Saturday, 27 April 2013

A Buddhist-Inspired Life

Photos with inspiring quotations seem increasingly common on Facebook – where, if they didn’t originate, they at least spread rapidly as memes. Amongst the most common seem to be the ‘life happens for a reason’ variety, which to my mind are often rather clich├ęd and simplistic. Sometimes I simply don’t agree with them! But there are also some wonderful examples, including many quotations attributed to the Buddha or Albert Einstein. I was recently dismayed to learn that some of these attributions are false – but they are still marvellous quotations, whoever said them!

Anyway, then I joined Pinterest, where they also proliferate. Here they have the advantage that their subject matter is more likely to correspond with the user’s interests. In my case, I quickly adopted my friend Toni’s board heading of ‘Buddhist-Inspired Life’, and re-pinning some of her examples as well as others I’d collected from Facebook over the years. And then, a few days ago, I found myself creating my own examples, using my own photographs (some of them taken many years ago) as backgrounds.

So here are my first fifteen, which I thought I’d share with anyone drawn to the themes of my blog. They’re mostly, but not entirely, Buddhist-oriented; a couple are there simply because they’re favourite quotations of mine. Anyway, I hope you like them. And I certainly won’t mind if some of them turn up on Facebook or Pinterest before long; after all, these things are hopeful little memes just begging to be spread! Or just enjoy them here. The main thing is that I hope others are as inspired and comforted by the quotations here as I am.

This beautiful reflection by the Buddha reflects my rather secular approach to Buddhism, and suggests a man who was less concerned with an afterlife or future lives than with living fully, kindly and happily in the here and now.

From a Buddhist point of view, this includes all beings, all life, everywhere. I married the words with a portrait of a fox that I took at the British Wildlife Centre, as they have an added political meaning for me, living in a country whose government wants to repeal the legal ban on ritual hunting and killing of foxes.

This one speaks for itself. One of the things that draws me to Buddhism is its pacifism.

A comforting reflection, stemming from the realisation of impermanence, ‘conditioned arising’, that arises through meditation practice. The photo is an old one of my partner gazing at the afternoon countryside.

Without any thought of an afterlife or supreme being, and arguably no literal meaning of ‘rebirth’ either, The Buddha was full of inspiring and comforting words. This could, after all, be one of the things he meant by ‘rebirth’, anyway!

One of the most beautiful things ever said by the wonderful Tara Brach.

The kind of statement that, for me, provokes an inner sigh of relief, and a sense of true freedom somewhere ahead.

More about the Buddha as Siddattha Gotama, a suffering human being like you or me!

Apparently the words Siddattha spoke as he lay dying, to his devoted attendant Ananda. Humane, deeply wise yet difficult words for all of us as well.

This is one of the reasons why I feel a sense of relief when I compare Buddhism to the Christian religion I grew up with. Instead of a doctrine of original sin, the Buddha taught that we are all born with ‘Buddha nature’ – the innate capacity to become fully enlightened beings. There’s no need to be ‘good enough’ to find our way back to Eden; freedom is already here, if we can learn to care and pay attention to what is.

When I studied counselling, the approach we followed was person-centred, and Rogers was one of my heroes. Looking back, I see similarities to his way of working with clients: humane, compassionate and incredibly attentive. Watching or listening to recordings of his therapy sessions leaves you in no doubt that he was a deeply compassionate and caring man, and the quiet, calm attention he brought to whatever his clients were saying. Remembering now, it’s almost as if he was putting the Buddha’s core teachings directly into practice, in that therapy room.

Lovely! No Son of God, no Anointed One, no new religious leader to worship. Just a man, awake!

What better purpose in life could there be?

Quoted by Tara Brach in ‘Radical Acceptance’, this slightly odd but profound quotation reminds me that the Buddhist perception of impermanence applies to people as well. It’s not just that we die; we are ‘reborn’ again and again, in every moment…

I did this one simply because I find the words so moving. I first heard them, of all places, in an episode of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’, and have never forgotten them – even though I’ve never read Dante’s great poem!

I may not be a ‘Buddhist’ (not yet, anyway), and my meditation practice is sparse and undisciplined. But increasingly, it seems to be a Buddhist-inspired life!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Wild Geese

Photographer unknown

In the past five years or so I’ve done several MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy) courses, and this poem by Mary Oliver always seems to come up in them. I fell in love with it immediately; even the first line is a revelation. For me it says something about how our conditioning complicates our life with unnecessary struggle and suffering. It feels like a window into another life I previously never knew existed – full of light and air and movement, and of course freedom.

Having a chronic pain condition and spending much of my life these days indoors (no longer able to run, let alone fly!) gives it an extra poignancy for me. But the world still ‘offers itself up’. The cry of the wild geese may be ‘harsh’ at times, but it’s still life – and all of us, whether we feel we belong to it or not, we really do!

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself up to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.