Tuesday, March 24, 2009

DIARY 101 - Future Prospectus

In a previous diary entry I left myself juggling with a complex set of responses regarding my future employment. I had a decision to make regarding a new managerial job. Well I've decided I'm not going go for that at all. I want to stay on at windhorse in some capacity, as yet to be envisaged. This last weekend, with David away seeing his folks for the last time before he disappears into the Spanish mountains for four months, I've been ruminating, and musing fully, on that fascinating subject for contemplation - Me. More particularly me and work, responsibility and the best use for my talents. I have my interests, the ones I'm naturally drawn towards. I have some acquired skills, some talents and self-evident personal qualities. These things are where my strengths lie, are my directional signposts, and indicators to the lie of the land, they are my spirit guides, so to speak. I don't pay them quite enough attention, until they squeal.

Buddhism remains a main interest, around which other interests and talents roughly cluster, such as studying Dogen, history, spiritual friendship, painting and writing. One of the main things that emerged from the therapy I had four years ago, was how I needed to get more behind these interests and talents. This seemed likely to bring a more confident and contented Vidyavajra in its wake. Despite this promising start I have fallen short in that aspiration. I'll admit, I had unrealistic expectations of what might be possible, and external circumstances did also turn out to thwart my efforts. In short, I mishandled it, and reality reciprocated. The recent paying off of my loan, finally lays to rest the financial ghost of that earlier endeavour. So if what I intend to do now is to be a second attempt, then I need to be, if not wiser, then at least more realistic than I was before. Whilst painting or writing are unlikely to become a new career at this point in my life, they could still be a modest, but not insignificant, component in it. Would incorporating more of 'doing what I do best' help me feel generally happier? - I certainly believe it could.

So what I aspire to do in the medium term is - look into how, where and to whom I might sell my artwork. It would be very easy for me to expound my future strategy at this point, which might prove humiliating to read in future months. So I'll resist doing that. A good start would simply be to reconnect with my painting again, and investigate possible gallery or exhibition spaces. It's been a few years since I last touched brush or paint. I could also do with reviewing the current state of previous work, there may be some sprucing up required, before I get them properly photographed etc. So that should keep me busy for ooooo... the next few years.

If I'm to be realistic, there's probably only time, energy and resources to fully pursue doing the one thing - the painting or the writing. I've never found it easy to multi-task with my creative interests. Its always been one thing or another, but rarely both. Regardless of how this deliberation turns out, any progress will inevitable have to be in small, do-able, incremental steps. It's very early days with this idea, and its all very well me talking about it, I need to follow up with the outline of a plan of action. Steadily applying myself and maintaining that effort over a period of time will be my challenge. Initiative, interest and momentum can so easily run out of steam. Anyway, steady as she goes. Lets keep it grounded, lets keep it real. For the moment, at least, it does feel like I have the energy and initiative back.

Monday, March 23, 2009

DREAM EIGHT - These Shoes Are Made For.....

I have been at some event, it might even have been a Puja, or something like that. Anyway, there has to be some reason why I've taken my shoes off. I can't remember what that was now. When it comes to putting them back on, before I leave, I don't realise I have odd shoes on each foot. The one on my left foot is black, and is mine, the other is brown, and is someone elses. The odd shoe might even be on the wrong foot. I don't notice this until later when I get home and its pointed out. I'm about to go to a family ocassion, perhaps a wedding. I can't go like this. So I need to find a black pair of shoes sharpish. Most of the dream is spent searching high and low for a shoe shop that sells a simple pair of traditional black brogues. I can't find one, and I'm getting more and more frustrated and desperate as the dream goes on.

I think this dream is significant on two counts; that I'm walking around not only wearing odd coloured shoes, but a shoe on the wrong foot that belongs to someone else; also, that I'm searching, and not finding, a new pair of shoes that not only will fit me, but more importantly match.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

DIARY 100 - Huurah ! Hurrah!! Hurrah!!!

This is my one hundredth diary entry, which I suppose shouldn't pass unmarked. I don't quite know how you celebrate on a blog, you can hardly string bunting around the blog, blow and hang up balloons, or cut a cake - or may be you can!! It was David who suggested I start a blog, and he helped me get it set it up. My opening Diary entry on the 16th August 2005, wasn't very extensive, it consisted of three short paragraphs on - What use is this blog? I didn't quite fully believe blogs were for me at the time, in fact an entire year went by before I even attempted another entry. I guess the motivational phrase is, 'it didn't have buy in from me.' But once it did, then there appears to have been no stopping me. What I decide to post hasn't changed much during the following three years. I haven't posted a poems on the blog in a long while, but that's because I've stopped writing them ( Now why was that?)

I rarely re-read my previous diary entries. They are more momentary snapshots from which, hopefully, I've moved on. They may have a recognisable pattern too them, because of how I experience things, and also how I chose to write about them. A blog diary, for me, isn't a confessional medium, more of an exploratory one. I express what my experience has been, understand better what I've felt about it, and refine my expression of all that, during the process of writing. There is a healthy amount of self-censorship. Most of the time, any subsequent revision is just me faffing with words, punctuation, grammar, or sentence structure. I seem to be concerned about the precise form of expression, rather than re-editing the content/subject matter.

In reality its a bundle of around 30-40 people a week who regularly check out the blog. You know who you are! It feels a slightly curious state of affairs to not know who you are. But then that anonymity is, I guess, a major part of the appeal of the Internet. You can briefly step into any ones world and experience, and out again, without anyone noticing. No one knows or cares what you regularly look at, with the exception of governments or advertisers.

Anyway, Hurrah! Hurrah!! Hurrah!!! - strings of bunting are stretched from here to there - a few muti-coloured balloons perched like testicular growths up there in the corners - and a very large fruit cake, with marzipan and royal icing, is crumbling in my virtual mouth, even as I write.

DIARY 99 - Swamp Thing - I Think I Love You.

Often in nightmares, and horror movies, just when you think the hero has escaped,and got out of the swamp to safety, suddenly he's caught off guard and dragged back into the swamp by a slimy monstrous thing. This last week, at times, has seemed a bit like that. I tend not to recognise how I'm feeling about a situation until I'm actually right in the thick of it. This can sometimes prove to be a real problem. By the time I do realise, it can often be too late, the monster has eaten me! Extricating myself from these errors in judgement can be awkward or extremely embarrassing.

I'm not always that good at thinking ahead to the possible consequences of a decision, it has to be said. Imagining what I want in the future often baffles me. I just take the plunge, and work out which way to swim once the wake has subsided. This week, I've found myself floundering hopelessly in choppy emotional seas. It might appear like I'm too dependant on the sensing & feeling aspect of my experience. But after all I am an ISFJ - Introverted Sensing Feeling Judging ( its one of 16 Myers-Briggs personality types ). In the past I've resisted this tendency, I now recognise it as a strength, not a personal flaw. Rational thought? I mostly apply it after the event, rarely during. If I attempt to be rational in the midst of sensing or feeling something strongly, that's when I get terribly confused.

Well, just as I was bemoaning in my last blog feeling blocked regarding my future, someone came along and offered me another management position. Was I interested in it? - Well - Yes - I suppose I am. I was, I admit, somewhat flattered - somebody recognises my qualities - and wanted me! But I hardly knew enough then, to say if this was what I wanted. Would I come for an interview early next week? - Yes - Fine. We want to make a decision this coming Wednesday - Ah !!!- well - er - yes - OK. - that quick- eek! As the following days passed, the interest and flattery faded from memory, and turned into persistent foreboding, and to panic. This was all happening far far too quickly. If I wasn't careful the monster would catch me unawares, eat me for breakfast, and I'll end up as a glutinous pond of poo.

The interview itself was preceded by an hours chat with the current incumbent of the job, and I saw the job description for the first time. The interview was a bit longer and more gruelling than I'd anticipated, but I believe I handled it quite well. I emerged battered and then went straight into a half hour chat with someone else, who, should I take the job, I'd be working with. So, two and a half hours later I walked home, feeling a bit like a bomb had been dropped on my brain. I think everyone at the interview realised that this process was being insanely rushed. Thankfully, things are now on go slow. I'm finally feeling less freaked out, and have got in touch with the complexity of my emotional responses.

Should I be offered the job, do I want it? - don't know! - should I accept it regardless? - perhaps - well - err - I'm not sure - am I just grasping at this as an opportunity to feel more secure? - could well be - is this really what I need right now? - No!!!!!- but can I afford to be that subjective - what if I can't stay on at windhorse - there are practical things to consider here too - not just transitory feelings!! Yet staying on in Customer Services feels uncomfortable, similar to being forced to wear a fur coat in a Sauna, you're dying to throw the responsibility off, and be free of feeling over dressed.

It does seem strange, in hindsight, that one minute I'm saying I'm not ideally suited to be a Manager, and then in the next breath I'm applying for another managerial post. Rather contradictory behaviour. It not that I don't believe I could do the job, I know I could. It would've been a lot more straightforward a decision if I'd been clearly unsuited to it. The job is not without its areas of personal challenge; I'd be responsible for a lot more financial management than I've ever had before. I'm sure I'd get the hang of it, but do I really want to get the hang of it? I've got the hang of my current job. Getting the hang of things doesn't appear to be the problem, getting the hang of me is. I know how effective, competent and thoroughly reliable I can be. That's not the point really.

So what is the point? My intuition keeps telling me to stop taking on positions of responsibility. Intuition did indicate that being a Customer Services Manager wouldn't suit me, but a sense of urgent necessity made me override my reservations. Why do I do this? - because I think there is no choice - because I think it'll be good for me - or because I think I should do it. All of them have developed a rather bad dissonant ring to them of late. For a time, I just want to take a back seat. Intuition, and my experience too, tells me that at this time in my life I need to find ways to get behind what talents and qualities I already possess. There really isn't time to fully develop new ones. Its now or never, and I'm not prepared to say never just yet.

( To be continued )

BOOK REVIEW - Kaoru Nonomura - Eat Sleep Sit

Whether I'll ever get to stay in a Zen Monastery, let alone Dogen's monastery Eihei-ji, is any ones guess. Reading this book is the closest I'll get I suspect. If I allow myself a more fully fledged romantic moment, I do imagine myself in my twilight years languishing in the ordered discipline and comfortable security of a monastery. I believe this would be the only way a chap like me would apply myself rigorously enough to practice, to get within a scintilla of Stream Entry - let alone Enlightenment. I'm such a creature of sensory circumstance, a bit like a chameleon, I adjust my whole world view to match my immediate environment and surroundings. If my context is poor, out of focus, or counterproductive, no matter what my intention or application of effort, all might be for nothing.

So, in reading this book I was actively placing myself along side Nonomura, imagining how I would feel were I in his position. He's thirty, with a pretty ordinary Japanese lifestyle, a girlfriend, a career as a designer, he comes from a good family background. But something he knows is not right, everything he does appears to lack meaning. He perpetually feels discontent with what he's doing, or not doing with his life. Then one day comes a turning point, he suddenly decides to enter a Zen Monastery. Not just any old monastery, but one with the reputation for being the most fearsome and rigorous in Japan. From the very start of his stay he lives in a state of constant fear, of simply getting things wrong. Monastic rituals at Eihei-ji are extremely formalised, and must be learnt by rote.

To us this could seem unduly harsh, soulless and robbed of integrity. There is no room for spontaneity at all here. Spontaneity is seen as part of individual self-determination, a declaration of our presence and identity, it is the Self at play. This is not to be encouraged. All actions and practices have correct formal procedures attached to them. These prove horrifically difficult to remember, let alone get right first time. Making mistakes becomes a regular humbling experience for Nonomura, even the punishments meted out for minor infringements have a precisely delineated ritual to be followed to the letter. The novice's trainers are unforgiving and frequently brutal in their responses, after all, they acquiesced and submitted themselves to this regime themselves too.

To Western eyes this could all seem like an unwarranted abuse of individual human rights. This would be, however, to miss the point entirely. But still one has to ask why they are doing this? Some clues come from a sign Nonomura reads soon after arriving:-
'the gate has no door or chain, but is always open;
any person of true faith can walk through it at any time'
Everyone comes willingly and one would assume could leave whenever they like. But this isn't actually the case. Most of the new recruits are first born, and come from families whose fathers are abbots of Zen temples. These novices are rarely here out of a burning sense of vocation, its more a predestined part of their family inheritance. Learning about the rigours of monastic life is an essential element in the ancestral privilege about to be handed on to them. Nonomura was unusual in choosing this life out of free will. There is precious little 'true faith' in evidence from some of these novices. Their year in Eihei-ji is often irksome, they don't have much choice in the matter. They can choose to leave after they've been at Eihei-Ji for a year, but not before. Anyone who runs away before then is pursued and brought back, if they can be found that is. So the gate does have a door, but it has a chain on it. People with little or no faith walk through it all the time. At least at the start, this appears to be the case. By the time they leave most of them have noticeable matured and have found something deeper in themselves.

The purpose of the excessive discipline, a bit like army drill, is to break down your individuality, to constrict the room for selfishness. It makes you conform, sometimes literally beats it into you. to act as one, abandon your likes and dislikes, your worldly viewpoints, and to compel you to submit to its often punishing spiritual routines. The mere act of ringing a bell is to be timed and coordinated with almost theatrical precision, washing your face, going to the toilet, and how to use a toothpick are likewise acted out. Dogen's instructions systematically take you through them stage by stage, showing exactly how things should be done. This does develop its own simple beauty, an elegantly sparse aesthetic, as every minute daily act becomes embroidered with intricate ritual and significance. The purpose of this everyday ritualisation is to take you beyond your selfish concerns, to practise fully in the moment, and for the benefit of all beings.

To us this might all seem far too austere, obsessive even, and could make Dogen seem like some 12th Century version of a control freak. Yet submitting oneself to a monastic rule does inevitable mean you've chosen to remove your freedom to choose. Though Nonomura found it hard initially, he finds he adapts to this new regime, it becomes second nature. Even though he does in the end decide to leave after the year is up, he does so with a deeply heartfelt appreciation for what he has gained, and what he is taking forward his life post- Eihei-ji. Throughout his year at Eihei-ji, Nonomura frankly acknowledges his doubts, his faith, and often contradictory responses to his being there at all. By the time he leaves he knows that what he most learnt was simply how to enjoy being alive.

The final paragraphs are most moving, describing his breaking into convulsive tears as he feels something is emotionally torn from him, of his sense of loss, as the taxi pulls away from the Main Gate. The female taxi driver, having seen this so many times before, takes him up to the top of the mountains, to see the valley as spring begins to fully burgeon.

'At that moment I understood the meaning of spring for the very first time. I had been alive for thirty years, and all that time I'd been caught up in an urgent search for meaning. Now, here, finally, I knew the meaning of spring. That was enough. I didn't need anything else.'

Saturday, March 14, 2009

FEATURE 22 - Aztec Camera - Oblivious

This is one of my favorite songs from the Eighties. For me its the combination of a rhumba beat, with a tune that bounces along with optimism and lighthearted brio, that makes it addictive stuff. 'Oblivious' is also a very well written song, one of many (remember 'Somewhere in my Heart'- before the dreadful disco version? ) that the lead singer Roddy Frame composed. Aztec Camera might sound like a band name, but it was really only him. Dig Roddy's hairdo - the shameful things we do in order to be fashionable! Mine fortunately I can keep hidden, and not find them available for all to see on You Tube thirty years later.

DIARY 98 - A sequence of scary moments

The future, as always, is full of unrealisable levels of potential, and its not a good place to find oneself imaginatively dwelling in, unproductively, for too long. Though it is undoubtedly rich fertile ground, you do have to plant your seeds in the present if anything is going to flower there. Having made my decision, I've made my bed and am currently lying in it, waiting for a new dawn to arrive. There is definitely a need for me to get in touch with the zeitgeist, be able to decipher, read and respond to it. Its all too easy for me to recognise what I don't want, and a lot harder to discern exactly what I do want. Often I don't know until I bump into it. But this requires a small step, for the life of me I don't yet know what sort of step that should be. So I'm experiencing a degree of stifled momentum - its a bit scary - Wu-oh there¬!!!!

Being a responsible soul, I've not wanted to remove myself too abruptly from Customer Services, and risk destabilising what has taken so long to achieve. In consequence I feel in a strange position, where I may have surrendered too much initiative to the vagueness of circumstance. In some senses the decision I made was long overdue, but my timing is not ideal. There's more than one major thing demanding my attention. David's departure is a mere three weeks away, so attending to my own needs can often take a secondary priority. A lot is being filed in the tray marked - to be looked at once David has flown off to Spain. Though I've stated my intention to step down as Customer Services Manager, I'm still actually in charge. So, work is still occupying mental and emotional space, so I don't find it easy to contact aspirations. Things can seem a bit messy and mixed up. A bit pulled in too many directions at once. I have moments when the uncertainty flips from being an opportunity, to being a bit too scary - Wu-oh there!!!!

Last weekend David & I went to stay with my parents, as my niece Laura was marrying her partner David ( Yes another one, this could get very confusing ) The wedding was quite a splendid affair, and it was a really pleasant experience for us to be there as a couple. Its the first time I've been in a family celebration and been openly there with David as my partner. My sister and brother in law were very warm and welcoming, as were my nieces. There were slightly disapproving, or at least quizzical looks, from the odd person. But largely everyone behaved themselves and did what English people do in socially awkward situations - behave as if whatever is directly in their faces, is not really there. Apart from my parents and myself, there was no one else from the Lumb side of the family. Otherwise, I suspect, there would have been a lot more nervousness about David & I clearly being present. But they weren't there, and we were, and the whole weekend went absolutely fine. Nothing too scary at all.

This week I finally paid off my bank loan. So I am - free at last! free at last!! My bank account reserve is now a tad depleted, so my expenditure is going to have to be carefully monitored for a few months. There are a few biggish expenditure things coming up, such as David & I spending four days in Brighton before he goes on the Ordination course. Also in April, work payroll is shifting from fortnightly to monthly payments, which means I'll need to accommodate a week or so of financial shortfall, until I'm paid at the end of that month. Then in May, I have a retreat at Padmaloka that I'll need to have money set aside for. Who knows I might even be out of a job by then. Cue - a little scary moment - Wu-oh there!!!!!

After repeated reminders from my parents, I am starting to get my head around the financial consequences of my own mortality, and writing a will. Though I can see myself consigning it to my post David departure tray before its finally resolved, it does demand a particular head space that I'm not able to be in for long at the moment. It's not everyday you sit down to plan for your demise and imagine what you want for your funeral. This also produces another scary moment - Wu-oh there!!!!