Upon a cushion

Zafu (Zen meditation cushion)

Zafu (Zen meditation cushion). Doggerel and crude sketch from sesshin a long time ago.

I sat upon a cushion
And I was feeling very comfy
But the radio was playing
Rock and pop and country

I sat upon my cushion
Or perhaps a cannon ball
My legs and head were hurting
I longed to crawl and bawl

I sat upon my cushion
Or in a snow scene ball
And there it covered all the ground
And glory shone around

I’m sitting on my cushion
Afloating on a lake
And all the water’s crystal clear
And I am bright awake

I’m sitting on my cushion
Surrendered to it now
Just breathing quiet and deeply
And ending with a bow

My cushion is a diaphragm
I rise and gently fall
Before or after giving birth
I’ve no idea at all

My cushion was a hard dry pulse
That now is soaked and soft
And I am ripening like a seed
My ego to throw off

I sat upon my cushion
And I did slip away
To darkness and deliverance
The pilot light of day

100 Great Things

Bicycles, men, women, some of the 100 great things

  1. Sainsbury ‘Basic’ Tortilla Chips because they are the closest thing to the tortilla chips I used to eat in El Paso Texas and they only cost £0.50 for a big bag.
  2. Reading glasses from the 99p Shop seem to work OK and are great for people who lose their glasses or sit on them. Thank you!
  3. Bicycles. Kirkpatrick MacMillan (1812-78), a Scottish blacksmith is credited with inventing the pedal-driven bicycle so we could get about for free. 
  4. Tooting Bec Lido is the largest fresh water swimming pool in the UK if not Europe. Unheated and open year round, it has become a focal point in the development and popularisation of cold water swimming in the UK.
  5. South London Swimming Club swims at Tooting Bec Lido and ensures the Lido stays open and that the legacy of past generations is preserved for future ones. 
  6. H2Zoom digital recorder is the most incredibly generous piece of recording equipment that for just over £100 enables you to record your sounds and then process with free sound editing software from Audacity.  
  7. Garlic and Tomato Bread at Buona Sera restaurant in Clapham is the lightest, crispiest pizza base topped with a soft tomato and garlic sauce. A sensual delight, bigger than a plate and only £4.00.
  8. The Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park always has interesting contemporary art exhibitions which are free and afterwards you can stroll to the lake for a swim with the swans and a nice cup of coffee in the Lido Cafe. 
  9. Open Mic at the White Lion on Monday nights. Everyone is very generous and the performances cover all genres and range from the sublime to the atrocious, compered by Al ‘The Bass’.
  10. Soundcloud lets you post and share music.  It provides amateurs with a place to showcase their work and network with other musicians.
  11. Moleskine 18 month soft cover diary has that lovely quality feel and if you buy it in January (i.e. 6 months after it is released) you get it cheaper and you have 6 months of pages to use for notes. 
  12. Streatham Hillhas that nice mix of being near the center but by a park, full of interesting people but not too posh. It’s just a very very nice place to hang out.
  13. Guitars. Infinite pleasure and enjoyment and if you have one on the road, someone is bound to come up and ask to play it. They are just wonderful things. And as they say, if you learn three chords you can play any song. 
  14. Wetherspoons pubs have a fantastic selection of beers that are well looked after and cost around half the price of beer in any other pub. What a great gift to the British man with a light wallet. 
  15. Freemind is an open source mind-mapping software. Use it to gather and sort out information and to structure work. Its bloody brilliant and its free. Here’s an introduction: Mind mapping will make you better.
  16. Zen Meditation: a spiritual practice that requires you to just sit and stare at a blank wall. That eschews preaching in favour of personal realisation. Let Ruben Habito explain the Fruits of Zen.
  17. Shepherd’s Pie with peas is just such a lovely comforting dish. 
  18. Green lentils in tomatoe sauce by Nigel Slater is a really simple and delicious recipe; nutritious and so cheap. 
  19. Dogs and dog walkers like Miguel on Tooting Bec Common and Kim in Battersea Park tend to be lovely, caring people with a bunch of canine characters.
  20. Nigel Slater‘s recipes and his attitude to food and cooking which is very down to earth. He likes his bacon butties in a white bread.
  21. Food for Thought is a small restaurant in Covent Garden which has been producing great vegetarian food since the 1970s. The apple crumble recipe using oats with flour is great. 
  22. Making marmalade.  
  23. Red wine, one month it is good for you, the next month not.  
  24. Friendship. 
  25. Children … are not your children they are life’s longing after itself, says Kahlil Gibran.  
  26. Early morning in the summer before everyone is up and about. 
  27. Birds singing before dawn. You know you are going to have to get up soon and wonder if it is worth going to sleep again. But the birds just sing on.
  28. Friday nights cooking and drinking with my friend Nicholas Kirmatzis, the picture framer and philosopher.
  29. Vegetable steamers
  30. Back packs hold the promise of the open road and a much simpler life.
  31. Facebook for putting us in touch with old friend and acquaintances and making us go a little cyber crazy!
  32. Skype for letting us talk to friends on the other side of the world and even see them. 
  33. Records and record players: The Long Player: Our father on vinyl …
  34. Desert Island Discs
  35. Balls and all the games they enable.
  36. Tea and coffee
  37. The Samaritans: Our common humanity is a shared joy and sorrow.
  38. Women (and for women, ‘men’ I guess)
  39. Pencils, preferably sharpened with a knife and with a rubber on the end. Perfect. And the magic of the lead inside the wood.
  40. Penknives
  41. Hitch-hiking teaches you about life and people, connects you with serendipity and gets you from A to B.
  42. TED talks
  43. Irish drinking songs:  Her eyes they shone like diamonds
  44. Irish accents can just talk and delight without saying anything in particular. 
  45. Hot crumpets with melted butter, sprinkled with some sea salt and freshly ground pepper, eaten on a cold winter evening after a long walk in the wind.
  46. Pancakes eaten with lemon and sugar.
  47. Apples stolen from an orchard in the middle of the night and eaten while still chilled by the morning dew.
  48. Crying
  49. Laughing
  50. BBC Late Junction music show for new and exciting sounds from around the world like Knut Reiersrud’s I don’t feel no ways tired (even better with the Alabama Boys – studio version).
  51. The Turning Ceremony as performed by the Whirling Dervishes of West London.
  52. Ken Jones haiku and haibun writer, Zen practitioner and guide.
  53. Football in the park
  54. Kissing
  55. The South Bank with all its free events and buzz.
  56. Richard Deakin’s allotment on Tulse Hill where you can look out over fruit cages and vegetable plots to Canary Wharf and the City of London in the distance.
  57. Oak trees and copper beeches
  58. The Greek islands in 1978
  59.  Walking through and in towns
  60. Sleeping out under the sky
  61. Making coffee and or tea in a saucepan over an open fire in the morning on a beach
  62. The sound of music on the street: Nellie Furtado’s I’m like a bird coming out of a shop in St Martin’s Lane. 
  63. Visiting Netley Abbey on a moonlit night. Climbing over the fence and wandering in the ruins.
  64. Jamming.
  65. Listening to live music in the Neptune pub Whitstable on a Saturday night.
  66. Wizz Jones a great British folk singer and generous guitar teacher. 
  67. University of Southampton
  68. A cafe in Paris, a cup of coffee and cigarette to start the day.
  69. Bidets … just seems like a good idea to wash your bottom rather than wipe with a tissue.
  70. Making love in the afternoon … middle of the night … morning
  71. DADGAD tuning for guitars
  72. Clubs and societies
  73. London where you can experience the whole world without catching a plane
  74. London parks
  75. Buskers
  76. Riding the freight trains across Canada
  77. Charity Shops
  78. BBC Storyville documentaries
  79. Giggling
  80. Holding a baby or small child
  81. Dancing
  82. Street sweepers
  83. Tim Winton author of Dirt Music and other fine books. 
  84. Crosby Stills Nash & Young and Four Way Street 
  85. Sailing off Rhosneigr in Anglesey
  86. Mussels picked from the Estuary at Maltreith and cooked with white wine and garlic.
  87. Fasching in Bavaria
  88. American folk and blues music
  89. Me voy pal Pueblo
  90. The BBC
  91. Climbing trees
  92. Made up games like handball against the cafe wall and garage football in Apperly Bridge
  93. Playing cards
  94. The Wren Church in St James’ Piccadilly and the Alternatives organisation
  95. Le Creuset wrought iron casserole dishes … just dont drop the lid on your foot
  96. Egg and chips in the cafe
  97. Salt’s Mill in Bradford
  98. Oscar the cat who sits on heads and sticks his paw up your nose to wake you up
  99. Skinny dipping (here are some dos and donts)
  100. Shunryu Suzuki  and his book Zen Mind Beginners Mind

Damn it, we’ve run out of space and still so many great things to talk about. What would you add to this list … or subtract.

Writing as Therapy for Demons

Writing a diary can relieve anxiety but the demons on the page may create new problems

I woke up at half past five feeling sick to the pit of my stomach. I felt like I had violated and trampled over the feelings of an innocent. But of course she is not always innocent and loving and I guess that is the problem. I remember her that way and I know that essentially she is a lovely person but …

Yes I can say that here in the early morning when anxieties crowd in on me. I did love and I still do. I think time operates on two different planes, just like consciousness. There is only the moment, ‘now’, there I just scratched myself mindfully before continuing to write, and there is ‘no time’. And in ‘no time’ my feelings have not changed.

Exorcising your demons

Writing  is a great relief because it lets me give expression to the feelings and thoughts that would otherwise continue to run around inside the head; getting more confused and nauseous, the faster they fly. In this way they are decanted on to the page where they can be contained and shaped. But this has its own drawbacks as I have learnt.

Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons, ca. 1470–75. Engraving by Martin Schongauer (German, ca. 1445–1491)

Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons, ca. 1470–75. Engraving by Martin Schongauer (German, ca. 1445–1491)

First off, these pages may be found and read. And the demons troubling me then appear to be the essential me, frightening and confusing the reader. The second worry is that the demons, instead of being dealt with, are simply popped into a coffin in the cellar of the mind during the daylight hours, only to emerge as vampires in the darkness of the night.

When I first embarked on this path, I wrote that I felt ‘like a dead man walking’. And sometimes I still feel this way. I do feel – and maybe this is fact or illusion based on my Christian upbringing – that I have sinned. No amount of justification really seems to make any difference to the way that I feel at present.

When I was a young boy at boarding school, the headmaster Mr McNeill would have naughty boys come to his study. We would attempt to evade responsibility and chastisement by saying things like ‘I only just …’. He would have none of it. There was the fact of the transgression and yes, the story behind it; but the story was not really important. He used to say, ‘If Paris was the size of a pea, you could fit into a jam jar!’

Even now as I write and frame my current feelings with past experience, I get a sense of acceptance and peace. The fact is that this piece of paper and pencil can comfort me. And that is a great relief for a man in torment.

Cut off all useless thoughts

Torment? Well yes. So many things that were merely myth and legend have now become reality. I relate to Prometheus whose guts each day are eaten by an eagle or a vulture (as if it matters) and then repaired during the night in preparation for the next day’s torment. I have felt that terrible gnawing in the stomach. And the vampires! In the night they do come out and suck on one’s very life essence, leaving one pale and listless the following day.

Tityus chained to a rock having his innards pulled out by an eagle that stands above him, after Cort after Titian. 1570

Unhappiness can engender a terrible gnawing in the stomach and you can relate to Prometheus chained to a rock, having his innards pulled out.

At these moments I wish I could turn back, that I was a bigger man and that I could have ‘stepped up to the plate’. Really engaged with my problems and if not quite put things right, at least not made them worse. But I didn’t and perhaps on another level there was something wrong which could only be changed this way. 

Perhaps I can throw of the blame. What is happening is karma; as action follow thought, so thought follows action. ‘Cut off all useless thoughts and the way stand clear and undisguised’ is a line from a Zen text by Hsin Hsin Ming called Affirming Faith in Mind. I’m hoping he’s right.

I wrote this for two reasons; the first because the act of writing brings my mind under control. It is like getting the dog on a leash. The dog still pulls and strains but it doesn’t run off and get lost or attack other dogs. The second reason is habit. For a year I followed ‘The Artists Way’, wherein you rise every morning and write without fail three sheets of A4. It doesn’t have to be anything in particularly and often what I wrote was gibberish. But it was practice and I think very strongly that it taught me to write.

And perhaps it also changed me, gave voice to parts of my being that were concealed or as yet unrealised. And when my partner came to read my mind on the those A4 sheets, she didn’t like what she saw.