Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Live Well - Our Sacred Obligation

I received this uplifting message today from our Treasurer, Mick Lewin. Although I can't be sure, I suspect that it is from Mick's own authoral "pen", as he is a gifted and much-published writer of inspirational articles and reflective prose. Mick edited "Buddhist Reflections on Death and Bereavement", free copies of which are still available on request, with a donation towards post and package.

In style and spirit the passage bears the hallmarks of Mick's mentality: vigorous, encouraging, positive and brimming over with thankfulness for life and its opportunities to do something for others.

Thanks for this, Mick, and let's have more.....


Tomorrow comes to us fresh and clean asking us what we have learnt from yesterday in order to make a new start

Deep within us, to bring to the surface, is a sacred obligation to live well. Never forget this.

Have a vision in life. Cultivate a plan to work towards otherwise random conditions

will make one for you, which you may not possibly like, or you may not even be aware of - although you might be living it now

Strive, make every effort to work hard in order to achieve the results you need.

Life is a never ending process of constant discovery and revelation. Push yourself into new, exciting areas of growth and remember that in every situation there are lessons to be learnt

Always remain positive in your outlook knowing that you cannot enter the new until you have let go of the old

Stand in your own light, confident and affirmative in your own actions. Never allow others to overshadow you with their negativity

Startle and surprise yourself with fresh, invigorating thought.

Listen to the wake up calls that will take you off to adventure. Live life fully engaged, attentive and committed.

Make a pact with yourself to grow and develop as an onward going commitment. Make a list of new ventures to undertake - as if you only had one more year to live

Enjoy yourself – seek out joy and laughter

Support and encourage others

Set aside periods of quiet and solitude in order to reflect more - meditate

Be grateful for all the gifts and lessons that enter your life


Michael Lewin

Monday, October 22, 2007

Just wait...

You need not do anything. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen. Just wait. You need not even wait. Just become quiet and still and solitary. And the world will offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
—FRANZ KAFKA (1883-1924).

The image on the right is a photograph of Franz Kafka aged 5. He died of tuberculosis aged 40.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

How we die, what we do

Although this is a very negative, self-referential post, and I thought on reflection to delete it, I will let it stand as a lesson to myself, and to others who may read it. This opening remark was added 48 hours after posting the original article.....

I'm writing this just so I can externalise my mundane experience, and get comments if you have any and care to make them. It's about "how we die" and it's from first hand experience of watching someone die, and trying to be a help, as a Buddhist, and a nurse.

I work as a nurse looking after men and women with long-term psychiatric problems. Dorothy is one such, and I've known her for about three years. She is over 80, and has spent most of her life in hospital. She suffers from what is called paranoid schizophrenia. Her intelligence is unaffected (and she is pretty bright but largely uneducated), but all her life she has experienced the world as implacably hostile. She believes that people are conspiring to harm her, and that she is affected by the television and people's malevolent thoughts. She hears messages being broadcast about her by the BBC, plots to destroy her etc. Very ordinary conversations are misinterpreted as insults. This is very real to her, and nothing has ever succeeded in reassuring her that there isn't a global conspiracy to destroy her, and paint her as an evil woman who deserves to be punished. Needless to say she is always on the offensive with people, especially strangers, especially women, especially young women. She has established some rapport with us nurses, although she often accuses us of talking about her, trying to kill her etc. She isn't easy to help and has had times when she has been violent. Her language is obscene, and she is particularly offensive to black and ethnic minority staff, who are well represented at my workplace. She says they are diseased and dirty, and they shouldn't touch her. This is putting it mildly, as she is vicious and vituperative. She recently commented that a Community Nurse, who had come to renew her dressings, looked tired and pale: "You are masturbating too much, dear", she suggested in front of others. Typically Dorothy. Fortunately, we nurses are used to such invective, and can ignore it.

Dorothy has inoperable cancer of the cervix. Such is her suspicion, that she has never consented to an examination and will not contemplate treatment of any kind. The cancer has now undergone widespread metastasis, so that her whole pelvis is riddled with it, she is swollen below her waist and has a huge untreatable bedsore, despite every nursing intervention possible. She has large doses of morphine to control her pain as much as possible, but even on large doses it does not prevent her from experiencing agonies when we change her bed. She is doubly incontinent and, although we disturb her as little as possible, we have to attend to her four-hourly. It is a duty no-one looks forward to, but we care for her as gently and as light-heartedly as we can.

Dorothy has not really talked about death. Sometimes I sit with her quietly so she has a chance to talk if she wants to. Once ot twice I've asked her "What's happening?" or "What are you thinking?". The last time I did this she said "I don't know" and her eyes closed as if in exhaustion. Dorothy and I have a complex relationship but I believe she trusts and likes me. My feelings for her are complex too. It would take several pages to explain what we have been through together over the last few years, including the time when she was physically well and had no signs of cancer.

I don't really find any of the stuff I've read in Buddhist books much help in caring for her. Most of it seems to disregard the physical necessities of looking after people who are physically ill, dependent, and full of pain and fear. It's all very well advising people to do tonglen etc but one wonders who will wipe away the faeces and remove the pads and dressings soaked in discharge, and try to clean the areas of disintegrating flesh, and move the pain-wracked limbs. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is full of high-minded counsel about the bardos, but says absolutely zilch about how to support someone with cancer for months of swollen glands, gangenous bedsores, and untreatable nausea, who thinks people passing in the street are calling her a bad mother and a prostitute, and spits out her morphine because she thinks it is poison.

I lie in bed most nights and think of Dorothy, and breath in her pain and distress, and that of all the world, breathing out love and compassion to all suffering beings. As if! I occasionally think about when she dies, and what I can do to support her if I'm around, at her bedside (bearing in mind there are many others in the same home who need my help and attention). I'm not new to bedside deaths, I've been present at hundreds. I don't "do" anything ritualised or thought-through. Just take it as it comes. The Tibetan Book of Dying doesn't help me at all, it just seems stilted and artificial, like a 'cookbook' with a recipe by a cook who has never actually done much real-time cooking, just waiting at table. If I think anything at the time of death it's usually just, "That's it. It's over." And if there are relatives I do what I can to help them cope with the new situation they're in, which is only slightly different from the situation they were in before the death, except what they feared is over, and there's nothing to fear from it now, and they can relax. With a cup of tea.

Well, that's what is on my mind at the time of writing, and I thought I'd share it with you. Her real name isn't Dorothy, of course.

The picture at the head of this post is "By The Deathbed" by Edvard Munch

Friday, October 19, 2007

Cicely Saunders - Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge

The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge announces their publication of a new edition of Dame Cicely's Biography, written by Shirley de Boulay with Marianne Rankin, adding a further three chapters to the First Edition (1984), thus covering the remaining 21 years of Dame Cicely's life until her death in 2005.

Dame Cicely Saunders was the founder of St Christopher's Hospice and of the the modern hospice movement; her work transformed the care of the dying, and led to the establishment of the field of palliative medicine. Dame Cicely figured productively in the establishment, by Ray Wills and Dennis Sibley, of the Buddhist Hospice Trust, and tribute to this landmark event in the UK hospice movement is given in the new biography.

The new biography will be of interest to Trust supporters, and copies may be had directly from the Society for £12.99 (paperback). To source it elsewhere, quote ISBN 978 0281 05889 1 and the Title 'Cicely Saunders - The founder of the Modern Hospice Movement.

Please note that The Buddhist Hospice Trust does not hold any copies of the book for sale.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Silver Sangha

Do visit this new blog which is dedicated to the desiccated, and may or may not offer a Buddhist self-assessment on the sublime abidings of prostatism, age-associated propensity to meditation-cushion deep-vein thrombosis, or advice on how to receive alms via your PEG-feed.

The associated picture shows advanced practitioners who have attained the jnana of meditative absorption into alternate Thursday mornings at the Orthotic Clinic in the David Blunkett Wing of the Bolton Royal Infirmary Manchester Metropolitan University Foundation Hospital NHS Trust This Is Strictly A No Smoking Hospital Including Approach Roads And Adjacent Shrubbery All Car Parks Restaurants And Cafeteria Bus Shelters And Fire Assembly Points PLC: Our Motto, "Your Health Is Our Business And Do You Have A Problem With That?"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Dying is easy

Once master Hofaku called his monks together and said: "This last week my energy has been draining - no cause for worry. It is just that death is near."

A monk asked: "You are about to die! What does it mean? We will go on living. And what does that mean?"

"They are both the way of things," the master replied.

"But how can I understand two such different states?"

Hofaku answered: "When it rains it pours," and then calmly dies.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Walk on the bright side...?

Would one of your supporters be able to find 10 people to take part in 'Walking On The Bright Side'?

'Walking On The Bright Side' is an idea generated by Lesley Lay (who's not involved with the Buddhist Hospice Trust) that a 'supporter' from every hospice in the UK will plan a 10k sponsored walk for their hospice, with a group of 10 or more walkers each raising a minimum of £50 each. Each group of walkers will set of off on Sunday 18th November 2007 @ 1030am in their local area.

Lesley says, "I’m saying ‘a supporter’ because I’m conscious of the pressures on fundraising departments and this walk doesn’t need to add to their workload."

"The aim is to provide an opportunity for all hospices in the UK, at the same time on the same day, to be recognised for the amazing work they do and the wonderful services they provide, whilst at the same time allowing them an additional opportunity to raise much needed funds."

"I am not personally connected to a specific hospice, but in September 2006 I lost my sister-in-law to pancreatic cancer. Gill's last few days were spent in a hospice where she was able to die with dignity and was shown so much love and care, and also where we as a family were treated with such humanity."

"In Gill's memory, and as a way to express my heart felt thanks for the care she and thousands of others like her receive every year, I would love to be able to provide an opportunity to give something back to hospices."

"I am therefore asking for someone associated with your hospice to undertake to organise a 'Walking On The Bright Side' walk."

"For further information please look at the 'WalkingOnTheBrightSide' website where you will be able to register your interest in taking part. Registration will allow me to gauge the level of interest in this event and will also enable me to make further contact regarding the amount of money raised nationally."

"It would be fantastic if every hospice in the UK is able to 'Walk on the Bright Side'."

If you want to take up Lesley's invitation on our behalf, and to benefit the Buddhist Hospice Trust, the trustees would naturally be delighted, and I would do what I can to support the initiative, either by joining a walk or organising my own. I can't promise to walk 10 km as my knees won't allow it, but I would certainly try 5 km. Would anyone sponsor me?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

A Trust Supporter writes.....

"We're back", (writes Lisa Sheehy, left above, who is touring Asia and an unpaid unofficial roving reporter to the Trust). "End your computerside vigil!" (We were literally glued, matchsticks in place, Lisa, but the discomfort was a small price to pay! - Peter)

Lisa continues....

Next stop was Sri Lanka. Just 20 miles by sea from India but a very different story. Most notably there is considerably less cow dung and car horns and more men wearing skirts (sarongs) than lady-boys in Bangkok! Known as the pearl of the Orient or as the dutch say 'a leg of ham in the sea' (?) Whatever you want to call it, some weird quirk of fate meant that it cost less for us to book a package including a flight and a stay at a 4 star hotel for 3 days with a chauffeur driven car than a flight alone!......Backpacking can be such a drag. So for 3 days we stayed in the lap of luxury in Kandy a beautiful, holy city set in rolling green hills. The hotel was very friendly but they did play Cliff Richard constantly !! It seemed to emanate from everywhere in the building , secret speakers would suddenly blast out Devil Woman as you opened the wardrobe, Daddy's Home would be warbling through the soap suds in the shower. So after 3 days of Cliffs greatest hits and several mojitos ( Cliff gets better after about the second or third ! ) We reluctantly put our backpacks back on and headed to Pandana, a nearby beach town. We had seen adverts on the television every five minutes depicting all the sexy young things of Sri Lanka having the time of their lives at a music festival there and naturally we just had to get in on the action ! Will even bought himself a new outfit ( well tee shirt. )
We rushed to get the train but unfortunately, were squashed next to a toilet and the tea man, this lasted about an hour so we alighted smelling strongly of piss and pj tips .
Even worse, not a soul had heard of this mini-Glastonbury. Not even Cliff was playing !
Was this an elaborate attempt at attracting ageing wannabe rock stars or had we had one two many of those cocktails? We will probably never know....
Luckily our trip was not to be a complete waste of time....
After combing the beachfront for our usual 1 pound 50 hovel we settled on a charming place owned by a friendly man with teeth like an explosion at a domino's factory. Escaping his hugs and invitations to his future offspring's weddings, we went for dinner at the sumptuous 5-star hotel next door.
To Will's amazement, this was the very hotel in which his friend had sworn his undying commitment to his ( then) wife 4 yrs earlier! He recalled the pictures of the couple, accompanied by 20 dancing boys and a carriage pulled by two horny bulls and reflected on what an elaborate waste of money this had been, as the ill fated relationship ended by the time the flannels were handed out on the terse plane-ride home...
Nevertheless after surveying the 4 gorgeous swimming pools and cocktail list he still wished he had been there.
Waking the next day we were determined to party one way or the other and were delighted to discover that a 'perihara' - a sort of local procession with dancing and elephants, was passing through today! With the usual confusion about the location, we headed out into the baking midday sun, where we were immediately accosted by a wild eyed hairy gentleman driving a tut-tut.
Due to our confusion about where to go and imminent heatstroke, we jumped in and were thrusted back into our seats with the g force of a fighter jet, as he wheelied and screeched along leaving a cloud of dust, and scattering a few lepers in his path. This madman then claimed to be 'The Sri Lankan Jackie Chan'.
To our terror he turned completely around to proudly show us a tattered, bloodstained stunt-mans license. He also pointed to some film posters in the back of the vehicle, which he claimed were from his latest blockbuster. We politely tried to take this all in while clinging to each other for dear life!
Coming to an abrupt stand still we arrived to the arresting sight of brightly costumed kids dancing barefoot, skinny men on stilts and a mad chained monkey all moving to the sound of a drum beat. After the procession passed, 'Jackie Chan' convinced us to come back to his 'studio'. Thinking he was clearly a delusional psycho we reluctantly agreed to get back into the death mobile.
Imagine our shock then, upon pulling up a what can only be described as a shrine devoted to his image! We stepped into the shop and were immediately presented with his latest album (Oh, did I forget to mention that he was also Sri Lanka's answer to Robbie Williams?)
We left the tut-tut driver/stunt-mans/actors/singer-songwriters shop in a state of shock and I think Will was secretly a little envious of this one-man entertainment industry.......( please see picture of album cover )
Next day we woke to beautiful sunshine and birdsong .
But we were covered from head to toe in itchy bleeding welts! To our disgust, we realised that we had been a bed bug feast for the last 8 hrs. We screamed and itched our way down the corridor to reception, were the orthodontic ally challenged manager tried to persuade us that we had sunburn. Unconvinced about our joint cases of nocturnal over exposure we made a swift exit.
Onwards to Galle, a beautiful, colonial dutch fort, were we spent a few quiet days, window shopping and caking ourselves in tiger balm to ease our wounds. Fully healed, we went down the road to Unawatuna a funky, hippyfied beach resort were we met an eccentric yet kindly Buddhist man who invited us to meditate. Arriving at 6.30am the next day,we were slightly taken aback when we were greeted by him, stripped to the waist, wearing a sheer white sarong (micro mini!)
He led us through to his peaceful tree house studio where the sun shined brightly through the branches. Unfortunately, the sun also shined brilliantly through his sarong giving us a full view of his pendulous 'chakras'. Needless to say our attempts at clearing our minds were not as successful as usual, consumed as they were, with this unforgettable image....
After a few days of swimming and being knocked over by the monsoon tide (which stole Will's watch) we decided to watch some turtles laying their eggs.
We almost gave up after 3 hrs in the dark and rain but were eventually rewarded, when the most enormous animal I have ever seem ambled to the shore. Each turtle only does it once in their lifetimes so we were very lucky to see it. It was an amazing experience.
Next, due to an explicable case of homesickness we headed to Nuwara Eliya, known locally as 'Little England' There were not kidding. It was freezing and rained constantly for days. This was a horrible shock after the baking heat and we had no warm clothes. We were also staying at the most unusual guesthouse of our trip and to be honest our lives! Instead of a brick wall there was a patio window on one side. The side which looked directly out onto the owners dining room! Who was a pervert. Just to make it even nicer the window was covered with lovely see through curtains which almost, but not QUITE closed properly. I think my favourite moment of the stay was waking one morning to see the manager and 3 of his friends staring in at us and politely bidding us good morning! We soon became experts at dressing under the duvet cover, probably much to their disappointment....
We finished the trip with the Kandy perihara. This is world famous as it involves 100s of elephants parading the sacred Buddha's tooth relic through the streets using more lights than Blackpool pier. It didn't disappoint and was a great way to say goodbye.
Next stop Bangkok, sex capital of the world! However, we stayed in Thai lands answer to Fawlty Towers. With a huge sign outside screaming 'Zero tolerance and sleaze free zone, no sex tourists, junkies, louts and other degenerates.' This charming hotel called The Atlanta was started by an German, ex Nazi arms dealer, who delighted in terrorising his staff, displaying endless lists of rules and an enormous signed picture of Margaret Thatcher. Fortunately for the staff, he died years ago but his spirit lives on in heart warming pearls of wisdom displayed on beer mats. Like... 'The staff are nice, I am not nice - which is why the staff are nice. Anyone who expects me to be an obliging, hand wringing sort of innkeeper will be sorely disappointed.'
After being thrown out for rule breaking..( ie splashing in the pool ) we moved onto ChaingMai, then up to Pai, a lovely haven of artists and musicians where we did an excellent thai boxing course (www.true-bee.com) and met some great characters such as a professional gambler, a drug dealing Thai with a only fools and horses accent and a one legged, spaced out Vietnam vet!
Feeling fitter than Rocky, we headed over the border to Laos to live with some gibbons (www.gibbonx.org) This was simply out of this world. For 3 days we lived in a tree house, high above the jungle floor, waking to the sound of these amazing animals and spending the days with nothing but a harness and a wire rope between us and the jungle canopy 100 meters below us.Go to you tube and type in whw68 to see Will flying through the air....We were also very lucky that that the 4 people in our group were friendly and easygoing as the word 'semiprivate' in the brochure was an understatement! Listening out for the sound of a neighbours turd as it whooshed 50 meters to the floor is a bonding experience, we will never forget.
Next we took a (very) slow boat through Pak Beng to Luang Prabang - a gorgeous, sleepy, temple filled town where we sampled the high octane brew 'horsepower' - the strongest whiskey in Asia,peddled by a merry, red-faced Swedish man. At 65% you could feel the effects just by walking past him.
This gave us a bit of 'Swedish' courage for our next destination - The infamous Vang Vieng.....A beautiful craggy, mountain ed town where bizarrely,every restaurant plays 'Friends' from dusk till dawn.
This has a bizarre zombie like effect on the travellers who sit there transfixed after sampling the 'happy' pizzas. However, the real reason people visit this town is to go tubing.....This involves sitting in an inner tube tire and floating slowly down the river, stopping off at the numerous bars along the way. How this highly dangerous combination does not result in more fatalities is a mystery , especially to the bar hands who hook you in with a stick to ply you with cheap,lethal booze! Sensibly (well, sort of) I floated back to the hotel,after losing the power of speech. Three hours later, I was faced with a mud-caked, seaweed entangled creature (Will) carried by two concerned Danish babes - old enough to be his daughters! Unconcerned by his disgusting appearance and odour he gamely tried to persuade us all to carry on the festivities in a local nightclub....Luckily he fell asleep in a heap, dreaming of Jennifer Aniston. Probably.
P.S The only downside of our trip, has been seeing sad tourists posing in traditional dress and getting their photo taken. When will this exploitation stop?
P. S. S. Hope you enjoy the pictures.
Next installment: Good Morning Vietnam!!!!

Blogger's postscript: unfortunately, only two of Lisa's pictures could be uploaded to the blog, but each is a veritable cultural feast in itself and/or a bold expose of the worst kind of commercial exploitation of indigenous peoples, and who could seriously ask for more? Courage mes Braves!, Bon voyage!, A bas les Bogues de Lit !(that's "bed bugs" to you), Lisa and Will, and may the Shades of Jennifer Aniston, Sir Cliff and Jackie Chan be with you as you fly with the rising sun to Vietnam! Write soon!