Urban retreat, take 2, day 1

I can’t attend the Buddhist Centre’s Urban Retreat this year, but I’m going to put aside some time each day to do it at home. I enjoyed it very much, last year; it started with a day retreat at the centre, then we found a buddy who we would engage with from home, either by phone or email, and we would spend the week focussing o a particular aspect, before meeting together the following weekend for another retreat, and to think about what we had gained. I wrote last year:”Living the meaning of life – going beyond self in daily life’ it is a week that can be dedicated to improving practice, examining aspects of how one practices, and focusing on specific areas.”

This year the retreat is: “”Blazing Like The Sun…”: how can our hearts be more overflowing with kindness, compassion, confidence, and love of life? How can we find the freedom of heart that is loving-kindness?”. I am using a fellow blogger’s beautiful guide to a meditation on love today:


We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts.



You are not what you think you are…

When I went up to Manchester it was to be a student at the Polytechnic in the first year of its’ existence  In those days there were no halls of residence for Poly students so we had to find our own accommodation and in the first term a friend and I shared the attic rooms of an old Victorian villa, 44, Palatine Road in Withington. It was unbelievable primitive, just two beds, a table a chair a food cupboard and a Baby Belling electric cooker. There must have been somewhere to put our clothes, but I don’t remember that. We had to share a bathroom with the other residents… goodness knows who they were we never saw them!

We used to catch a bus into college and the bus stop was just opposite a church. It was one of those churches which put posters up with meaningful words, however quite often we were puzzled as to what they meant as they were somewhat enigmatic.

One in particular puzzled me; it had no punctuation and although it is many, many years ago I can remember it vividly, and have often wondered what it actually meant. I think I know now, or at least I know what it means to me!

You are not what you think you are but what you think you are.

Tim’s choice, number 3

Every so often, you come across somebody who points you towards something else which becomes a great source of joy and inspiration. Such a person is Tim, who I met on urban retreat and who became my Buddha buddy. He recommended the poet Mary Oliver to me, and what a wonderful recommendation! Tim very kindly sent me three of her poems which he finds inspiring, and beautiful  he uses Mary’s work in meditation, and I think the visual quality of her poems lends itself very readily to that.

Mary was born in 1935 and now, nearly eighty, she lives very quietly in Provincetown in Massachusetts. She is much respected and has won many prizes and awards for her work, including the Pulitzer Prize, and four honorary doctorates. She has published many collections of poetry since 1963, when the first volume of her verse came out when she was only twenty-eight. She has edited other collections, and written prose as well.

Here is Tim’s choice:

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less
kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for –
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over
in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
~ Mary Oliver ~

Translation 2

img020A book I carry around with me and dip into frequently is the Dhammapada; my own copy is getting a little dog-eared, but only a little. While at the Buddhist Centre a week or so ago I was looking through their extensive library when I came across a different translation of my book and out of curiosity borrowed it.

This version is published by the Buddhist Society of London, and edited by Jack Austin whose aim was to present the scripture in a way which would be most open and understood, and appreciated, by English speakers. I am not scholarly enough to know which is the better translation; there is accuracy in a technical sense and then there is accuracy in the way the meaning is expressed so the reader properly understands the meaning…

My copy translated by Thomas Byrom, shows Chapter 3 ‘The Mind’, as follows:

As the fletcher whittles and makes straight his arrows, so the master directs his straying thoughts.

Like a fish out of water, stranded on a shore, thoughts thrash and quiver, for how can they throw off desire?

They tremble, they are unsteady, they wander at their will. It is good to control them and to master them brings happiness.

But  how subtle they are, how elusive! The task is to quieten them and by ruling them find happiness.

With single-mindedness, the master quells his thoughts. He ends their wandering. Seated in the cave of the heart, he finds freedom.

How can a troubled mind understand the way? If a man is disturbed he will never be filled with knowledge.

The same chapter from the copy I have borrowed is like this:

As a fletcher straightens his arrow, so the wise man straightens his unsteady mind, which is so hard to control.

The mind struggles to escape the Tempter, as a fish thrown on dry land.

It is good to train the wandering mind. A mind under control brings great happiness.

The wise man guards his mind, which is unruly and ever in search of pleasure. The mind well guarded brings great happiness.

Those who bridle the wandering mind will escape the bonds of the Tempter.

If a man’s mind is unsteady, if he does not know the True Law, and if his faith wavers, he will never perfect himself.

Tim’s inspiration

As I mentioned a while ago, Tim, a friend I met on my urban retreat recommended a new poet to me, someone he found inspiring. He recommended Mary Oliver to me, a wonderful poet who now lives very privately in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Mary Oliver’s work is full of references to the natural world, and ‘nature’ has a potent and respected influence on her. She must be a most keen observer of wild-life, of natural light, and seasons’  change, and her poetry is threaded through with references, and observations of little things as well as the grand.

Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver ~