as we tried not to injure any of the creatures.

Twin Sails Bridge - Poole - Click To View OriginalHaving had a quick bite in the Slug and Lettuce (more nature references) we had a mooch around Poole and then headed back over the Twin Sails bridge. This time we were treated to the magnificent sight of the bridge opening to let one of the RNLI lifeboats through.

Compared to the old bridge with its massive solid functional structure, the new bridge is a true work of art, and watching it open majestically really is a treat.

The whole process of opening and closing the bridge only takes a few minutes, but it is well worth the time spent as you see the spars of the lifting sections tower above the waters of Holes Bay.

More mindfulness as we carefully picked our way back through the grasshoppers, followed later in the evening by a stomach churning time on one of the fairground rides in Hamworthy Park. The ghost train wasn’t nearly as experiential, though there was a squib of cold water right on the back of our necks as we entered the first ghostly tunnel.

Good Evening Mr Toad - Click To View OriginalOur day of experiencing nature first hand was rounded off in style, when who should we find waiting for us when we got home in the pitch dark, but Mr Toad. Of course, Scully was keen to put the little fellow out of harms way, many fall prey to domestic cats, so picked him up.

Contrary to popular belief, toads have a dry skin, not wet or slimy, and the rescuee sat quietly in her hands as we selected a suitably sheltered spot in the back garden. He even seemed a little reticent to crawl off into the grass, maybe he was enjoying the warmth her hands offered.

With the adventure over, it was time for bed, but our day of mindful nature will live long in the memory.

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