Monday, 24 December 2018

West Wight Sangha Review of 2018

Welcome to West Wight Sangha's Review of the Year where we look back on some of the more notable stories featured on our website. For the complete story just click on the Title Link at the top of the story.

Walk With Me comes to Ryde

Back at the beginning of January, we heard from Angie that the film Walk With Me would be showing at Ryde Commodore on Saturday, February 3rd. It is a meditative film about Plum Village, the community of Zen Buddhist monks and nuns who have dedicated their lives to mastering the art of mindfulness with the world-famous teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

Newport Buddhist meeting cancelled due to the Beast from the East!

At the end of February, nationwide temperatures plummeted overnight, with Farnborough in Hampshire recording a low of minus 11C. For most places, the mercury hovered at between -4C and -7C. As a consequence, the Newport Soto Zen Buddhist group had to cancel their Thursday meeting (this passes for exciting news on the island).

TAWAI - a Voice from the Forest

In March we received an email from Anna about another interesting film that the Commodore in Ryde was showing. The Commodore had agreed to screen the Film TAWAI - a Voice from the Forest on Wednesday 21st of March - the International Day of the Forest.

As Anna went there dressed as an Orangutan and collecting for Greenpeace you could both enjoy the film, support conservation and express solidarity with our fellow primates.

World Poetry Day

Also in March, we had World Poetry Day and we featured this powerful slam performance by award-winning poet George Yamazawa.

Ajahn Brahm Resigns as Spiritual Director of Buddhist Society of Western Australia

At the end of March, this story broke. This is all very technical but there is an undercurrent of continued opposition to Ajahn Brahm could that have anything to do with the Bhikkhuni issue do you think? Click on the title link if you want to find out a bit more.

It's a Beautiful Planet - Look After It.

At the beginning of April and after David Attenborough's Blue Planet II had shown us shocking images of plastic waste in our oceans we shared this Besley cartoon from that week's Isle of Wight County Press.

National Memorial to Dr. Ambedkar Inaugurated in New Delhi

On April the 13th, on the eve of the 127th anniversary of the birth of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Dr. Ambedkar National Memorial in New Delhi—at the place where Dr. Ambedkar died on the 6th of December 1956.

A Quote That I Like

On May the 16th we posted this..........

“Everybody, everybody everywhere, has his own movie going, his own scenario, and everybody is acting his movie out like mad, only most people don’t know that is what they’re trapped by, their little script.”

 - Tom Wolfe, American journalist and author of "The Right Stuff and "The Bonfire of the Vanities".

He died that week aged 87.

Daily Mindfulness Exercise

This year we have had the phenomenal impact of "Blue Planet II" and its clarion wake-up call on the death and destruction our plastic waste is reaping on life in the planet's oceans. Yes, we need big solutions to this huge problem but we can all do our bit and, hopefully, give a good example to others.

Since 2016 I've re-posted this item each year as an annual reminder to "keep the ball rolling".

For some time now I have been emailing out regular weekly mindfulness/meditation exercises to the members of the West Wight Sangha and to other friends and associates. In 2016, I introduced an additional Daily Mindfulness Exercise and post a reminder of this with each week's email.

Quite simply, the exercise is to pick up and dispose of one piece of litter every day.

What Are We Waiting For?

The talk which I took along for last night's meeting of the Newport Soto Zen group was by Catherine McGee and entitled "What Are We Waiting For".

It prompted this thoughtful response from Sylvia.......................

I went to sangha last night and someone brought a taped talk with this title. It struck me, that though the talk was about practice and enlightenment, it applied to everything. Of course, practice and enlightenment are potentially in everything too.

We plan our lives ahead, as if we are always waiting for the next thing. That blocks us in the moment.


That joy of being alive in any given moment is the point of mindfulness, it is why we study and practice our meditations, practice watching our breath. To be mindful is to be actually living our lives, not vicariously glancing at others for comparisons, or over our shoulder at the past, or gazing into the future.

Future Gazing can be the most insidious of all since it keeps us moving forward, what will my next best piece of writing be and how will it be received, when I get to this point then I can do that, when I have worked out then I will feel better.


That is all completely topsy-turvy and utterly illogical for two reasons.

1. IF you always make your enjoyment of your life conditional you will probably never reach true happiness and only experience fleeting moments because there will always be the next thing to achieve or complete or accomplish.

2. YOU are missing the chance of being happy right now- yes right now, regardless of the problems in your life or what is making you unhappy, you can change that right now.

External issues cannot make you unhappy, or happy even, unless you give them permission to do so.

Just occasionally they can mount up to an avalanche and take you unawares, making your resilience buckle under the strain. But even then happiness in each and every moment is a choice. We can be stressed out by the enormity of it all but we can also choose to stop and take a mindful breath and enjoy that moment of life just for its own sake.

When the monks in Tibet were being tortured by the Chinese authorities to rescind their practice, they did not. They were able to surpass the physical agony being inflicted upon them and still feel more concern and compassion for the torturers. Losing that capacity was their greatest fear. That is something I have taken as a deep lesson in life.

When my back went a couple of years ago, arthritis and two collapsed discs, I was in an enormous amount of pain,plus my compensations had pushed another disc out of place further up. I decide to consider this example deeply and meditated on it in depth. on most people’s scales that would be considered a major ‘ouch’.

I found I too could transcend the pain if I just accepted it. Instead of struggling against it and rejecting it, I found there was a rhythm to it, the pulses of the neurons, so I watched those instead, and their rhythms became soothing. I used my breathing a lot and found the releases of endorphines very pleasant indeed. I could suddenly understand the so-called religious people historically who used to keep their bodies semi damaged through hair shirts and self-flagellation. It feels quite transcendent.

So I viewed my back as a source of both pleasure and pain. I have since had some medical pain relief treatment which was supposed to last 3–6 months. Eighteen months later on and I am almost pain-free. I have done a deal with my back. I won't put it under any more strain if she doesn’t hurt me more than necessary to remind me to take better care of her. It is working well for both of us.

But life I have just got on with, including continuing my passion for gardening and dancing to my husband's band, and loved every minute. If I’d put a condition on being able to do those things when my back stopped hurting, I would have missed out on many extra joyful moments in those months. I have decided to be happy in each moment as far as I was able to, which is pretty much most of the time.

AS you will know if you have read any other articles of mine, I am also post PTSD and can still get triggered. This is a very unpleasant occurrence, my body locks down into a sort of rigid defensive position and I become somewhat paranoid and distrustful of life, and especially whatever or whoever it was that triggered me.

I have learned that focussing on being happy in the next moment gets me out of it more and more quickly. I have now read that I am doing the right thing since I need to retrain my amygdala to be less sensitive and decommission all the stress related systems further e.g. cortisol and adrenaline, whilst simultaneously increasing the happy ones like dopamine and serotonin. 

Guess what, being mindfully happy in the present moment is the best way forward. Mindfulness actually heals nervous systems broken from abuse and trauma. 

Furthermore, if you can then reframe those experiences into a positive, it challenges the cognitive retreat into paranoia and distrustfulness and what is basically a whole chronic fear package. It transforms it into a positive opportunity or even better neutralises it into a ‘just what happened, not real any more’, i.e. it was and now it no longer is. 

I also take the Tibetan monks example and work on having compassion for those who trigger me, firstly to dissolve the fear-based reactions I get when I encounter the triggers further, and secondly because I genuinely understand that they are also on their own journey and will make mistakes and have to shed dark underbellies full of their own trauma and other negative emotional historical experiences before they can be free of the energy in them which triggered me. Having taken that journey and of course being still on it, I understand how hard it is sometimes to see what your next area of effort should be directed towards. Until it hits you in the face of course, then you are or should not be in any doubt this is next. I will come to them also. 

SO yes I need to lose some weight, improve my fitness levels, get more organised, clean my potting shed up and tidy all the pots that are needing to be put away until next years seedling rush. I have a huge list of things I really need to get on with for my bees, for my family etc, etc etc., even for myself. But in this moment, I am not waiting for anything — I am thoroughly happy just doing one of them, which is to write up this thought train to share, and then it is …. oooh I have so much to chose from for next, but I shall let that develop out of the now ending when I hit publish. Because by then it will be a new ‘now’ to be exquisitely happy in for that opportunity to get something done. And in between, a few mindful breaths to remind me of the joy of clean air and life itself. 

I am so glad I made the effort to go to that Sangha last night.

The Wave and the Ocean

I was sent this video by one of our Sangha members, referencing the talk we heard at the Newport Zen group last Thursday which used the Buddha's simile of the Wave and the Ocean.

Vishvapani and Vesak

At the beginning of August, I'd just posted Vishvapani's "Thought for the Day" from the previous Friday onto our Audio Section.

This is the first talk from Vishvapani since the 14th of May which is a little curious. In the past Vishvapani has usually offered a "Thought" on the occasion of Vesak, the celebration of the Buddha's birth, awakening and death which are all considered to have occurred on the first full moon of May which this year fell on the 29th.

Only Two Weeks Until the Picnic!!

At the end of August, we posted a reminder about the Annual Buddhist Picnic. As we've changed the location to another oak tree on the Duver this time I included its position using What3Words

A Four Day Retreat at Gaia House

At the beginning of September, we posted the following email interview with Simon, one of our Sangha members, who had recently attended a retreat at Gaia House, a meditation retreat centre near Newton Abbott in Devon, offering silent meditation retreats in the Buddhist tradition.

When did you decide to go and why?

Had my eye on the retreat ('Breath by Breath' with Jenny Wilks and Jaya Karen Rudgard) from November last year and was keen to explore Anapanasati (Mindfulness with Breathing) in a retreat setting. 

What preparations did you make, what did you need to take (or were, or were not allowed to take)?

I prepared by reading Larry Rosenberg's 'Breath by Breath' on which the retreat was based. I needed to take a tent (I could only get a camping place) and half the contents of my flat, 90% of which was completely unnecessary. 'A bag with a toothbrush and a comb in' would have sufficed. And a change of clothes. . . .sun cream, bug spray etc etc [probably needed some earplugs as well]. We were supposed to leave our mobile phones in our cars or I think they had a safe if you didn't trust yourself. That was a blessing: a four day tech fast.

How was your journey to get there (and back)?

The journeys, both there and back, were fraught with dukkha. I made a whistle-stop tour along the way to visit friends from the mainland, a coffee here, a lunch there, a quick visit to the dentist and hygienist and a six mile run around Dursley golf course for good measure (I stayed overnight at a friend's). Driving across Dartmoor on the morning of the retreat was nice. I'd forgotten how beautiful it was, not having been for a good 10 years. Journeying home was hard work. Often after retreats as soon as you hit the main roads you want to go and hide under a hedge because, well, those lorries are big and noisy and vaguely terrifying. On this occasion, I was momentarily possessed of dhammic superpowers (concentration, clarity, equanimity) and found everyone to be wading through treacle whilst I waltzed through the Devon Expressway Esso like a veritable master of flow. Two hours of hollering to rock music (to try and stay awake) along A roads and a full (read: full-bladdered) 60 minutes in Southampton's rush hour traffic soon brought me back down to migraine humanity on Planet Dukkha, where I belong of course, by way of a midnight ferry after curry with friends and a Leonard Cohen drive home to Insomnia Bay. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

70th Anniversary of UN Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reaches its 70th anniversary today, a chance to highlight the many important breakthroughs brought about by the landmark UN document, and a reminder to the world that the human rights of millions are still being violated on a daily basis.

Thanks to the Declaration, and States’ commitments to its principles, the dignity of millions has been uplifted, untold human suffering prevented and the foundations for a more just World have been laid.

(Eleanor Roosevelt and UNs Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1949))

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement released on Wednesday that the document has gone from being an “aspirational treatise” to a set of standards that has “permeated virtually every area of international law.”
  • All people are born free and equal, because they have reason and conscience.
  • Everyone has a right to life, liberty, and security of their person. 
  • Everyone should be protected from any kind of discrimination. 
  • Everyone has a right to have a nationality and change one's nationality. Everyone has a right to an education. 
  • Everyone has a right to get a job. 
  • Everyone has a right to vote and take part in the government of one's own country. 
  • Everyone has a right to take part in cultural life—to choose a way of life. 
  • No person may be tortured, or treated in a cruel or unkind way. 
  • Everyone has the right to seek and gain asylum from persecution. 
  • Everyone has a right to have ideas or opinions, to decide what is right and what is wrong, and to choose a religion. 
  • Everyone has a right to speak or write freely and the right to join a peaceful group to express one's opinion. 
  • Everyone has a right to security if suffering unemployment, disease, disability, old age or loss of a partner. 
  • Everyone has duties to the community where one's personality can be developed freely. 
  • No one can abuse the rights to destroy the freedom or rights in this Declaration.