Where To Next?

And Where To Next?Sadly, I’ve never been in a position where I can sit back and think, “Right that’s it, I’m who I want to be, I’m where I want to be, I have nothing left to do”. Maybe that is a rather rare situation to find oneself in, maybe we might call it Enlightenment.

But if there are things we still wish to improve, to learn, to complete, the question arises, “Where To Next?”. Some things have to be done in sequence, some things can be changed in isolation, but deciding which one to choose can be difficult.

Sensei, as always, has some very good advice:

“You may have fundamental questions about yourself and your identity: Who am I? What should I do with my life? It is quite natural to feel unsure about the best way to proceed. If you haven’t yet decided on your future course, I feel the best thing is just to concentrate your energies on what you need to do right now, and gradually your full potential will emerge.”

~ Daisaku Ikeda

Wise words indeed, and when they are allied to chanting, focussed on the same question, the answer is sure to come in no time. Having been through a great deal of change over the last few years, I would like to share a morsel of acquired wisdom, that being, to remember to be compassionate towards yourself. Change can be, and often is, quite painful.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

Testing Our Progress

Beach Huts At Hengistbury HeadThose of you who have followed my blog for a while will have seen posts about my cycling exploits over the past few years.

Just the same way we test the progress of our Buddhist practice, I have been monitoring my progress in cycling terms.

In some ways, comparing my training times is an easier process. Am I completing the distance more quickly, is my heart rate lower for the same effort, so many metrics to compare. But testing the progress of my practice is more obvious to me day to day.

Almost a year ago to the day, I rode to Hengistbury Head and back, a journey that really caused me a whole world of pain. So much so, that I blogged about the experience. Today I repeated the journey with ease, I even raced, and beat, a bunch of lads who were waiting at the closed Poole bridge on the way home.

The difference? Last year, I was so much less fit. This year, I have been putting my heart and soul into my training. Today’s trip pushed my monthly training distance over the 900km mark, and that has made a huge difference.

When we put all our effort into something, be that training, or our Buddhist practice, we see the results. My cycling effort is backed up by lists and lists of figures and statistics. My effort in Buddhist practice terms shows up in my self awareness, my life-energy and life-state and I can feel the progress each and every day.

And there is an added bonus. The fitter I get, the higher my life-state, the more I chant, the higher my life-energy and the fitter I can get … the ultimate positive spiral !!!

You’re Not A Quitter … Are You?

The View From Evening HillOne of my favourite training rides is from my home in Poole, over Poole Quay, through Sandbanks, along the promenade to Bournemouth Pier, and back. It’s not the most challenging ride, Evening Hill on the way from Lilliput to Sandbanks, and more particularly on the way back, is the only climb of any note whatsoever.

It’s a round trip of roughly 27.5 kilometres, about 17 miles in old money, so plenty of chance to stretch the legs. Until yesterday, I had been taking just over an hour to complete the trip, despite trying really hard to dip under that ‘magical’ sixty minute mark.

I was beginning to think it was impossible, for me at least. But I’m no quitter, and determination, or bloody minded pig-headedness, call it what you will, drove me to keep trying. It almost felt that the more I tried, the further I got from my goal, until last night.

With the evenings now really drawing in, I got home and changed in double quick time. I was out of the door and on the road by 6:00pm, and the legs felt good. There were fewer people around than of late, it was getting quite chilly, so the prom was clear and I made good progress.

Reaching the pier, I glanced at my watch and was surprised to see that it had only taken me twenty six minutes to get there. So thirty three minutes to get back under the hour. I gritted my teeth, selected the biggest gear I could turn and set off back up the prom.

It felt as though nature was doing its worst, the wind felt like it was against me, holding me back, even though the odd flag around was lying limply against its flagpole. I caught and passed several other cyclists, one of them on the approach to Evening Hill. He tried to draught me, to hide away from the wind behind my frame, but he couldn’t match my pace.

By the time I was back on Poole Quay, there were only six minutes left. My heart was pounding, 158 beats per minute according to the heart monitor, my legs were burning and my lungs felt like they might burst, but I was not going to give in now. I turned into Lulworth Avenue, straight into a headwind, the flag in the park even confirmed it, so I just dug deeper.

As I swung into the drive, I pressed the stop button on the bike computer and looked at the time. I really wasn’t sure whether I had made it or not, so Getting back into the apartment, I stowed the bike and downloaded the data.

Fifty eight minutes and twenty two seconds!!! The barrier had been broken, all the pain and suffering had been forgotten and my determination had paid off. The elation was worth every drop of sweat, every ache and pain I felt. Its a small goal in the great scheme of things, but it was my goal and I reached it.

So never forget the eternal truth, that we only ever lose when we concede that we have lost. Having the courage, patience and determination to press on, even when all the signs are telling us to stop, to give in, to cut and run, can lead to unexpected results.

Remaining calm, collected, objective and compassionate, even when the circumstances may be urging you to move in other directions, is a feature of our nature that requires time, practice and patience to perfect. Like cycling, you have to put in the effort to see the rewards.

I don’t think it is simply a coincidence that practice, meaning repeating a task or skill to improve your proficiency, and Buddhist practice, use the same word. As Gary Player, the famous golfer once said of his game, ‘the more I practice, the luckier I get’. Luck has nothing to do with it, as he and we know it all too well.

So if you find the odds stacked against you or get disheartened by the way events seem to be going, believe in yourself and your practice. You might be surprised by what actually happens. So apply for that job, write that email or make that phone call, what have you got to lose?

A Blank Canvas

The Chosen PathNever forget that making a decision is the beginning, and not the end of a process. In many ways starting something is the easiest part, seeing things through to their conclusion takes far more effort and patience as well as wisdom, courage and compassion.

Whilst many opportunities need courage to grasp, rarely is it courage that sees them through to the end. Sometimes it means relinquishing control into someone else’s hands which can be quite a frightening prospect.

Having determination, and the patience to allow others to realise that your chosen path is the right way to proceed is never an easy thing to accomplish. But the alternative is to reverse the decision, fail in the quest, and be prepared to stomach the bitter taste of defeat. That path can only lead to more pain and heartache, be resolute and see it through.

Agony

Charlotte and OliverCharlotte is not having a good time with this surgery at all. She is in a lot of pain, has tubes coming out of her, so can’t even get into a comfortable position, and is on a ward with other women who are also suffering post operative discomfort in various forms.

She is being given morphine to help her cope with the pain, but she has never been good with anaesthetics, they make her feel sick. So you can imagine that she is feeling very low, doesn’t want to see or talk to anyone because she doesn’t want to upset them.

All I can do, being stuck here in Poole, is to be there if she texts or calls, to concentrate my practice on chanting and praying for a good outcome to all this and to help Charlotte and the rest of the family stay positive. Several people have been in to see her, and that might help cheer her a little, but the sooner she is home and on the mend, the better.

Every Child

Every Child Is PreciousWith my thoughts being dominated by Charlotte, and her slow and painful recovery from the latest surgery, whilst remembering that she is but one of my three children, I was reminded of this explanation, by Daisaku Ikeda, of a relevant parable from the Lotus Sutra.

Every child is precious. The Lotus Sutra tells the parable of the three kinds of medicinal herbs and two kinds of trees. There are many different kinds of plants; their shape, size and nature come in myriad varieties. Some plants grow fast while others take time to mature. In this parable, however, the heavens rain upon all the plants equally, nurturing their growth. And the plants blossom and bear fruits according to their own unique character.

This parable symbolizes the Buddha’s vast compassion to nurture all living beings despite their differences. All children are different; each possesses his or her wonderful unique quality. We must pour upon all children our great love and compassion so that each child can blossom, true to his or her unique quality.

~ Daisaku Ikeda

Finally …

Painful Questions, Honest AnswersGoing back over your mistakes, asking yourself painful questions and giving honest answers is a difficult, but enlightening experience.

We’ve all made mistakes in life, some more serious than others, but talking them through, trying to explain why you made this decision at that point in time, makes you re-examine your own values.

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.

The one thing I really must try very hard to improve is how I hear the answers that others give to the questions I ask. I have been guilty of having selective hearing over the last few months and of trying to dissuade others from taking the path that is right for them.

That guilt has caused a great deal of pain to all parties concerned, and for that I am truly sorry. Sadly, I now realise that trying to impose my feelings upon situations beyond my control was never going to work. I hope that I can take the lessons learned into any similar future situations.

10 Years, And It Still Hurts Like Hell

My DadToday is one of those anniversaries that I really don’t look forward to. As I write this, it is exactly ten years, almost to the minute, since my Dad passed on. Strange, because the 27th of September had always been a special day, it was also his mother’s, my Nan’s, birthday.

On that day, 10 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 waxworks 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, but 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 miss you Dad, it’s a pity you never got to see the Jaguar.

Ouch, This Hurts

Saddle SoreIf you ride a bike on the roads around Britain you’ll know how lovely it is to find yourself on a stretch of nice new smooth tarmac. The lumps and bumps of our older repaired roads really can rattle your bones, so the new surface is a real treat.

Life is very much like that too. It’s the lumps and bumps of everyday life that make you realise just how comfortable the smooth untroubled times are. But without the rough times, we would never recognise the comparison and enjoy the easier times when they appear.

We all know, that as we move through life, it is impossible to stay on the smooth untroubled path. The bumpy times are a simple fact, just as they are out on the road. So when they come along, just be determined, hold on tight, keep pedalling and look forward to the smoother times ahead.

What A Pain

Hengistbury Head - Click to view

The beautiful sunshine, despite a brisk westerly breeze, made my bike ride over to Hengistbury Head, near Christchurch, a real treat. There were lots of people who had also decided to make the most of the weather, so making progress along the promenade to Bournemouth was never easy.

Having the breeze at my back made the cycling easy, something I was to rue later in the day, and maybe it contributed to me riding further than I had planned to do. But it was very rewarding to find myself at the tip of the peninsula, surrounded by beautiful nature.

With the obligatory panoramic photos in the can it was time to set off on the journey home. Initially I made good progress, albeit having to weave my way through throngs of people as well as having to dodge the quaint little land train.

But as I reached to promenade, I felt the full force of the breeze that had helped me on the outward journey. Whether it was the result of the wet summer, leaving me with a lot less miles in my legs, or that I hadn’t taken enough to drink, we will never know.

Suffice to say that as I reached to rise up to the pier at Bournemouth, I started to get cramp in the top of my left thigh. Now I have never had cramp before, ever, so it was a rather nasty surprise, and I tried to ride through the pain, it just seemed to get tighter. A brief rest on a bench at Alum Chine, sitting in the sunshine and stretching my legs out, seemed to help, but the respite was only short lived.

The nasty little rise out of Sandbanks proved to be a bit of a killer, and by the time I reached to summit both my thighs were locked solid. I stopped, but couldn’t bend either leg enough to get off the bike. So I stood and waited for the pain to subside, much to the bemusement of a lady who was passing.

Finally I was able to trundle down the hill into Lilliput, but turning into Whitecliff park the pain returned. I found my self a bench and again waited for the cramp to abate again. Finally it eased a little, but not before I wondered whether I was going to be able to make it back home.

I set my pace by chanting. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo gives a good rhythm and it also took my mind away from the pain in my legs. I also kept a vision of me reaching home and entering the front door in my minds eye, and I found that this helped me to concentrate on my goal.

Well I’m back home and after having showered, eaten dinner and drunk plenty of water, and had a little rest, I’m feeling fine. I can tell that I’ve still got a bit of strain in my legs, but if the weather is good tomorrow, I think I’ll go out and stretch my legs again.

My chanting always helps me sort out the challenges in life, but I never cease to be amazed at just how versatile it can be. I can’t promise that the same method will work for you, but it might be worth giving it a try next time a challenge gives you a bit of pain or anguish.

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