Saturday, May 19, 2007


Put those things that naturally go on a high place
onto a high place,
and those that would be most stable on a low place
onto a low place;
things that naturally belong on a high place
settle best on a high place,
while those which belong on a low place
find their greatest stability there



A visit to the Acupuncturist is like entering a neutral space that is calm, unhurried and clinical, without being antiseptic. I don’t know what they’re like in the Far East, but here the practitioners are truly part of the white coat brigade. It is a phenomenon of Western Life that you would deliberately choose something because it is not conventional medicine. Acupuncture is bundled in with all the other weird, and sometimes dubious, practices that are labelled ‘alternative’. Yet, despite this outsider label, we also want it to be respectable, reputable, hence they all dress like pseudo hospital consultants without stethoscopes.

My Acupuncturist’s room is not at all institutional. A Chinese print or two on the walls, a treatment couch, two pillows in wheat coloured slips ( read ,organic, natural, balanced and calming ) a table and chairs, a nice understated carpet and a wooden cabinet that houses needles and puncture related accessories. Generally it has an aesthetic feel of simplicity, ordered, but not too regimented. Everything has a place, and there’s a beautiful place for everything.

This week’s treatment, following on from the fortnight of back pain, was quite minimal. He said my symptoms were not the usual response to the back procedure he did last time. He didn’t rule out that they might have contributed, but was unlikely to have instigated such a dramatic response. Now, I don’t know whether he was just covering his back here, but I have no reason as yet to mistrust his judgement. We did a lot of talking, focusing on my breathing pattern and the lung channel. He placed two pins, briefly, on each hand and wrist area, which are apparently connected to lung function in some way. I'd either respond by feeling very energetic or very tired, its turned out to be the latter.

Apparently I’m not using my full lung capacity, I’m holding something back. He’s not the first to remark on this, my osteopath said something uncannily similar. I’ve also been aware for years in meditation that my breathing is rarely fully relaxed, something always remains taught, or highly strung. Internally I’ve just felt restrained from fully inhaling myself.

We discussed why this might be, and why I’ve not wanted to meditate on a regular basis for years. My homework this time is to reflect on this, particularly on inspiration ( this is the Lung channel we’ve been talking about ). When I met Ato Rinpoche a few months back I suddenly found my desire to meditate returned. Until the recent resurgence of back, shoulder and arm pain this had been going well. Now this was entirely to do with feeling reconnected to inspiration. I wanted to become as calm, gracious and equanimous as Ato Rinpoche, I wanted what he had. Though I’ve met many admirable spiritual practitioners, some of whom I do look up to, they are not quite in his league.

Though I’m not quite sure how to proceed with this reflection on inspiration. I’m currently looking back and seeing what inspired me to become a Buddhist in the first place( why do I meditate ?) and how that has changed over the years. I think it’s way too early to write about this, so maybe next time.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


For the last week and a half my back pain has been really acute. I had an acupuncture appointment on the Monday after we returned from Torquay. He did an acupuncture procedure to rebalance my back. On Wednesday, I’d arrived at work and was just reaching over for something in the car, when something shifted. The moment I stood up I knew something wasn’t right. As I walked, sharp twinges accompanied my every step. I made it through the day. The following day I thought I could probable work just so long as I sat down at frequent intervals. The entire muscles around my back and hips still felt tender, or raw in someway, though the twinges were reduced in frequency. It didn’t seem as bad, but by the time I was home in the evening it was much worse. I didn’t go to work the next day, the discomfort was now surrounded by a mind numbing fog resulting from considerable lack of sleep. As it was a Bank Holiday weekend I took what opportunity I could to rest. At the same time I didn’t want to stiffen up, so I did go out a bit. I ventured into town on the bus with David, and drove to Wimpole Hall with Saddharaja on the Sunday.

This last week I’ve been back at work, but being in the Cremation Room I was able to sit down. A few days were a bit stressful on the back, but I have seemed to manage OK. Next week I’m on Chapel Attendant duty, I’m hoping it will have improved further by then. Anyway, I’m seeing the Acupuncturist on Monday, so I’ll give him the low down on what pain his pesky little pins have released.



It used to be that a Cremation Service consisted of a Christian service of Committal, a few hymns, an address and personal recollections of the deceased. Though this continues to be the standard form for most of the services, there are changes in emphasis as more and more of the deceased and the bereaved are only nominally Christian. The generations that were brought up knowing hymns is fast disappearing. In effect it’s reduced to a handful of tunes – The lords my shepherd, - Abide with me – All things bright and beautiful – Amazing Grace – The Old Rugged Cross – Love Divine. Some of these we will hear two or three times a day, seven days a week. The sickly sentimentality of All things B&B now causes a barely suppressible gag reflex in myself.

A growing number of services are Humanist, Civil Services or family run. The style of these services varies, but a common trend is to use the choice of music to somehow capture aspects of the decease’s character. I’ll warn you now, that if you want specific music played at your funeral stipulate it in your will. Otherwise you will be pray to the musical whims of your remaining relatives, which may not accord with your own. I’ve born the coffins of ninety year olds in to the accompaniment of tunes by Metallica or Iron Maiden. Now even in enlightened and liberally hip Cambridge I find this incongruous and hard to believe. Ministers have entered the Chapel reciting the opening lines of the Christian Committal, drowned out by the sound of Status Quo’s –Down, Down, Deeper and Down. Irrespective that I’m a Buddhist, I found this disrespectful not only to the minister, but to a sense of what is appropriate or dignified. Though I did also find it funny, because it was so patently ludicrous.

Leaving the Chapel after the service seems to provide an opportunity for ranking up the emotional volume or for a defiant concluding statement. The soulful power ballad, such as The Power of Love, by Jennifer Rush, anything by Queen, Tina Turner or Eva Cassidy singing Somewhere over the Rainbow, occur with astonishing regularity. Now a funeral is an emotionally fraught occasion, it doesn’t really need this level of emotional manipulation. As the curtain goes round the catafalque, the air of finality, the final moment of parting is all too palpable. I’ve come to the conclusion that a sort of self pitying sentimentality reveals itself in this choice of closing music. The cloying aspect of grief is made public in musical form.

Other music is more a two fingers up to death, a defiant gesture of the bereaved towards death. We regularly get Monty Python’s - Always look on the bright side of life. I think its thought irreverent, but actually, these days, its just sad and predictable. The all time most popular choice for leaving music is Frank Sinatra’s – I did it my way. Almost every day we get it. I was saddened to hear, on the radio, that it was played at the late Alan Ball’s funeral. Now Alan Ball may indeed have played some of his life his way. Most of us rarely do so, life is often a painful choice between what we’d like to do and what reality deems possible. The choice of – I did it my way – really is saying even though death got me in the end, at least I did life my way. I doubt that most of the deceased were really that fulfilled as men ( yes, it is largely men who have Frank’s aged crooning ) I sincerely doubt they did much their way, but I guess it’s comforting to think of what might have been, or just being remembered will do, surely ! Is there something wrong with being remembered for simply being caring and kind. Death really is not the place for valedictory statements – no one does it entirely their way, unless they were a completely insensitive bastard of course.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

CD Review No 4 - Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

I’ve come rather late to admiration of Amy Winehouse. Her publicity, as a somewhat wayward and unpredictable drunken starlet, preceded my exposure to her music. I saw her interviewed on TV recently, and was impressed by her self-assurance, she feels no need to apologise for who she is, or what she does. The subject matter of her songs ranges over relationship difficulties, drugs, drugs within relationships, sex, and dicks.

On Back to Black, with Mark Ronson’s production help, this albums style mixes Sixties Shangri La’s with Jamaican horn section, on the surface at least, it seems a stylised homage to a bygone pop era. However, anyone who can begin a song with ‘What kind of fuckery is this’ has got something interesting and provocative to sing about, this album excels at more than just pastiche. She’s taken a musical style classic and reinvigorated it with a modern zeitgeist. In the Sixties the women sang rather passively when their man left them. Winehouse is defiantly dismissive about ‘how he don’t mean dick to me’

I’ve just bought her first album, its musical style is like a more ballsy Norah Jones and its much clearer what her musical influences are. Jazz greats such as Sarah Vaughan and Soul chanteuse Minny Ripperton, explain the vocal authority and assurance in style that Winehouse effortlessly displays. I guess many an intoxicated evening has been spent singing along to her idols. It’s a very individual voice she has, subtle, pointed and poignant to order. Amy Winehouse is much much more than a size 00 clothes horse with tattoos and stacked black hair, she’s an extremely gifted song writer and consummate singer too.

CD Review No 3 - Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare

Barely eighteen months after their startling debut album, we have the Sheffield combo’s second serving. At this rate, the Arctic Monkeys might have disbanded due to irreconcilable difficulties and gone off to develop solo careers before any of them reach 21. Favorite Worst Nightmare, displays all the signs of a growing musical maturity, with increased sophistication and instrumental dexterity.

With their first album they seemed to be the latest streetwise inheritors of the punky tunefulness of The Buzzcocks, infused with the poetic heart of The Smiths at their best. Alex Turners versatility as a lyricist, avoids the maudlin sentimentality of Morrisey, yet maintains a grudging sympathy for his subjects/victims plight. He Manages to pull off impressive verbal word play and insightful social comment, whilst mixing it with the earthy sardonic humour of a northern stand-up comedian. The poet John Cooper Clarke comes to mind quite frequently. The subjects on their debut release was quite closely observed, drawing, to some extent, on their own upbringing in a northern town that lost its industry, and its way, a few decades ago. Constant touring since then has considerable tightened them up as a band. Musically this album shows expanding musical horizons and adeptness. Lyrically Turner has had to broaden his social sphere for his observations, to include comment on celebrity culture, for instance, in Teddy Picker.

I’ve had the album for only a few days, and whilst the first albums originality and authenticity hit you right between the eyes so you could hardly ignore it, this album slowly impresses itself upon you.

The instant hits being Florescent Adolescent, Do me a Favour, Old Yellow Bricks, and 505. Here their trademark use of abrupt changes in vocal style and time signature work seamlessly together. There are a few tracks that fall short such as Balaclava, and most notable - If you were there, Beware - where its hard to tell what they’re trying to say lyrically or musically, time signatures shift from quiet introspection to teetering dangerously on the edge of heavy metal bombast. But then, their first album was not without tracks that missed their target either. Either way, I’m already becoming fond of these musical sweeties, and look forward to their next bag of allsorts.