Saturday, November 25, 2006


Last weekend was a weekend of agony. I went to bed Friday night with a slight ache in my bottom right back tooth. Saturday morning it was a throbbing pain which subsided when I took painkillers. By the afternoon it was not so easily pacified. I rang the emergency dental number where they asked a few questions about the toothache.'On a scale of 1 to 5 where would you place your pain' etc. In the end .even if I'd wanted to the only available dentists were in Wisbech or Huntingdon. By this time the combination of toothache and painkillers were making me feel decidedly heady and nauseous. So driving anywhere was out of the question. They did suggest a particular regime of painkillers that might ease the pain,but they added, ' what you really need is a course of anti-biotics'. So I struggled on until Monday morning when I walked down first thing to my own Dentist. He took an X Ray of the area and gave me a prescription for anti- biotics. 'I will call you once the X Rays are done, I may want to put you on a double dose of the anti-biotics' By the time I had slowly ambled home and sat down the phone rang 'could you come in at ten to three this afternoon, the tooth has an abscess and needs to be removed'

Back into town, this time hoping for the blessed release from pain. I wasn't waiting long before I was called through. He started injecting local anesthetic into the gum all around the tooth. It was only a slim needle, but it felt like he was putting a six inch nail in there. For the first time in my life at a Dentist I let out an agonised cry. You know the cries in movies where a hero is being slowly strangled by 'the mummy' or some such other fiend, well it was those sort I let out. As he pulled the tooth with his silver pliers it was relatively painless. Afterwards I felt in shock, I hardly dared stand up. 'If you feel you're going to faint sit down, don't do anything too active as that will only increase the blood flow, take it steady and slow' With those few words I left the Dentist and went to pay at reception. You really should have seen the looks on the patients faces waiting in reception. A mixture of horror, compassion and anxiety flashed across their faces. If I hadn't been struggling to keep upright at the time I would have laughed out loud.

I took the walk home at an even slower pace. I'd thought about getting some Pro-Biotic Yogurt to help my stomach cope with the effects of the anti-biotic but actually just getting home was all I could manage. Most of that Monday I spent asleep, I went to bed at 8.30pm and didn't awake until 5.30 Tuesday morning. Once the anti-biotics kicked in I was fine. I had to watch not to rushing around too much or else I got dizzy. At the end of a day at work I was pretty pooped. Today nearly a week later the swelling has gone down and I can feel the cavity quite clearly. The gum is still a bit sore when I eat, but essentially its back to business as usual.

Even though I was in such pain I still managed to meet up with my friend Eugen for breakfast on Sunday morning and went out for a meal with David Welsh in the evening. I apologise to both of them if I wasn't quite my usual self or attentive. In a way it was a miracle I could still do any of what I'd planned. Though my David said I'd looked distinctly grey and unwell all weekend.

Physical pain is something we rarely feel these days outside of toothaches or breakages of limbs. Painkillers are so readily available. How they coped barely a century ago I dread to think. An abscess under a tooth might have been a life threatening if it poisoned the blood system before the tooth was removed. Such extreme pain was I suppose a more every day occurrence. Whilst I'm not some New Age nut who thinks our sense of alienation would be overcome by experiencing more pain. I do think it has weakened our robustness in coping with life's travails when pain is so readily masked or got rid of. What we complain about, what we litigate over, would ,in previous generations have been brushed off as how life was. Well, it's still how life is, but it's hidden behind a chemical screen, occassionally it steps out and shows us its hideous potential to wreck our hopes and dreams.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


If one is unhappy, one wants to know the reason why.
But it never occurs to one to ask why one is happy.
it is therefore unhappiness, rather than happiness,
that causes us to reflect upon our condition.
It is unhappiness that makes us think



It is difficult to see things clearly. It is difficult to know what to do for the best. We travel hopefully in a certain direction, not always confidently, but, hey you have to decide to do something! I am writing yet another piece on a Dogen discourse. this one is called 'The Difficulty of such a thing'. In essence it's about a perennial Chan/Zen problem with Buddha Nature. If we already are what we seek, then why practice or how should practice be in the light of this knowledge? This was the dilemma which was at the core of Dogen's own Great Doubt. It drove him to leave Japan and search for four years in China for a teacher who could answer this question. My essay is focusing on 'the difficulty' in finding the right framework for spiritual practice. Dogen ends the discourse with a question' How is this suchness?' I feel to be at the edge of my current understanding in writing this piece, I'm definitely being stretched. I'm a Dogen enthusiast, but not a scholar. My approach explores more from an imaginative/poetic analysis. So far it's goes well ,but rather slowly and ponderously, with frequent stops for reflection. Occasionally my confidence gives way, but I think it will work out OK with persistent effort.

Writing these pieces recently has been just one factor in my gradual re-engagement with studying the Dharma. I find I am reflecting on and refining what motivates and keeps me here within the Buddhist tradition. I was looking through 'Peace is a Fire' and 'Stream of Stars' to find a quote of Sangharakshita's I'd half remembered. In the past I've found some of his writing rather indigestible in book form. These little bits, bobs, and gobbets of wisdom really struck a chord. This time they seemed pertinent, perceptive and provocative in a way I don't remember experiencing before. Having not read Sangharakshita for a while I think I might be searching out a book or two to re-evaluate my connection with him.

Having decided to work Full Time at the Crematorium I find I am gradually relaxing, feeling happier and more content. The last eight months have felt like a pretty rough ride at times. Adjusting to working outside of Right Livelihood, learning to micro manage my finances and trying to find alternative work, meant I was living in a constant state of anxiety. In stopping for the time being looking for anything else,I'm finding all areas of my life are loosening up as a consequence.

For quite a while I've been going over the question of what I want to do with the rest of my life. I'm beginning to realise that ,actually there isn't anything major I really must do career wise. At my age beginning a new career is not impossible, but would require determination and a clear idea of how this might happen. Neither of these do I feel I remotely have enough of, I don't think I care all that much. I've never been that ambitious, and find maintaining interest over the longer term a bit of a hard slog. I'm a bit of a gadfly in my interests and aspirations. If I have any ambition it is to be content. Yet I've had this bee in my bonnet for decades about there being something I must do with my life. It has a feeling behind it of panic, a desperate burning need to fulfill something in order to matter. As a gay man I'm unlikely to leave any offspring behind at my demise. Will I leave anything else behind to be remembered by? Is dieing in contented obscurity such a bad thing anyway? Can I be content with obscurity?

I am frequently at my most unhappiest when what I want from life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness becomes entangled in irreconcilable and contradictory impulses. When I sit down and just start to simplify things my level of happiness and contentment rises. The simpler it is the better. So long as there is creativity ( writing & painting ), time with Friends, time with David,and time for the spiritual life what more could I want? I think I should stop asking 'what more should i do?' questions and just focus on enjoying what I am doing.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


It was only a casual conversation at work that started it all off. Working at the Crematorium we rarely know how the deceased died,endlessly we speculate. Sometimes the charity the donation box is dedicated too is an indication. Often the people in the office know more. My interest is always perked when a Coroner has been drawn in,or the deceased died young. In a very brief chat in the office I found out that one of the deceased had laid down on a railway line. My fellow Chapel Attendant heard the Humanist minister say he'd sustained severe head injuries. One of the women in the office said immediately, that's just short hand for meaning nothing was left of his head. There followed a conversation about how a person who commits suicide must never consider the effect their actions have on the Train Driver. One person piped up that she knew of one train driver who never worked again and ended up killing themselves on a train track too. This all struck us as a really perverse thing to do.

That brief chat has set my mind off. This week has been creatively a bit thin, apart from two pieces arising from this conversation. I've written a poem called 'Derailed
' which is about a man with his head on the rails waiting for the train to arrive. This has been followed by a short monologue called 'The Train Driver's Statement' about how a suicide on the tracks affected him.

My writing over the last few years has kept returning to themes around death. This is well before working at the Crematorium by the way. If anything that also seems to have arisen out of the same impulse. Something is definitely trying to work itself through here. The Nick Cave obsession appears to have passed. I'm not reading about serial murderer's or the history of death practices anymore. It may be my age, time of life, a passing phase or I'm secretly possessed by a demon. Curiously no one else, including David, has yet noticed this. A demon could be cunning though. All sorts of clever ways to disguise his appearance, tuck the tail and mask the horns. You know, there are some days when I'm heartily glad I'm not a Christian. All that good angel, bad angel stuff can drag you down and affect your social life.

Strange the things that compel and motivate us. Perhaps it is best that we don't really ask too close a question. Stand back, observe it all as it is happening and get what you can from the journey.