Monday, July 7, 2008

A view on ageing

Bodhiprem sent this. It's just typical of the man, he's tall and larger than life, wears a full flowing beard and an outlandish hat, has a wonderfully rich booming but still musical voice, an indecently uninhibited laugh, a real rollicking roar, and the sweetest of sweet natures. He is an impossibly prolific source of the most politically incorrect and torrid jokes imaginable, they just keep coming, like crude oil from a Texas gusher (as was). Saucy jokes, like crude oil, are the result of millenia of squashed lives, sensuality and fun that hasn't seen the precious light of day for a long, long time.

And Bodhiprem is always boring relentlessly down into any fusty old crust he can identify as a likely source and....There She Blows!

Thanks Bodhi, and Mosel Tov! May you live long and prosper!

A view on ageing.....

Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we're kids? If you're less than 10 years old, you're so excited about aging that you think in fractions.

'How old are you?' 'I'm four and a half!' You're never thirty-six and a half. You're four and a half, going on five! That's the key. You get into your teens, now they can't hold you back. You jump to the next number, or even a few ahead: 'How old are you?' 'I'm gonna be 16!' You could be 13, but hey, you're gonna be 16! And then the greatest day of your life . . . you become 21.

Even the words sound like a ceremony . . YOU BECOME 21. YESSSS!!!

But then you turn 30. Oooohh, what happened there? Makes you sound like bad milk! He TURNED; we had to throw him out. There's no fun now, you're just a sour-dumpling. What's wrong? What's changed?

You BECOME 21, you TURN 30, then you're PUSHING 40. Whoa! Put on the brakes, it's all slipping away. Before you know it, you REACH 50....and your dreams are gone.

But wait!!! You MAKE it to 60. You didn't think you would!

So you BECOME 21, TURN 30, PUSH 40, REACH 50 and MAKE it to 60. You've built up so much speed that you HIT 70! After that it's a day-by-day thing; you HIT Wednesday!

You get into your 80s and every day is a complete cycle; you HIT lunch; you TURN 4:30 ; you REACH bedtime. And it doesn't end there. Into the 90s, you start going backwards; 'I Was JUST 92.'

Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. 'I'm 100 and a half!'

May you all make it to a healthy 100 and a half!!


1. Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height. Let the doctors worry about them. That is why you pay 'them '.

2. Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down.

3. Keep learning. Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever. Never let the brain idle. 'An idle mind is the devil's workshop.' And the devil's name is Alzheimer's.

4. Enjoy the simple things.

5. Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath.

6. The tears happen. Endure, grieve, and move on. The only person, who is with us our entire life, is ourselves. Be ALIVE while you are alive.

7. Surround yourself with what you love, whether it's family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever. Your home is your refuge.

8. Cherish your health: If it is good, preserve it. If it is unstable,improve it. If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.

9 Don't take guilt trips. Take a trip to the mall, even to >the next county; to a foreign country but NOT to where the guilt is.

10. Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity.

AND ALWAYS REMEMBER: Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. And if you don't send this to at least 8 people - who cares? But do share this with someone. We all need to live life to its fullest each day!!

Friday, July 4, 2008

"The answer's yes. What's the question?"

Yesterday provided something of a relief from feeling a bit beleagured, as I travelled up to St Pancras station, the Eurostar terminal, to meet Tony Webster whom we had asked to speak at one of our conferences this weekend. Although the conference was cancelled, Tony didn't cancel his trip to UK from the depths of rural France where he and his partner Lyn have lived for the last ten years, and where they have established the Open Door project in Civray.

I hadn't really met Tony in the flesh, not to have a real talk, although we met briefly at a meeting in London several years ago. I wasn't sure I would recognise him, so we arranged to meet under the big, bold, brassy and unmissable sculpture of two lovers in a 'glad-to-see-you' embrace that marks the rendezvous spot for travellers and those waiting for them off the train (see image top right).

My own take on the sculpture was intially that it was rather grotesque, disproportionately huge, and not in particularly good taste. However, this impression was softened by my hearing a middle aged woman say to her husband, "Oh! It's lovely!" Unaccountably, I saw it, for a moment, through her eyes. It was tender, romantic, unabashed and - well - lovely. Perception is - well - in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps, on that occasion, my beholding was not as implacably firm as usual. Its grip was loosened by some quality of simple awe and pleasure at what she saw in an unknown woman's voice.

Tony and I have exchanged emails for several years now, and he regularly sends news of the Open Door project, including an entertaining and informative newsletter, packed with happenings, events, and practical advice and guidance on surviving French bureaucracy, aimed at the many expatriates (and French locals too) who live in Tony's part of France, and avail themselves of the services offered by Open Door. These services include social functions like a women's needlework group (Tony calls it "Stitch and Bitch") a weekly informal coffee morning, a large English-language library, advice on administrative matters like benefits and finances, and how to negotiate with local 'fonctionnaires'. Tony and Lyn, with some help from volunteers, also provide a listening service for people in trouble. To a large extent I gather that the informal hospitality and comradeship of the Open Door is a safe portal of entry for people who need support in a variety of crises, from sudden bereavement or illness, marital breakdown, money problems, depression, addictions, alcoholism and the rest.

From modest beginnings, Tony and Lyn's project has grown steadily and 'organically', largely because of their enterprise, energy, commitment and openness to what life throws up. As their service has expanded and particularised, the couple have embarked on the training of volunteers, developing their listening skills, with extension training available for suitable candidates in basic counselling. Tony's outlook on helping is summed up in the phrase he used to describe his response to enquiries, some of which are from people who feel tentative, anxious and uncertain of both how to frame their worries and what any reaction will be: "The answer's yes. What's the question?"

It was a lovely, refreshing experience to sit in this generous man's company, listening to his enthusiastic talk, his infectious chuckle (despite the Jurassic Park groans of arriving and departing Eurostar trains from adjacent platforms), and getting to know him better. Despite his vitality and focus on the welfare and happiness of others, Tony's life has been far from easy, nor has his partner's. Both of them have been deeply touched by the support they got from Ray Wills several years ago, although they never met face to face. Tony described Ray's help (in the form of as a personal letter) as being like an encounter with a dearly-loved uncle, in its intimacy, solicitude and "knowingness" of what would meet their need. Since that time, the Buddhist Hospice Trust has been Tony's sangha, and he has archived all Ray's correspondence, copies of Raft, and Inner Work School letters received: a humbling and touching tribute, hard to live up to.

It is a great pity that Tony's experience, and Lyn's, as social entrepreneurs (and more) was not heard by a wider audience, but he has assured me that he will be willing to speak at a future meeting of ours, and I am determined to make that possible. Although Tony hasn't asked, I would like it to be known that the Open Door (Association La Porte Ouverte) will be pleased to hear from people who may be able to help, either financially, or in other ways (for example by donating books). I can supply Tony's postal address to anyone who writes to me. I shall advertise any visit by Tony Webster at which he may talk on this website and in our forthcoming Newsletter.

As for myself, I have learned a lot from talking with Tony, and from his warmth. What sticks in my mind is his phrase, "The answer's yes. What's the question?", because it is an unconditional affirmation, a declaration of totally open generosity, a ready gift of no-agenda. If there is any kind of compact we as a Trust can make with what comes, this should be its by-word, and I will do what I can to live up to that in the days ahead.

The charming pen-and-ink drawing at top left is of the Open Door project in Civray.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Being wrong.

First, I need to rebut a charge that has recently made against me, that I am abusing the resources of the Buddhist Hospice Trust in maintaining a "Chairman's" blog as I do. By its nature a blog is a personal record, or a record written from a personal perspective. The blog I write has been given the assent of the Trustees, and so far no Trustee has raised objections to what I write, nor suggested that I desist. They may do so, however, if they conclude that the blog is bringing the work of the Trust into disrepute, or otherwise damaging its cause.

For the record, the blog is a free amenity, and costs the Trust nothing. I write it as an entirely voluntary activity and claim no expenses in relation to its appearance. In that sense there is no justification for anyone to claim that I am abusing Trust resources, and I refute any such claim vigorously.

It is worth saying that one reason why I write the blog is to increase the profile of the Trust and invite people to get involved, perhaps to donate. The website itself is static: it is informative and yields a fair amount of basic information. But to stay 'salient', to maintain a position in the Google ratings in a competitive and rapidly Internet scene, to hold our own in the technological traffic, we have to maintain our 'hit rate', the number of people who visit our site. The interactive and regularly updated nature of a blog permits this; indeed the rate at which people all over the globe visit our site has increased by almost 1000% over the last year. This greater visibility is (I believe) in the interest of the Trust, and thus in the interest of the people whose interests it serves. It has certainly led to a higher level of engagement with issues at the core of Hospice in the Heart, and engagement at a higher level of partnership with other agencies, both Buddhist, interfaith, and professional too. That is what I believe, anyway, and I also act on advice given me by people who have expertise in this area, and in the charitable field.

Of course some people will be 'turned off' by personal disclosures such as from time to time feature in my posts, but which are also balanced by other material generated by the work we do, and our 'contemporary' non-sectarian Buddhist philosophy. On the other hand some people find them helpful, and they attract a fair amount of comment and discussion, some of it private, some of it posted on the blog itself. Blogs are intended to generate comment, or at least debate. This debate doesn't have to be public, sometimes it is internal.

Some Buddhists believe that personal disclosure, 'hanging out dirty washing' (a particularly European turn of phrase and turn of mind, if I may say so), or exteriorising the inner perturbations of egoic mind, is not good practice. Dwelling on one's faults or failures tends to establish them more firmly, and make them more likely to be repeated. On the other hand, some Buddhists reckon that bringing one's thoughts and patterns of feeling and emotion into full awareness also has the effect of dissolving them. At least, if they are put "out there" for everyone to see, they are not submerged and hidden; and, like icebergs, they are less likely to cause disastrous damage to those who blunder into them unawares. Self-disclosure is also reckoned to be one of the crucial criteria for establishing and maintaining interpersonal solidarity, trust and friendship. Friendship is at the heart of our mission. A lot depends, of course, on one's motives for doing so. I can never be sure of my own motives for anything, but I do my best at self examination, and - of course - I take heed of the counsel of my trusted friends, and - of course, and more-so - of my perceived enemies.

This rebuttal is not intended to forestall further criticism, and I am open to whatever comments are likely to be made, and will publish them willingly here, in the interests of transparency, and in the interests of natural justice. I should also add: so as to indemnify myself, at least in part, against charges of abusing the minor office I hold, for the discharge of which I must be held publicly to account by the Charity Commissioners. If it was the intention of my critic to "whistle-blow" on my abuse of office, I am happy to expedite the process of bringing me to judgement. I hereby 'turn myself in'.

Lastly, I have to respond to charges that I am betraying the values and subverting the noble enterprise of the co-founder of the Trust, Ray Wills. This is ultimately for others to judge if they want to do so, but times are changing and the Trust will change with the times, and I make no apologies for my part in facilitating that. I am confident that Ray Wills identified me as a collaborator who recognised the need for change, and who had the capabilities to work for and with necessary and inevitable change; moreover, recognising my many flaws and failings as he did, he had confidence in me. If I am wrong about that, I am wrong about him, and wrong about everything else. My critics are clearly confident that I am indeed as wholly wrong as that. I am much less certain that I am right, and my uncertainty is, perhaps, part of Ray Wills's legacy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


The following message, which speaks for itself, was delivered to my mailbox today; it came from a former Trustee of the Buddhist Hospice Trust and a close friend of its co-founder, Ray Wills:

"I consider that your use of the web site to publish your personal dilemmas a misuse of Buddhist Hospice Trust Resources. I know you consider you are carrying on and promoting the work of Ray Wills but you apparently don't realise that what you are doing is totally again what Ray stood for. If you want to air your problems and inadequacies why not go on television to a programme such as the Jeremy Kyle show. It would be a real show case for your ego. Or when you get the new BHT group going use that instead. It is far more appropriate even though I think it would be an exercise in self indulgence. If this sounds uncompassionate it is because I feel that a noble enterprise has deteriorated into a showcase for Peter Goble."