Friday, December 13, 2013

A Letter to the Editor




Dear Unnamed Editor of Unnamed Magazine

Doing your sub editing and proof reading has made me lose my will to live. Not only because all you send me is mindless, poorly written drivel from untrained writers, but because you have absolutely no clue how to actually run a magazine (and make no effort to learn).

Your magazine is meant to come out four times a year. So far, there has been only one issue. ONE. In February. You promised to send me copy to sub in March for your winter edition. I didn't hear from you until September when you began putting together the spring edition, which became the summer edition. You tell me you'll send me articles to look at on a specific day. I get them three weeks later from you, if I am lucky. In the case of the supposed May edition, I was promised articles in the beginning of March. You sent them at the end of September and told me we were now magically working on the October edition. (Which, incidentally, has not actually been printed yet.)

What the fuck are you playing at? You have a day job, I get that. Then what the fuck are you doing with a magazine? It's a full time job, woman. And it requires an editor, not an event planner and part time whatever, to edit it. What the fuck were you THINKING?

I work at a seriously cut-rate price. Less than half of what I should be charging, as a favour to you because you are 'just starting out'. Seriously? It's not worth having a new arsehole chewed by you because I take THREE extra days to sub and proof articles (which you sent me four weeks after you said you would) because I had been to a funeral and had to take care of urgent work for a client. If you'd actually sent me the articles when you said you would, perhaps you could have had them subbed and proofed in good time.

I am tired of you chasing me with the: "The magazine is going to print on Tuesday next week, so I need these subbed by tomorrow morning" only to find out that no, nothing went to print. Nothing since FEBRUARY, in fact. So what was that about? Some make believe magazine?

So I give you my middle fingered salute, Unnamed Editor. I am tired of begging you for months to pay me the pittance I've worked for. I am tired of your attitude towards your writers: "They must be happy because it's a privelege to be published" (on not paying writers)*. I am gatvol for waiting for articles to come, which only materialise months later. I am not your bitch. Go find someone else you can fuck over.

Enclosed, please find a pineapple. It is my hope that you will fuck yourself sideways with it.

Yours suicidally

T



* My response was: "It's a privelege to be a publisher who has writers willing to write for your magazine for free."


Friday, November 22, 2013

Not All Buddhists Are Vegetarian



I officially became a Nichiren Buddhist on 8 October 2005. I was quite surprised when I was told that it was not obligatory to become vegetarian in order to practice this Buddhism. I'd believed that ALL Buddhists, regardless of the school, were vegetarian.

Turns out, not so much.

Nichiren Buddhism is part of the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, branch of Buddhism. (The other two branches are Theravada and Vajrayana, in case you're interested. We're not going to go into the various branches of Buddhism today, though. We'll save that for another time.) It appears that the Japanese Kamakura schools of Buddhism, like Zen and Nichiren Buddhism, have relaxed the rules a bit, and view vegetarianism as more of a choice than absolutely necessary.

To begin with, Buddhist monks and nuns were not vegetarian. They travelled around the country, teaching, and receiving alms from others. If they were given meat in their food bowl, they didn't refuse it. They could only refuse if they knew with absolute certainty that the animal had been slaughtered in their honour. Otherwise, they were permitted to eat the meat.

The Theravada schools allow the eating of meat, with the prohibition of eating certain meats - including human and elephant. Vajrayana schools permit the eating of meat. Mahayana schools on the whole believe that a vegetarian diet should be pursued as part of the Bodhisattva way. Some sects even prohibit the consumption of root vegetables as this is seen as the living part of a plant and to eat it, would mean the death of the plant.

Not so much Nichiren Buddhism and other Japanese schools, though. Nichiren himself, apparently, was a vegetarian, and there is some debate as to whether The Buddha (Siddharta Gautama) was actually vegetarian.

In any case, Nichiren states, in his letter to Akimoto, "One who kills a mere ant will fall into hell, to say nothing of those who kill fish or birds." -  (WND V1 P1019). Nichiren Buddhism, particularly the Soka-Gakkai, call their followers Bodhisattvas of the Earth. It is common for those involved in Bodhisattva practice to avoid eating meat as the practice involves showing compassion and loving kindness to all sentient beings.

Am I a vegetarian? Not now. I became vegetarian during my conversion to Nichiren Buddhism and remained a vegetarian for about two years. Upon my return to South Africa in 2007, I experienced a migraine, after which I was meat crazy. I ended up raiding the fridge and ate all the cold chicken and salami there was. I've eaten meat since.

There is a strong belief in New Age circles that eating meat dulls one's third eye and causes aggression in the meat eater. This is something worth exploring for one's self. In early 2011, a friend and I embarked on an experiement to see if we could live on a vegan diet. Both of us lasted 22 days. I did feel calmer and more centred on the diet, it has to be said.



Friday, November 8, 2013

Can You Pass The Rorschach Test?

Hermann Rorschach, celebrated today in the Google Doodle, is the creator of the controversial psychological assessment test known as the Ink Blot or Rorshach Test. I pootled over to the wikipedia page to take a look at these ink blots, which you can too, here, and while I was at it, I decided to take the test myself.

The results, my dear friends, I share with you below. They are very far from the more common answers listed on the wikipedia page. It only confirms what I've known all along: I am batshit crazy and there is no cure.

Read on at your own peril.

Two giant dogs tearing the head off a mutant praying mantis. See how its hands are raised, trying to feel for its lost head?



A couple of Russian dancers high-fiving after executing a complicated move that ends with them both simultaneously stomping on a lit firework.



A primitive cave painting of two women fighting over a calabash that contains some powerful magic they have cooked up while two small red demons look on and laugh


Praying Mantis Man riding a rad-ass Harley.


Moth Man drags his helpless victims to his lair. Mwahahahaha.



Space Alien vagina


Portrait of a gray alien (Zeta Reticulans) wearing Elizabethan Era attire



A couple sabre-toothed bulls building a totem pole



Two dragons battle for the control of Tokyo


The Mystic Warrior Samurai using his magic to keep the world from collapsing by holding the energies of good and evil in each hand and not allowing them to ever meet


Yup. Crazy in the coconut.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Dad.

After my father died, I found a letter that was written by my mother to him back in 1975 My dad had gone on a training course and was away for about three months and my mother had written to him to give him an update on how things were at home.

In the letter, she told him how his two year old daughter (me), had been going up to the gate to look out onto the street to wait for him. Apparently, I did this every single day, and as I stood there, I would call out, "Daddy! Daddy!" and wait there for him to come. When I realised he was not coming home, I would stand at the gate and cry. My mother, in the letter, wrote how heart wrenching this act was and she hoped that I would eventually give up and stop looking for him.

I don't know if I gave up looking for him, though. The letter didn't indicate that I did, nor did I find other letters from that time. Rather, I gave up looking through the immense stack of letters exchanged between my parents over the periods of time when my dad was away. After reading two of them, I decided that perhaps it's best I not know anything about their exchanges.

Needless to say, my dad was my favourite parent. I still love him, even though it's been six years since he crossed over. And, like the two year old me, I still sometimes look for him.

Not long after his death, I sat in the lounge in his house and saw him, transparent and wearing his gardening clothes (blue checked shirt with blue shorts) walk from the kitchen, into the dining room, through the dining room table and then vanish.

In 2010, I saw him in a kind of half-dream, half-vision, in which he once again appeared in his gardening clothes (my father loved his garden and he loved gardening) to tell me, "You have work to do."

Even now, if I see an old man in blue shorts and sandals, I check to see if it's my dad. Even now, knowing well and truly that dad is never coming back to this particular life in the form I knew him.

And I miss him. Every day. I miss his advice. I miss his wisdom. I miss talking conspiracy theories and smoking with him while we sip coffee together.

I love you daddy.
September 2006 - four months before he died.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Unfettered Joy of Being Alive

I am so grateful that I am ME.

There were times in my life when I wasn't. I wanted to be anyone else but me, or, I wanted to rewind my life to the times when I thought the person I was at a specific time was better than the person I was in that particular moment.

Today, though, I am happy to be exactly who I am, where I am, in the skin that I am living in.

This revelation occurred a short time ago, however I only truly acknowledged it this morning. (OK, it realised this just over a week ago, but was unable to enjoy it because I experienced a health challenge that quickly pushed the joy aside and I allowed myself to feel sorry for myself).

I don't live a life without struggle. The Buddha tells us that life is suffering. How we navigate that suffering is what is important. Life is never a constant run of happiness or a constant run of great sorrow. It's usually a mix between the two. Sometimes sorrow, sometimes joy. They are two sides of the same coin.

The Buddha tells us:

"We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves."

This, I think, is what happens when we apply our Buddha Eye to how we view the world.

We all have a comment on the weather. It's either too hot or too cold. Or there's too much rain or none at all. Recently, the clouds gathered over Johannesburg and there was a lot of "Oh no, please don't let it rain. I hate the rain." The rain is necessary. It is neutral, but our feelings are not. Others were overjoyed that the rain was coming. Who was right? No one. The rain is the rain. It is what it is. We cannot change the fact that it rains, but we do have the power to change how we think about the rain.

This analogy can be applied to our lives and how we see ourselves. If we see ourselves through the eyes of Hell, our lives become Hellish. "We become what we think."

I put it down to returning to chanting more regularly.

Joy wasn't something that came easily for me. I was strongly suspicious of it, and if I am honest, then I have to admit that I still am, at times. My mother and grandmother always liked to say, "Happiness is always followed by tears. You laugh now, but later on you'll be crying." I believed them. When I found myself happy for no reason I used to panic, wondering what disaster would strike because I was happy. Somehow, my mother and grandmother's superstition made me think that if I were happy, I would be punished.

We become what we think.

So, of course, some drama or disaster immediately followed my joy. Of course it did. I believed it did. I became what I thought.

Today, though, I am living in this moment of complete unfettered joy of being alive. The joy that I am me and no one else. That I have this life, that I have this breath and that I have this moment on this planet, in this place with these people and circumstances. Even if some of those circumstances are not ideal. Even if there are health challenges and workloads and strained relationships and bills to pay, there is still joy.

I told a friend of mine once that "above the clouds, the sun still shines and above the clouds, we are all Buddhas."

Even when it rains, even when circumstances are less than ideal or even dire, we are all still Buddhas.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Write.

Lisa Jo Baker's Five Minute Friday has provided an interesting prompt for today: WRITE. And today, I am going to challenge my fellow writing friends to write about writing and leave me a comment so that I  can go take a quick look at your blog and leave you a comment. The rules are to write only for five minutes... which can be a challenge for those of us who have a lot to say about writing.


Edit: I put this in because the other bits sounded a bit pompous, so here's my thoughts on writing:

I've had quite a few writing students pass my way. No matter what their skill, or whether they were beginners or advanced, there was one thing that I told them all: If you want to improve your writing you need to write every day. Blog, journal, write letters - the format makes no difference. Write every day.

Reading a variety of books - both fiction and non-fiction - also helps.

Just starting out writers and writers who have written for years also benefit from going easy on themselves. Negative self-criticism (as well as from well meaning family and friends ) will only sound the death knell for any writer.

If you want to write, then begin to write. It's that simple. Write with love, abandon and joy. Write unedited. Write in crayon and paint. Write in the sand. But WRITE. Every day.




MY PERSONAL JOURNEY (SHORT VERSION) THROUGH WRITING


I was seven when I wrote my first short story. I don't remember details, but the plot revolved around a clever Arab boy who kept outsmarting the Sultan with the help of one of the guards, who was named "Hamburger". I am sure that my rudimentary attempts at story telling were not as exciting as that plot outline sounds. And I have invented more interesting names for characters, since.

I have been writing, you could say, for 33 years. I wanted to be a writer before I knew I could sing, before I knew what opera was. I wanted to be a writer before I discovered art and flying saucers and pizza.

As soon as I knew how, I began writing. Of course, there was no child prodigy in any of those works. I sent stories off to newspapers and was mentioned by name for having sent in "a very nice space story". (This mention prompted a paedophile to look up our phone number and attempt to harass me with bizarre phone calls. My mother, after I told her, got the phone tapped and working with the police, she pretended to be me until the fucker was caught. He got nine months. I wrote very little after that and I submitted nothing to anywhere until much later.)

The teen years were filled with angst ridden poetry about how depressed I was, and how unrequited my love.

It took some doing but I did a six month journalism course (after doing the stuff my mother wanted me to do: PR and beauty therapy.) My first job was with the publicity department for Pope John Paul's visit to South Africa and then I joined SA Gardening magazine.

I've been freelancing on and off since about 1998 and published on the web, in the States, the UK and South Africa for both fiction and non-fiction work.

I've written course work, workshops. feature articles, short articles, news articles, press releases, web copy, brochure copy, short stories, blogs... and I've edited and sub edited and proof read. I've taught journalism and creative writing both in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Currently I am writing a novel, but I am not  being that disciplined about it. That needs to change.

I also write a blog about writing, which I haven't updated in a while (mostly because it seems that no one actually reads it).

One day, I'll be paid nicely for writing. At least that's what all of us writers hope for. That and a big mug of coffee for the late night writing.

(I think that was more than  5 minutes.)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Behind The Scenes - The Story Behind the Picture

Mel of Barefoot Mel does this thing every Tuesday. She posts a picture and tells the real story behind it. Why? Because as much as we like to believe everyone's lives is as perfect as they like to show on Facebook, that's not quite the truth. So, just this once, I actually have a photo to share and a story to tell.



You will see my beautiful blue eyed child Coco Piranha in the picture above. You'll also see her sitting alongside what looks like a bunch of builders' rubble. In fact, Coco loves sitting on top of the bricks and next to the bricks. It's where she hangs out sometimes.

What looks like builders' rubble is a grave, the final resting place of my friend Bodhisattva Kinkytail, who died last year from poisoning. (You can read that story here)

The day we buried him, the dogs (we only had 3 at the time) joined us. We showed them Bodhi's body. They whined a little and sniffed. They knew. They knew that this was once Bodhi, their friend, and their friend had crossed over.

I did a whole burial ceremony for him with incense and prayers and a call for his soul to be released to be reincarnated when the time was right. We laid his body, which we had wrapped in a towel, into the grave and I finished off with a few prayers.

Then I witnessed something extraordinary. Our dog, Bokkie, who absolutely adored Bodhi, began shovelling dirt over his body with her nose. She continued to do this until his body was covered. When the other two dogs came close, she growled at them. She only stood back from her task once it was done and not a single piece of the towel we wrapped him in poked out of the ground. Madelein and I, already distraught at Bodhi's death, couldn't stop crying as we watched Bodhi's best friend bury him that day.

Animals know.


Bodhisattva Kinkytail. More than a cat and a wise old soul. I miss him every day.

Friday, September 27, 2013

True

Lisa Jo Baker encourages us each Friday with a prompt to write for five minutes only on a given topic. This week's prompt: True.


I am not a Christian, nor am I a mother, so I feel that in these respects I do not actually belong in the Five Minute Friday group. My perspectives are coloured by my practice of Buddhism, which I know conflicts a great deal with the ideas and beliefs of other Five Minute Friday participants.

This week, Lisa Jo has encouraged us to share our true. She herself has shared that she is "not just a mom", but has many other facets to her life that go beyond being a parent. So, in keeping with the theme of sharing truth, here are a few of my own:

I wasn't always a Buddhist. I was raised a Christian and was baptised in the Catholic Church at the age of 17. I converted to Nichiren Buddhism in 2005 at the age of 32. Three years agoI left the Soka-Gakkai and began practicing Nichiren Buddhism independently. Right now, I am exploring all facets of Buddhism, not just the Nichiren school.

How do you get from being a Christian to being a Buddhist, you may wonder? I was a good Catholic. I went to mass, I went to confession, I prayed. Some of my views on spirituality and life and the universe were not consistent with the Christian faith, but I kept these to myself. I also had questions regarding the Christian faith that no one seemed to be able to answer. For instance, as one example, I was a Christian who believed in reincarnation.

In 2002, after divorcing my husband and then entering a new relationship which quickly became abusive, I went through a dark night of the soul. I had no faith in anything whatsoever. I came out of the closet, began rebuilding my life and was diagnosed with PTSD.

I drifted in a spiritual desert until 2004. Quite by chance, I had a conversation on the phone with a Nichiren Buddhist who put me in touch with other Buddhists in my area. At the time my life was not happy: I lived with an alcoholic who also cut herself, I was deeply depressed and coping with PTSD and my life did not seem worth living.

I found my peace and joy in Buddhism. It brought balance back to my life. And the odd thing is that I only understood some Christian teachings through my practice of Buddhism: you reap what you sow; love your neighbour as yourself.

I am a lesbian Buddhist who enjoys participating in a writing prompt hosted by female, mostly mom, Christians. That's my truth.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mara as Portrayed in Sinfest

Sinfest by Tatsuya Ishida


I love Sinfest. Particularly, the Sinfest Buddha. The above cartoon accurately describes Buddha's encounter with Mara. At least, in my book.

(Click on the image to view it properly. It has come out a little small.)

Friday, September 20, 2013

She: A Five-Minute Friday Tribute

Lisa Jo Baker encourages writers to write non-stop, unedited for five minutes, each Friday on a given topic. Today's prompt: She


I am openly gay. I live with my wife with our six children - two feline and four canine. We've been married for five years. That's the joy of living in South Africa: gay people are allowed to legally marry.

Despite these fabulous constitutional rights we get to enjoy as queer folk in South Africa, there is still a lot of misunderstanding and homophobia, particularly in the case of the "corrective" rape and murder of (largely) black lesbians in our country. It's a travesty and a shame that a country with such an advanced constitution refuses to recognise these murders as hate crimes.

One woman in South Africa stands out for me: photographer and activist Zanele Muholi. She has won awards for her photography. She has a brilliant eye and I have been deeply priveleged to have been able to spend time with her.

She, for me, is an icon in the South African lesbian community. She has even launched a website, Inkanyiso, to provide a platform for South African lesbians to have their voices heard.

If we look beyond prejudice, we will see that women's rights are not just for straight women, but ALL women - gay, bi, trans and queer. We are all SHE. We are all sisters. We are all one woman at the end of the day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Midlife Crisis (Part Two) - A Somewhat More Buddhist Perspective

A lot has happened since my last post on experiencing the "midlife crisis".

There has been a change in perspective, which actually occurred a few days after the post. The answer to midlife transformation (as opposed to crisis) was right in front of me. It was, in fact, contained in a picture I had used. This one:


And then, I went and found a few more. Like this:


And that last one was the one that did it for me: I have been chasing something that wasn't actually there.

In Buddhism, life is seen as illusion. As real as it may feel living it and being in life, it is still illusion, and the illusion is of our own making. Instead of seeing opportunity in midlife, I was seeing disaster. I believed the best of my life was over. Fuck you, world. And so on.

In a moment of clarity, it occurred to me that the drama of the midlife transformation was illusion. Yes, it feels very real, but by giving it that much power in my life, I was allowing myself to become stuck in the proverbial mud.

Then I read this. "The more I age, the more life feels precious. Each day, each hour, each minute, each moment, a new gift that is not to be wasted with wrong action, wrong speech, wrong thoughts. There are long run decisions to be taken, and micro ones to be made every day." (Ayya Khema).

And I was reminded of this:



The quote, to paraphrase is: "The thing to remember is that there is no spoon. It is not the spoon that bends, it is your mind."

There is no midlife crisis. It is not the midlife crisis that bends. It is my mind.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mercy/Compassion in Buddhism

Lisa Jo Baker's Five Minute Friday brings together writers who are encouraged to just spend five minutes writing on a one word prompt. Today's prompt: Mercy.

Quan Yin - Bodhisattva of Compassion

I am bending the rules today. It is difficult to spend just five minutes on mercy/compassion in Buddhism and come away with a sense of understanding how compassion fits into Buddhist practice.

Some Buddhists revere Quan-Yin as the ultimate representation of mercy in Buddhism. There are those who see her as a goddess, and those, like myself, who prefer to see her instead as a Bodhisattva.* She is often referred to as "she who hears the cries of the world". In my eyes, Quan-Yin is a symbol of compassion and mercy rather than a deity to be worshipped.

Legend has it that Bodhisattva Quan-Yin vowed not to rest until all beings had been freed from samsara, the process of continuous birth, death and reincarnation, and was gifted with the ability to hear the cries of humanity to offer them assistance.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines mercy and compassion as follows:

mer·cy
noun \ˈmər-sē\
: kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly
: kindness or help given to people who are in a very bad or desperate situation
com·pas·sion
noun \kəm-ˈpa-shən\
: a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.

Personally, I prefer the word compassion rather than mercy. Why? To me the word mercy is one that places the 'merciful one' in a position of superiority over the one receiving of mercy. Compassion has none of that power attached to it, in my mind. Compassion is an understanding of the suffering of others without the "there but for the grace of go I". It is the understanding that the people around us are mirrors of ourselves.

In Buddhism, the word compassion takes the place of the word mercy. The sanskrit word for compassion is karuna, denoting a more active form of compassion rather than just a mere feeling of wanting to help someone.

Compassion, in Buddhism, is not limited to empathy and it is not pity either. When we pity someone, we place ourselves in a superior, judgemental position, "Look at that poor person over there." It's external. Compassion is recognising ourselves in that person and honouring and respecting their journey in life.

Compassion does not mean coming to the rescue, though. One of the lessons I learned about compassion is that sometimes being compassionate means allowing another person's life lessons to unfold. An example: you always bail out a friend who mismanages their finances. You think you're being compassionate, but you are actually depriving this friend of learning ot managed their finances better every time you bail them out. It may seem odd, but the most compassionate thing to do for this friend is to allow them to work through their financial karma and learn how to be more financially stable.

How does one become more compassionate? It begins with nurturing compassion for oneself. Loving ourselves is one of the hardest things we can do. Love and compassion for others begins with love and compassion for ourselves. It comes with practice and meditation, but it does come. It is difficult to show compassion and love for others if we are not feeling it towards ourselves. The Christians believe that one should "Love thy neighbour as one loves oneself". This lesson is universal. When we live with hate in ourselves, we will only see hate in others and act in hate towards them.

Compassion in daily life, for me, revolves around understanding that the woman on the other end of the telephone may have had a bad day, which is why she sounds rude and abrupt, and that her manner is not all about me. It is understanding that others experience pain and suffering and this colours the way they are in the world, whether that touches me positively or negatively. There is a Buddha in each of us. When a Buddhist greets you with, "Namaste", they are really saying, "The Buddha in me acknowledges the Buddha in you".

Beyond our physical appearances and our life dramas and situations, ultimately, we are all Buddhas. It's difficult to see because we are all tempered by our upbringing, beliefs, experiences, life situation, chemical imbalances, psychological make up. Strip those things away, and we are all beings of light.


* Bodhisattva, as I understand it, is a being which has given up its opportunity for experiencing Nirvana in order to assist others in obtaining their Buddhahood and release from Samsara

Friday, August 30, 2013

Worship.

Lisa-Jo Baker encourages writers to write for exactly five minutes on a give theme. This week's theme: worshop. You can find more here




I have written about what Buddhists believe when it comes to god, here.

So. How do Buddhists worship?

Depends on the Buddhist. Really, it does. Because Buddhists don't generally believe in god, nor do they view the Buddha himself as a god.

Of course, you'll see pictures of monks and Buddhists placing incense and lighting candles around a Buddha statue. Not every Buddhist does that. Some just meditate, some chant.

The act of devotion is one that is encouraged to be visible through the way we live our own lives. We embody the Buddha's teachings and live them. That's what we are asked to do. The act of contemplation can be displayed through various forms of meditation and chanting.

Who do Buddhists worship?

No one. Some revere the Buddha, even though he advised that this was not what he wanted. For me, it's about connecting with my inner Buddha, my Buddha Nature, and calling on that force within me to manifest in every aspect of my life. To see with my Buddha eye, to live through my Buddhahood.

What it boils down to is to strive to live my life respecting others and not being an arsehole. Which, if you look at it, is really the best we can all do.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Binge Eating/Compulsive Eating Disorder



It started in March. I was doing fine until I was gripped by inexplicable excrutiating chest pain. It was so bad, I believed I was having a heart attack and asked my wife to take me to hospital.

The good news is that it was no heart attack: it was an anxiety attack. I did some research. Yes, an anxiety attack can really feel like a cardiac emergency.

I've had several anxiety attacks since. Some quite bad, others were more manageable. How manageable? Manageable with a return to binge eating.

Food has always been my go-to coping mechanism. I choose the cupcake over the apple every time. Why? How can food soothe someone? For most people it won't make sense. For someone like me, it makes perfect sense. The sugary stuff gives an energy boost and triggers a more positive mood. Carbs slow things down, particularly carbs with cheese. It's like taking a tranquiliser. A nice, liquid, quiet space.

For the last four months, this is how I have made it through my days.

With people like me, who engage in compulsive eating behaviour, there is no "just stick to your diet". Diets are not what will set me free. Dealing with the emotions I run away from, that I quite literally swallow, that is the key.

Everyone has an opinion. Ask a psychologist and they will speak from their experience: psychology. A dietician: nutrition. A spiritual healer: the soul. As many people as you approach for help, that's how many different theories, suggestions and healthy lifestyle plans you'll get. It can get confusing.

The reality is that the answer lies with me. I know my history, my triggers, my emotional state, my spiritual state. Only I have control over that.

This week I ate a chocolate a day. Why? Because on Tuesday I spoke about a difficult period in my life, one that triggers my desire to overeat and create a protective layer of fat on my body so that nothing and no one can get in.

I picked up the following advice, which I am going to implement, as I personally believe it will be useful:

1. Protect my own energy and maintain my own personal space.

2. When the urge to binge arises, meditate instead.

3. Notice, without judgment, what happens when I am around people with negative energy or in negative situations. Do I want to eat? If so, what? Am I overeating?

I have recently been practicing a few soul retrieval exercises. I re-integrated my ten year old self. Since her return, the urge to binge has not been as great as it was. It still needs work, however, it's definitely more positive.

Awareness is power. Healing and recovery is a process that takes place deep down, internally. It's not something that a diet or a gym contract will fix. But compassion and understanding might.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Do Buddhists Believe in God?

Most often, when people ask me this question, they are referring to the god of the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The short answer to this is no, they don't.

By its design, Buddhism is a non-theistic spiritual practice. In fact, one doesn't have to follow the religion of Buddhism in order to adopt its philosophy in daily life.

However, having said that, Shakyamuni Buddha was silent on the topic of belief in gods. There are Buddhists who do venerate deities, a list of some of these can be found here.  A Hindu friend once pointed out that some Hindus see the Buddha as an incarnation of the god Krishna. There are those of other faiths who view the Buddha's teachings as philosophical principles that slot in with their religion and enhance their spiritual experience. (I know one Christian and three pagans who have incorporated Buddhist teachings into their own faiths). Essentially, you don't have to be a Buddhist to adopt the Buddhist prinicples and you don't have to discard the god idea to be a Buddhist.

What it boils down to, at the end of the day, is the personal philosophy and interpretation of the individual Buddhist. Some believe in gods, others don't.

I am of the belief that being atheist or agnostic does not make a person 'evil' or incapable of telling right from wrong, or removes from them the ability to live a moral life.

Do I, personally believe in god? Not in the Abrahamic sense, no. My personal belief is that we are all born of a single divine source, to which we return. We are not separate from this source, neither are we separate from each other. We are one. Each of us is a part of a much greater whole. We are connected to each other just as the limbs and fingers and organs are connected to our own bodies. We may see these things as separate, but they all make up one whole.

Do Buddhists Worship The Buddha as Their God?

Buddha was a man. He was born Siddharta Gautama, left his life of wealth and opulance and achieved enlightenment. From then on he was known as The Buddha, or Shakyamuni Buddha and he began to teach. He was born. He lived. He taught. He died. He was not a supernatural being - he was human. Buddhists honour and venerate the Buddha and his teachings, but he is not a god.

Some Buddhists feel they should keep a shrine or a statue of the Buddha in their homes to show respect to the Buddha and the path he introduced to the world. No doubt there are those Buddhists who do see him as a divine being and wish to dedicate offerings to him. However, the Buddha himself did not wish to be raised high as a god or divine teacher. All he wished to do was impart what he had learned to help alleviate the suffering of others.

Are those Buddhists who elevate Buddha to god status wrong? No. Are those who do not elevate the Buddha wrong? No. It boils down to an individual choice.

I personally have a statue of Buddha as well as a painted likeness of his face in my home. I do not view Buddha as a god, however, I choose to see him as a teacher whom I love. I have his likeness in my home as a reminder of his teachings and what I am striving to create in my life each day.

(I also have a photo of my Ouma, which reminds me that life is fun and not to be taken too seriously. The Buddha statue and painting, to me, are the same as having that photo of my Ouma)
If You Don't Believe In God, How Can You Be Saved From Sin?

The concept of another making a blood sacrifice for the redemption of others is, again, an Abrahamic concept. In Judaism, Islam and Christianity, the idea of atonement by blood sacrifice exists. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, but later substituted a lamb for the offering. Doves and lambs were used in the Judaic traditions and, the most famous blood sacrifice appears in the Christian tradition with Jesus being crucified.

In Buddhism, it is up to the individual to take responsiblity for his own life and therefore his own 'salvation'. The concept of Karma aids in this. Every action we perform creates a cause. This cause is either helpful or unhelpful. I have written more about Karma here. Buddhists are encouraged to create helpful causes. In taking responsibility for our own lives, we cannot rely on others to 'save' us from ourselves or from the unhelpful causes we have created. We can only create better causes for ourselves and our lives.










Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mid Life Crisis (Part One): A (Not so) Buddhist Perspective

My well meaning, thirty year old chiropractor was rather glib as she announced, "How wonderful! The mid life crisis is an excellent time for spiritual growth." She exclaimed all of this rather gleefully as I sat in my near-to-tears-end-of-the-tether state in her office. I'd poured my heart out about the aches and pains and emotional craziness and the feeling of losing control. And she was like: "Ooh. Yay. Half your life is over." I wanted to smack her.

Clearly, she still has a way to go to enjoy the mid life experience in all its technicolour, volume turned up glory. I was as smug as she was glib: wait till she gets to forty. Ha. Ha.

And that's the other thing. I think that turning forty has turned me snarky. I'm not forty. I am snarky. Next year I'll be snarky one. It's as though the snark setting in my DNA has shifted from "optional" to "default". Pah.



I have not gone out and got myself any of the following traditional mid-life crisis toys and bells and whistles:

Ferrari
Young blonde arm candy
A mohawk
An age inappropriate wardrobe
Plastic Surgery

What I have got is:

A sense that I wasted my entire life up to this point
Life cover
A retirement fund
A gym membership
Severe anxiety attacks that pounce at any given moment without warning
The crushing disappointment that my life didn't turn out the way I had envisioned it when I was ten years old (which I realize is completely ridiculous and I was never going to be the one to solve the mystery of the face on Mars anyway)


Experiencing the mid life transformation is no joking matter, regardless of how many jokes are actually made about it. And yes, it IS a real thing.

Typically, mid-lifers examine their lives and start doing some (what others may think is) very weird shit. Like buying a Ferrari, changing career, dressing differently, going to gym.

For me, there is a bit of that. And a lot of questioning and confusion. And the panic attacks, of course. It is a vastly unpleasant experience. Everything is chaotic. And, it seems, not uncommon. Career, spiritual life, leisure, goals, regrets, anxiety, lack of purpose, life in general. It all seems very much up in the air. Things are changing, beliefs are coming under the spotlight. It's a lot like going through puberty again, but this time knowing better. I can understand why people go for the Ferrari and Plastic Surgery. It would be easy to make the mistake that these things would dispell the uncertainty and craziness.

I've developed an aversion to beige. I have begun wearing more make up. I want to radically change my career and do something "meaningful" with my life. Even though I am not entirely sure what "meaningful" would actually look like if it walked right past me on a bright sunny day.

And since this particular phase echoes the rebellious madness of puberty, there is a strong desire to show the world my middle finger, dust off my Doc Martens and listen to loud music whilst I pout in a darkened room all day.

Which is something that responsible adults at the age of 40 do not do. And, if I am honest, I didn't actually do as a teenager either.

I'll settle with showing the world the middle finger and not wearing beige. Oh. And living my days spouting the following, as it rather nicely sums up just how I feel:




Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rhythm.

Over at Lisa-Jo Baker's blog, each Friday, she challenges writers to write for five whole minutes without stopping, without editing. Join us. This week's prompt: Rhythm.


I have been practicing Nichiren Buddhism since 2004 and up until this year, I used the SGI liturgy. Earlier this year, I started practicing in the style of Nichiren Shu. The liturgy is very similar, the chant remains the same, but with a few differences.

In order to make things more rhythmic, the SGI altered some of the liturgy and shortened a few of the Japanese words. In Nichiren Shu, that is not the case.

And, as one would expect, it completely changes the rhythm of the Practice of Odaimoku.

With SGI, the words seem to run together: Myohorengekyohobenpondaini-nijisesonjusanmaianjoniki....

With Nichiren Shu, there is more space: Myoho-renge-kyo-hoben-pon-dai-ni...

Also with chanting Namu-myo-ho-renge-kyo. In SGI the rhythm is faster: nam-myohorengekyo, but but adding the "u" at the end to nam - Namu - the rhythm slows: namu-myo-ho-renge-kyo.

The result is, for me, a more mindful practice. It goes a little slower, but there is time in those spaces to truly take in what I am chanting, what it means and how it flows. Instead of racing through the chanting of the chapters, I am more contemplative. Instead of simply repeating nam-myohorengekyo over and over, I am aware of the power of the chant.

Altering the rhythm of my practice has altered my practice of Nichiren Buddhism, and ultimately, this alteration will be found in the rhythm of my own life.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Perils of Past Life Regression

BEFORE WE BEGIN...

Many people have found past life regression therapy useful. I am sure that it is. And, as my father advised, "Explore everything and keep only the good."

Everyone's experience is different, and I can only speak of mine. I am not going to dismiss past life regression completely, however, I think it should be approached with some caution, and choosing the practitioner to assist you in your past life journey should be made with the same deliberation and consideration you would use when buying a house.


In 2010, I allowed myself to be placed under deep hypnosis. I was no stranger to hypnosis. I'd had hypnotherapy in 1996 to assist me in working through an episode of depression - and it worked incredibly well. I was comfortable to try it again - this time to assist in beating my compulsive eating disorder.

The hypnotherapist was an enthusiastic young man who asked if I would be interested in looking at past lives. He suggested it may be helpful, but most of all, he had only done a 'few' past life regressions and was both keen and curious about doing more. I too was keen and curious and said, "yes".

What I had neglected to do was heed the words of my friend Simon, who had been for life regression before: "Make sure you're ready. I wasn't. And it took me weeks to recover. And go gently. One life at a time." Pfft. Who needs Simon and his warnings, right?

Right.

During the session I encountered myself in three separate lives. Or rather, I encountered different manifestations of the energy that embodies Tam right now. I was taken back, on each occasion, to the moment of death in the previous lives and that was pretty much it, (experiencing death three times in a row in a 90 minute time period is probably not a good idea) ending with my birth into this current incarnation, which was rather harrowing too.

I was in a daze for several weeks. I didn't feel anything but wonder and curiosity the first couple of days, but after that, I fell into a state of depression as I contemplated one life in particular where I got to see more than the others. The depression lasted several months and thankfully lifted much, much later.

I learned several things:

1. Simon was right.

2. Sometimes doing what Simon says is a good thing

3. Don't do past life regression if you are not truly ready

4. Choose someone who has done more than a 'few' regressions - no matter how keen and enthusiastic they are, nor you, for that matter.

5. Choose someone you're comfortable with and who you feel you can trust

Since the experience, I have not looked into my past lives - not because of the experience of regression, but rather because I've now come to believe that the only life I have influence over is the one I am living now. Are there Karmic issues from those lives. I am sure there are. Are they manifesting in my life right now? I am positive. However, I cannot go an re-live lives already past. I can only live the life I have right now.




Friday, June 7, 2013

Fall.

Five Minute Friday with Lisa-Jo Baker. Five minutes of writing on a prompt.





I have started my life from scratch four times in this particular lifetime.

(Tangent: While I believe in reincarnation, I am not one for going back into all the past lives trying to work out what karmic shit is manifesting and how I can change this or that from a previous life. I intended to write a post on the dangers of past life regression, but haven't got around to it yet. Needless to say, this life, right now, is the one I am living, that I am aware of, and the only one I can affect any change on)

Finding myself at the "from scratch" part was always preceded by some or other dramatic lifechanging event: divorce, then two years later moving from London to rural England after I got out of an abusive relationship, ending another relationship and then moving back to South Africa from England. The before-you-get-to-scratch part is hairy and frightening and earth and soul shaking. It's not pleasant when all these emotions fears surface to challenge you.

And then comes the decision to make a change. And you can stay forever in the decision place because it seems a lot more hopeful than the The before-you-get-to-scratch part or even the from-scratch part. It's comfy over there. Like being swallowed by a nice warm cloud.

The hard part is the fall, the leap, the letting go. After the decision place. After the decision place you actually have to take action and the thing is, the fear hasn't left. But you do it anyway, trusting that it will be okay in the end.

Nearly six years ago, I let go of all I knew in England, gave most of my stuff away, packed 22kilos into my suitcase and returned to South Africa with nothing. Not a thing except the 22 kgs of clothes, books and CDs I brought with me and R 4 000.00 which was enough to get me through one month.

I made the decision. I leapt. I fell. I did it. Was I scared? Yes. Was I unsure? Yes. But sometimes, as the picture says, the only mode of transport is a leap of faith.








Friday, May 31, 2013

Imagine.

Five Minute Fridays with Lisa-Jo Baker. This week's prompt: Imagine. Take five minutes. Write without stopping, editing, backtracking. See what happens.



I was quite taken in by The Secret when it first came out. The whole idea that you change your destiny using ONLY YOUR MIND! I like things like that. You can imagine yourself healthier, fitter, richer, with the partner of your dreams and hey presto the Universe will hand the things you want to you on a plate. How nice is that? Ask and you shall receive. Thoughts become things. Manifest your desires.

What The Secret failed to mention is that you also have to put in the work. It's really nice to think that if you just sat in your lounge and imagined your life as you would like it, the Manifestation Fairy (or, more accurately, according to The Secret, the Manifestation GENIE) would descend from the heavens and grant your three wishes.

No.

Decide what it is you wish to create. Imagine it in detail. Yes, by all means. But also, get off your butt and find a way to make it happen.

My dad was a deeply spiritual Christian and he always said that God helps those who help themselves and who are prepared to meet him halfway. I may be a Buddhist, but I incorporate what he taught me in my Buddhist practice: The Universe helps those who help themselves. Navel gazing, on its on, while nice, will not bring about the realisation of goals.

Om shanti om and all that.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Making Peace With Mother (Part Two)

My mom and dad on their wedding day
2 March 1961

I have written in a previous post that I had a desire to make peace with my mother. As part of that exercise, I was determined to find the good things about her and the good things about our relationship. I was trying to remember the love I felt for her as a child, and the love I had hoped she had felt for me too.

For so very long, I have hated (yes, hated, not disliked, not didn't-get-along-with. HATED) my mother. Yes, she's been dead twelve years, but despite that I continued to hate her for twelve bloody years more after she had left this world and her body turns slowly to dust in the coffin beneath my father's at Westpark Cemetary. Good, I thought. It's good that you're dead. I didn't want to look after you in your old age - you would have been impossible. I am glad you went before dad. I am glad you're dead. Now you can't make my life a misery anymore. I am free! Mwahahahaha!

Except, I wasn't really free. Hate is Tartarus. It's a maximum security prison of our own creation where we allow ourselves to be tormented and punished. And the goalposts continuously change. We think we are doing something when we are hating, but in reality, we are not. Nothing constructive anyway.

I have been seeing a spiritual counsellor because of all my anxiety attacks. He suggested that I write an angry letter to my mother listing, in detail, all the times she hurt me and every event and every time she went nuts and did crazy weird shit. I started the exercise and only got one page in. It seemed like a redundant exercise. I didn't feel it was getting me anywhere. "You must release this anger, get it out, or else you will get sick," he told me, "The energy of your anger is already sitting in  your gall bladder. If you don't release it, you'll get gall stones."

It's nothing new to discover that my mother 'galled' me. And, while I am into all this Louise Hay "your body has a spiritual reason for being ill" thing and that the physical, mental and spiritual are all intertwined and all that, something about vomiting out my anger like this didn't resonate completely. Why? Because, in the car, on the drive to my uncle's funeral, I spewed all of this out for four hours of the six hour drive to Tzaneen, after my cousin Melt made the mistake of telling me how "mellow" my mother was.

And suddenly I was empty. But I didn't know I was empty until yesterday.

Absently, I pulled out a bracelet of my mother's that she gave me when I went to live in England. I never wore it, but it has followed me across an entire continent and to several places in the UK and then back again. Just like that, I snapped the bracelet onto my wrist. Surprised, I looked down at the bracelet and felt... nothing. No animosity, no anger, no hatred, no pain. Just the thought that this was a rather nice bracelet and I was pleased I had kept it.

Looking at that, I realise you might be thinking "big fucking deal.". To me it was. Because I was so opposed to anything to do with my mother, I refused to wear the jewellery I inherited or that she gave me. I kept nothing of hers after she died apart from her rosary and the ring she left me. And the bracelet of course. It was as though everything she had touched while alive was tainted and by that same brush I too, would be tarred.

On Monday I was reminded that every relationship, every encounter with anyone in our lives, is a mirror to ourselves. I was angry at the mother for never giving me a chance, for not understanding me, for hating me, for not being compassionate, for hurting me, for not loving me. But, when I looked in the mirror, what I saw was that I never gave her a chance, I didn't understand her, I hated her, I was not being compassionate, I too hurt her and I too did not love her as much as a mother deserved.

This revelation was the point of transformation for me, a place for forgiveness to creep in. Because let's face it, my mother probably doesn't give a shit one way or the other how I feel about her. She's been dead for twelve years. The only person keeping her here is me and I am keeping her here just to yell at her and tell her how shit she is and how she fucked up my life. And these are all things that I accused her of doing.

It's not that I am 'better than that' or that I am 'being the better person' by forgiving her. That's not what it's about and that is not what forgiveness should be about. By 'being the better person' all I am saying is that I am superior to her, and that is not consistent with the spirit of forgiveness.

Forgiveness, I believe, is a letting go. A release. A realisation that all this shit stuff that I believe fucked up my life doesn't actually matter in the here-and-now present moment. In her way, my mother did what she felt was best. I am not saying I agree with what she did, or that it is all suddenly okay and that anyone's mother can treat their kid the way I was treated and it's fine. No. That's not what this is. This is a decision from my side to stop hurting my mother and myself. To let it go. To stop the process of hatred and pain. My mother hated her mother before I hated her. I saw nothing wrong with Ouma, but she did. Just like my nephew adored his Nonna and I hated her. The cycle of hatred for mothers in my family needs to end. It's time.

And I am done. I am done being angry and upset and tired and exhausted. I am done telling the world how crazy - institutionalisably crazy - Yes. I made that word up. And the punctuation that went with it - my mother was.


I am done with blaming you, Mom. I am done with the hurt. I am sorry I hated you so long.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Forty.



So. I have reached the milestone of forty. They say that life begins at forty. Two days in and I am still waiting for the drum roll, the angel dust, the fireworks. No angel has descended to hand me a certificate to congratulate me on making it this far. Or to hand me the "Your Life's Instruction Manual" I've been waiting for. Has my midlife transformation transformed? No. Have I achieved enlightenment while sipping wine and sitting under the pepper tree? No. (And if age is an indicator of enlightenment, and Buddha achieved his at 35, then I am long bloody overdue. Maybe it was the wrong tree. Or the wine.)

I was considering sharing tales of my adventures through my thirties (becoming a Buddhist, returning to South Africa, marrying my lovely wife), but I am done looking back.  I could share some pieces of advice I've received over the years, which have always stood me in good stead (always take a breath mint when it is offered), but people rarely follow the advice of others. I did think about sharing some wisdom (everyone is a reflection, we are all Buddhas), but frankly, I can't be arsed right now to sit and type out all that stuff about What It All Means. Besides, not every slice of wisdom is for everyone and not everything I may consider to be wise, is. After all, I do believe in flying saucers and space aliens and the existence of the chupacabra. And the yeti. And a whole host of other things.

I thought I'd go all Oprah instead and tell you what I know to be true:

LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO BE DRINKING CHEAP AND NASTY WINE.



Friday, May 24, 2013

View.


This week's five minute Friday prompt is VIEW. Take a look at Lisa-Jo Baker's blog for details, do your own five minutes, post it and leave a comment so I can go take a look at yours.



" ...the journey from Kamakura to Kyoto takes twelve days. If you travel for eleven but stop with only one day remaining, how can you admire the moon over the capital?" - Nichiren Shonin from The Writings of Nichiren Shonin

In Nichiren Buddhism there is a concept known as Ichinen Sanzen, meaning that each moment of each day contains three thousand possibilities, containing each of the ten worlds. or ten lifestates (These are Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Humanity, Heaven, Learning, Realization, Bodhisattva and Buddhahood).

Coco choosing her view
from the apricot tree
Our view of our lives is coloured by which ever world/lifestate we are standing in at any given moment. Each world is interlinked and exists within the other. We can be in a state of anger, yet we can also find Buddhahood in there. And Hunger, and Learning and Bodhisattva and all the rest. We could be in a state of Heaven (also known as Rapture) and still experience the lifestate of Hell simultaneously.

The good news is that we can shift our lifestate. We can choose how we view each moment of each day.

Richard Causton, in his book, Buddha in Daily Life, tells a story of how he and a friend are driving together on a gray, cloudy day. Richard thinks the landscape and the sky is beautfiul, his friend thinks it's depressing and terrible. Why? They are looking at the same scenery. How should it be different?

It's not the view that changes, it's the viewer. And the viewer changes according to the lifestate we choose to view things from. And the keyword here is CHOOSE. You choose your view.

Thirty.

This is my favourite photo of me. I was 28. It was taken at a time in my life that was in terrible turmoil and I was experiencing a great deal of emotional pain, and, for some reason, this small portrait from a difficult time is so very beautiful.

It serves, sometimes, as a reminder, that even in the face of the greatest adversity, there are small moments of beauty, which are worth acknowledging. I wasn't a Buddhist then, but as a Buddhist now, it makes sense as there is Buddhahood in every moment - even the awful ones. We just need to go find it. And often, we only get to see it in retrospect

When I got to thirty, I had already been married, divorced, lived in four different countries, had my dream job, lost my dream job, survived an abusive relationship and came out of the closet.

I had realised that none of what I believed to be true for my life was  true. I walked away from the Catholic Church and was spiritually drifting. Still a little shell shocked from the experiences I had had, I was cautious in the world, yet determined to reclaim every single ounce of my power and to rediscover who I was.

I lived in a little village called Greetham in rural England. It was idyllic and calming and just the thing to help me calm down and return to myself after a rather eventful decade.

I realised that I knew nothing about life and the world and that was okay. The smug Catholic I once was, who thought that all the answers were found in the Bible, was gone. I had a clean slate. I could become anyone I wanted to be, and still make mistakes and still know nothing, but it would all be okay.

I had an eccentric group of new friends. I was reading books on spirituality and finding one's purpose and getting past trauma. Even though the years leading up to thirty were harrowing, thirty itself was a good year to just take stock of my life and the direction I wanted it to go. I still had no idea what that was, though. I still don't, even now.