Have felt worse

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Your Less Than Perfect Holiday


But my! Work is intense, packed to the gills, unrelenting and exhausting. Holidays are the beacon of hope; a future panacea of peace from the hurly burly of daily life.

But then the actual holidays are never just that. They are imperfect, frequently unsatisfying and most certainly not the answer to all our prayers. Even on the good days – those times we spent so long looking forward – nothing ever works smoothly. Reality never matches the future our internal monologue had asserted would be wonderful.

Buddha stated that this imperfection and dis-satisfactoriness (called dukkha) is caused by our grasping onto things, ideas and thoughts we think are solid and permanent but which never are. We have an active misunderstanding of how things are. Our thoughts come and go, they are just events, they are not solid and real. Now this is really good news: if thoughts are not me or you, it they aren’t actual things, then we can all be free from the overthinking that everyone does and no one properly admits to. Mark Williams says “This frees you up from the dislocated reality we have all conjured up for ourselves, through endless worrying brooding and ruminating.” (Mindfulness; finding peace in frantic world).

But it isn’t just the negative thoughts we can drop. A more realistic view of our mental activity doesn’t just mean we can begin to see debilitating self critical thoughts as just passing through. We can also avoid expecting everything to work out perfectly and imagining all will be well; that our holiday will match the brochure or the Facebook photos our friends shared from the poolside. If instead of clinging on to ideas we can learn to stop judging and comparing what is around us to how we think it should be, we can avoid narrowing our whole experience down to a competition our life can never win. Real freedom right there if we can begin to move away from being “compelled to draw only one preconceived opinion” (also Mark Williams from the same book) and allow ourselves the chance to experience what is around us just for what it is. Come on!  Leave those thoughts alone and be kind to yourself instead.


(Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book is available here )


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So much stuff and so little space

Just 3 days at Amaravati monastery. Not a long time. People there have been in robes for decades. So hardly a bout of elongated austerity.

But after just the 72 hours, stopping at a motorway services and queuing for a coffee was almost a whole new experience. The all-areas assault of the senses. The jam packed fullness of everything and every place. The colours, the noise, the choice, the rush. There was no time and no space for anything else to squeeze in. So many colours of drinks and drink bottles. Not a worktop without a pile of cups or lids or snacks on it. No wall without a picture or four hung on it. The radio nudging in for when there was a part drop in noise. So so much to sense, to want and desire. No escape from it anywhere you look or listen.

Earlier in the week this was all unremarkable to me and yes, I know, by next week it will be again. But, by gum, if the Buddha is right and craving after stuff and contact with stuff is what causes suffering and discontent (dukkha), then this is a hard place and era in which to become Enlightened. 

Now give me my coffee fix. I’ve missed it in the last 3 days.

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Dukkha Dukkha everywhere (but don’t worry)

I am writing this on World Mental Health Day……… At the week end I hoovered and dusted the lounge. I am not someone who takes very easily to housework: in fact I should make clear from the start, that I dust very rarely indeed. I am a prone to laziness where i can grab it in my day. Not surprisingly therefore, I was very pleased with how the room looked at the end. But this satisfaction was short lived and, on reflection, had the seeds of discontent sown in it from the outset.

Firstly, straight after lunch an iPad, some colouring pens, a hair bobble or two and a DVD case had already been left across the floor and sofa by my children. I was angry because I had had hoped this tidiness would last. I had seen it as an achievement, a thing on its own and existant. There was a tidy room I had created. Since it is there, I felt it would remain so. Now I know that is stupid and if I had stopped for even half a second to reflect on that or if you had asked me “How long will your lounge remain like this?” I would have immediately admitted and seen it could not last. But intellectually understanding and fully knowing are different things. I have what Buddha would call ignorance. The tidying was done within the context of my ignorance and so there was  suffering. I couldn’t escape from that.

Secondly, my wife made no comment or words of gratitude for my cleaning (probably because she was so shocked I had actually done some!) This made me angry. you can see that I didn’t do the tidying just as an act to do because it would make others happier or as it would be a good thing to do; I cleaned partly for my own benefit, to feed my ego and to feel good about myself. So again the tidying was done within the context of my ignorance (this time in the form of pride and a desire for praise). So dukkha (suffering or dissatisfaction) was unavoidable from the moment I plugged in that hoover.

But in Buddha’s first teaching he taught the FOUR Noble Truths: there is suffering and there is a cause of suffering were the first two. If he had stopped there then Buddhism would be a dire belief system and to be honest the best thing would be to fill our sensory pleasures all day long. But he didn’t, for the 3rd and 4th Noble Truths are that there is an end to suffering and the method for that is the Noble 8-fold path. The more we can see the interconnectedness of all things and care for other peoples’ happiness, the more we will find true happiness ourselves.

So Buddhism is not in the end a sad and gloomy religion but a happy and positive one. I believe that on World Mental Health Day that is something worth investigating further.

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We all know how Vyvyan felt

Take a minute to picture this ….. Maybe at the weekend when you have no more work to do, when the chores are done, the washing put away, the children content, when you have nothing planned, no responsibilities and no deadlines. Maybe then you get to sit on the sofa for 5 quiet and peaceful minutes with no TV, no radio, no computer, no internet, no music and no book for distraction…. Doesn’t that sound good?

Or maybe imagine the same situation but instead of 5 minutes maybe 10. Or instead of 10 maybe 30 or an hour or even the whole day with nothing: uninterrupted and undisturbed stillness and inactivity for a day. Who could do that? Who would want to do that? How long till you were BORED of it?

In my first job I was bored. If I hadn’t checked the clock until after 09:30 I considered it a good start to the day. But they paid me and I quickly understood that the cash in the brown envelope given to me on Friday afternoon was compensation for my 37 and a half hours of boredom that week. That was the contract we had. And with the money I could buy myself away from boredom over the weekend.

Boredom is unnerving and scary. It is never invited in. It is no one’s friend. I was taught that boredom was a sign of failure. “If you are bored, it means that you are boring.” The insinuation being I should be able to use my own initiative to find something to do; something to cover over the boredom and if I couldn’t, well then I was the one to blame. In other words, the bored are lesser people than the not bored.

My boredom arises when things things aren’t going as I would like: which is either when a) I have to do something I don’t want to (“tidying up is SO boring”) or b) I can’t do something I want to do (“its so boring without my friends here”). Yet it is so stupid to try ironing out all the parts of my life that are not perfect, to rage against the changes and vacillations  when they will NEVER stop. Life won’t ever be perfect; there is dukkha and boredom is just one example that. So maybe there aren’t bored people and not bored people – all of us get bored

I have just started to look at my meditation as 20 minutes of boredom every day. Which has made me wonder if our life long boredom avoidance strategies are just skin deep, attachment driven, pointless chasing of distraction after distraction and pushing away of unpleasantness after unpleasantness. Maybe it would be better if we all just got a little bit more comfortable with our boredom, to breathe it in and let it go.


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Johnny Cash: Feeling Bad and Feeling Good

When Johnny Cash sang the Nine Inch Nails’ song “Hurt” he let you know what pain was.

You can find the lyrics here

When He sings “will the circle be unbroken” (with June Carter, Pops Staples and Carleen Anderson) he let you know what hope there is.

That pain he felt: that is temporary.

That joy he felt: that is temporary

Buddha talked about the the differences between how an uninstructed worldling and an instructed noble disciple (guess which one I am!) deals with and reacts to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He called them the 8 worldly concerns or conditions. He put them into four pairs; gain and loss, fame and disrepute, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. This brief explanation of his can be read here, but the bottom line is the worldling gets engrossed by the ups and downs, by becoming attracted to or repelled from each of the pairs and so perpetuates their life. Whilst the noble disciple sees the eight as ephemeral and is not caught up in elation and dejection.

I read a Sharon Salzberg quote recently shared by @mindfuleveryday which put it more succinctly still ““We long for permanence but everything in the known universe is transient. That’s a fact but one we fight.”

At the moment I am going through a tough time at work:I thought I was good, but I have not being doing so well recently. So the trick I need (but find it SO hard) to learn is to see the loss, blame and disrepute happening to me as insubstantial, temporary and not existing from its own side. Then I shan’t run away from it and I shall be able to accept and deal with it better. I am nowhere near being able to do that, but at least thanks to this teaching I know what I should be aiming for.

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There is Suffering

So this guy gives up the luxuries of a royal prince and being heir to the throne for a life of a moneyless, homeless tramp. Then after years of self induced hardship he finally discovers Enlightenment and the path to happiness.

Yet when he first speaks about this momentous achievement he doesn’t describe the delights of what he has now or the ecstasies of what he has uncovered. Instead Buddha opens his first ever teaching with

“There is suffering”

If that was today, his TV show ratings would immediately drop and anyone online would be off surfing elsewhere for happiness and joy. People don’t want to hear that, we just want happiness and nothing else.

But there is comfort in what at first appears to be a dreary sentence. He didn’t say “you are suffering” or even “we all suffer” but “there is suffering”.

“There is….” means that the pain and sadness isn’t mine or yours; the universe isn’t out to get me. In some ways the suffering isn’t even my fault (but I don’t properly understand that yet), it’s just there

If that is the case, then those dark times when my mind turns inward and can only see negatives and a lack of any self worth (“cant do my job”, “I am a terrible husband and an awful father”, “everyone can see through my sellotape thin layer of self confidence”) is just wrong.

It’s not my fault or someone else’s. THIS IS JUST HOW IT IS and looking for fault in a person or system won’t solve anything.

There is a freedom in seeing it in that way; a freedom from hating myself, from raging against the decisions of government, from slagging off my boss(es) for their decisions and policies; from bemoaning my friends and family for their way of living. Because doing any of that won’t solve anything, because they didn’t cause this suffering, this dukkha, it is just there.


And if I can return accurately and gently to that idea and just let go of my perception of suffering then progress is possible.