Dharma dog

Dharma dog

Maizy and I take turns on the cushion, but it has to be said that her practice more often resembles sleep.

Another excerpt from the meditation buddy correspondence.

Yesterday I signed up to the Dharma Ocean website and today downloaded the free guide to meditating that signing up gives access to and started listening. It’s like two CDs worth of stuff and the third track of the first part (which is as far as I’ve got) is a guided 10-point meditation. I carefully shut my door and assumed that Maizy would remain asleep on the bed as she had been while I listened  to tracks 1 and 2.

Oh no. The moment I was on the floor she started pacing around, whining gently, licking my hands, scratching at the door and eventually pawing at me, pulling at my hands. I decided to just leave her be, but when the meditation transitioned from lying to sitting I took the opportunity to open the door, let her out and shut it behind her.

Silence for just long enough to relax and re-engage… and then whining and scratching at the door. And it occurred to me that she was being a physical correlative of my thinking mind/ego – disconcerted, agitated, seeking attention. Now, of course, that I am tapping away at the laptop she is again asleep on the bed snoring gently.

Interestingly, this was how she behaved initially when I was sitting, in my usual place in the corner of the room. She would pace around, lick me, nudge my hands off my legs with her nose and generally make it clear she felt disregarded. As time passed she got accustomed to the situation and generally lies down and curls up, sometimes at my feet, sometimes on a nearby rug on the floor. Perhaps it was the unaccustomed procedure, lying on the floor near the door, that disturbed her, just as a new technique disturbs the thinking mind. Who knew? Maizy the great teacher!

Who am I?

Who am I?

Of course everything has changed. How could it not. Most of my body has been replaced since that last post (in 2010). There are themes, perhaps, such as the continuing affection for taking pictures of London plane trees and the designs of Kate Davies. I made her Carbeth Cardigan to wear at my wedding. Knitting still happens, a lot.

Yes, being married, that’s a change. The power of a performative speech act is immeasurable. I am so grateful to have Dave in my life. At the party to celebrate our marriage it was my son Joseph who put into words some of what Dave means to me, to us, and the powerful force for change he has been and continues to be. Someday, technology permitting, I’ll put up the video of that speech.

I love my boys men so very much.

Why start blogging again? An interesting question, to me at least.

When I started in 2003 I was very ill and had been off work for a number of months with deep depression. When a friend called up to find out how I was I remember telling her that I didn’t exist. She tactfully avoided asking who, then, was talking to her on the phone. I tactfully avoided telling her that I wished profoundly not to exist, in so far as I could be said still to do so.

In retrospect blogging probably marked a turning point, a reaching out from a safe space of anonymity for some form of contact, a desire to communicate. I felt that whoever “I” had been, a structure envisaged as some kind of edifice constructed from components a bit like Lego bricks, had been smashed apart. It was, therefore, logically the case that “recovery” consisted in collecting the bits and reassembling them, possibly in a different configuration less susceptible to damage.

About two years later the rationale of the re-fortification project began to be challenged by a chance encounter with the meditation techniques taught by Alistair Appleton in a week-long course on Holy Isle.


Other courses and retreats followed.  My personal practice was, at best, intermittent, but occasionally replenished. It became clearer over time that the blocks were in fact stumbling blocks and that the real material behind the frangible armour I’d erected to “protect” it was supple, elastic, resilient. Neuroplasticity became my salvational doctrine of choice.

I’ve recently reconnected with my meditation practice in a very profound way after another Mindsprings retreat with Alistair, also on Holy Isle, concentrating on cultivating bodhicitta. Alistair’s teacher is Reggie Ray of Dharma Ocean who is teaching in the lineage of his teacher, Chogyam Trungpa. The practices are, of course, extremely powerful, but it was this in combination with the method of the practice that I found transformative – the use of awareness of the body as a meditation tool really allowed me to calm the thinking mind and access some profound non-cognitive insights. And this combined with Alistair’s own teaching and deep knowledge of psychology and neurobiology also made those insights and experiences make sense to the “show me your evidence” thinking mind, which no doubt helped in the digestive process.

The big take-home grand prize was the dawning awareness that I wasn’t on the retreat for me… I no longer feel irreparably damaged or flawed, traumatised or fucked up or whatever it was. My life is my life but the past no longer has the imprisoning power it used to. It just is.

In the womb of the island turned toward the light.

In this interview with Reggie Ray I was intrigued by the following observation about depression:

“[Chogyam Trungpa said] depression is the most dignified and realistic of all the samsaric states… depression still is happening within an ego framework… but as he put it himself depression is the closest thing to actual enlightenment that we can experience without actually crossing over. And what he meant by that was that in depression, real depression and deep depression, you see that the usual way in which you spend your time and the usual kind of pursuits that everyone engages in are fundamentally meaningless, meaningless in the sense that they don’t deliver what we’re hoping they will deliver, that’s not what they’re about, and you’re left feeling that there’s no point even being alive. … Enlightened people within the Buddhist framework see the same thing but they don’t have the same response and what makes depression depression is that there is still some feeling that it should be otherwise.”

So in a way it’s a bit of a circle. From disintegration (a very painful experience) to dismantling (which might well be painful, but in a different way). Trying to catch sight of where and how the L/ego blocks of the thinking mind are arranged and through that perhaps allowing that inner material, so long circumscribed by cramping carapace, to expand into the world, the universe, of which it is composed.

A process of ecdysis, perhaps, with the practice and teacher and friends the support against re-hardening.

Holy Island class and teacher of 05 mini reunion. Thinking of you @bwmaness 💚

Thank you so much Alistair, Kirsty and Laurence, thank you.

Difficult shit

After my most recent retreat a lot of us found it useful to “buddy up” as a way of helping each other maintain our practice beyond the extraordinary space of the group and the place and into the quotidian. I’ve found myself emailing my buddy with rather verbose accounts of this and that, some of which I’ll post here.

My meditation today (7.30pm) was spectacularly unsuccessful. I’m sitting there in the dark corner of the room thinking about anything my poor mind can come up with to try to exert control and keep awareness at bay and I’m saying “thought” so regularly that at one stage I realise I’m just repeating it over and over like it’s a mutant mantra even when there are no thoughts to label.

Then elder son knocks on the door (which is open anyway), glances around the room and disappears. I can see him out of my peripheral vision (eyes downcast a few feet in front of me as prescribed). I assume he’s seen me and retired, embarrassed by my hippy behaviour. I label this thought as “ thought”. Along with all the subsequent speculation about what it was he might have wanted.

A few minutes later younger son shouts from his room next door “Mother” (for this is the affectionate name by which I am known) “do you have a something-or-other [insert incomprehensible computer terminology here] cable?” “She’s not in” shouts elder son from his room at the other end of the house. Hmm. So he didn’t actually notice me. (“Thought”)

Younger son bounces in and stands in the doorway. “What the hell is he doing?” I think, carefully labelling the thinking as “thought”. As if in reply the phone next to me makes its text noise, younger son leaps in the air, shrieks and runs from the room. “Oh my god how embarrassing” I hear him say to elder son, “she is in, she’s sitting”.

When I am eventually released from the torment of not-meditating by the timer I go to ask younger son what he wanted. “You almost gave me a heart attack” he says “stuck there in the corner looking like you were having a difficult shit”. “But that was me, touching nirvana” I reply. “Well,” he says, “that’s what most men feel like after a difficult shit.” Sigh.