Thursday, 30 May 2013

15 More Quotations: Tread Mindfully, With Kindness

My recent post, ‘A Buddhist-Inspired Life’ proved popular with friends on Facebook and followers of this blog. So I found myself continuing to create these – well, what are these things called? Photos with quotations attached, that migrate around Facebook – with some of them lucky enough to become successful memes, posted everywhere. The name ‘meme cards’ has just popped into my head – so although it doesn’t feel specific enough, perhaps I’ll use it. If anyone knows a ‘correct’ name for these things, could they please let me know? Thanks!

My first selection had a very Buddhist-inspired theme – hence the title. Some of these do too, but a couple are more political, and several are quotations from native North Americans – since my partner recently bought me a book called ‘Native American Wisdom’, which is full of them. Perhaps inevitably, there are political undertones in these as well. They also had me searching through my scanned photos of Canada in 2003, for appropriate images. These pictures were taken before I went digital and are not beautifully scanned, either – so the quality is less good than in the other images. But the ones I’ve used were the most appropriate I could find. I often had to compromise between picture quality and suitability for the accompanying quotation – and, as always, whether the quotation could be squeezed in without too much detriment to the image.

So here’s another fifteen. As before, please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media, if you like them. All of the photographs are mine, except for the one of the cat, which my partner took of me playing with our beloved ‘daughter’ - and the one of the baby badger in the grass, which I found on Pinterest. Unfortunately I don’t know who the photographer was, but I wanted to use it because, as I write, the slaughter of England’s badgers under the euphemism of ‘culling’, is about to start. It’s only recently that animals have become a part of my political consciousness, and I feel passionately about this issue. So if you can share this one especially, I’d be very grateful.

Here they are, anyway:

I came across this in Toni Bernhard’s wonderful book: ‘How to Be Sick’. It’s a potentially life-changing quote, and moves me deeply every time I read it. Only being faced with a supremely difficult life challenge such as chronic pain, brings home just how hard it is to put these words into practice. But the message, of course, is ‘baby steps’. Even letting go a little can make a big difference!

This was used by a Facebook friend on her profile. She kindly gave me permission to use it; unfortunately, neither of us knows where it originated. For me, the contrast in the final line is devastating, and encapsulates the whole tragedy of America after the Europeans’ arrival. And on a global scale, it is of course just as true of the Empire today.

An analogy used by many Western Buddhist teachers. We are the sea – our emotions are the waves. As long as we don’t identify with the waves, we can let them pass.

True, of course! Somehow, I would never have imagined Freud as a cat lover. But it humanises the often stern image many of us seem to have of him, don’t you think?

As I said above, the European badger, a protected species in Britain, is about to be slaughtered in a few test areas of the country. The ostensible reason is to stop the spread of bovine TB. All the science shows that badgers are a minor factor and that culling would be largely ineffective – but politicians, huh? They only listen to scientists when it suits them – which seems to be rarely.

Ditto. This ethic is a huge part of Buddhism, of course, and is influencing my life more and more in regard to animals. Since where politics is involved, compassion often doesn’t seem to extend even to humans, I don’t know why I should be surprised when it doesn’t include animals either.

The antithesis of the quote above, about the arrival of the Europeans in the New World.

I find it hard to believe in any kind of afterlife of spirit world, but I love these metaphors for the fleetingness of life.

I’m just beginning to recognise this.

Speaks for itself!

Dr Kristin Neff is one of three Buddhist teachers who have influenced me the most in the past few years – have given me the comfort and reassurance that I have it within myself to accept the waves of anxiety (or pain, or whatever else life throws at me) with some equanimity. And where it’s difficult, there’s always self-compassion. Kristin’s work is research-based, and her teachings are practical. I use this mantra whenever I’m suffering, even in small ways. It’s beautiful, and I wish I could thank her enough for it.

The wonderful Tara Brach, distilling in a phrase the mutual dependency of mindfulness and kindness. It is difficult, if not impossible, to have one without the other. They are twin aspects of the same intention.

I find this tragic. There are many people working incredibly hard to protect the life that exists in such myriad forms on this planet. Yet we are facing one of earth’s mass extinction events, and this time it’s human-made. Is there time, and do those of us who love life have enough power? The rest of this century will show.


I don’t need to believe in God, or any religion, to be able to relate to this. No civilisation is perfect, but often the Native Americans had the answer that those who took their homes from them had forgotten. And that forgetting may be our downfall. But I still take these lines as an inspiration, and their essence is really the same as Buddhism. Tread mindfully, with care and kindness. Our very lives depend on it!

Well, that may be a slightly depressing note to end on. For me, the past few years have included a life-changing encounter with Buddhism, the discovery of compassion (and self-compassion), and a rekindling of my childhood love of animals. Combined, these changes have led to a growing love of life in its myriad forms. Yet with that comes feelings of anger, worry and helplessness at the havoc being wreaked on the natural world by politicians, corporations, and the needs or wants of an ever-growing population. As with my earlier engagement with peace activism, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by such destruction, even though this time I have Buddhist practices to help me.

Perhaps, in the end, we can only do what we can do. I don’t have it in me, at the moment, to be an activist – pursuing it would probably lead to incapacitating illness once again. I love the people in my life, and I love my cat. I love the foxes that trot past my house in the twilight. I can extend compassion towards myself, my partner, my suffering friends. Maybe these actions, which I know are implemented also by many, many other people around the world – maybe they all add up.

One thing’s for certain, and this a comfort: they can’t do any harm. And even a little bit of compassion, extended towards the self or another or an animal, helps that being in some way which is far from insignificant. So I still think my life is changing, and for the better – even if I wish I could do a lot more.

‘I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.’ ~ Helen Keller


  1. Michael - These are wonderful. Thank you so much for taking the time to create these and share them with us.

    1. Thank you so much, Toni. They were a pleasure both to create and to share!

  2. Michael,
    This is just so heart felt. We all together can be a change

    1. Catherine, that's lovely - thank you. Yes, that's just what I tell myself - and if nothing else, our special sangha can bring hope and comfort to us all!