The Winter Landscape – Open & Alive

6-30 AM – MONDAY MORNING IN EAST LONDON

The buzzing of clock alarm, the whirling of thoughts, the creaking of body and bed, the uninvited call from downstairs – all orchestrated ‘ cock crows ‘ that lets me know that it‘s time for me to rise. I turn over, in half sleep, and pull the duvet over my head trying to ignore the outside world, but with little success. I sometimes wonder if there is anything worse in life than leaving a warm, comfortable bed on a bitter cold, winter morning. I arise eventually and take a cursory glance out of my bedroom window. A darkish grey sky looks down on drifts of snow that have mounted every contour of this urban setting. The street lamps are still on, dimly outlining scurrying figures making their way to appointments, meetings and other forms of busy-ness I wash, dress and breakfast alone…. I haven’t managed to venture out in awhile, owing to a bad cold that has gripped me. But feeling slightly better this morning, I make a strong resolve to break free from my hitherto house bound existence and go for a walk. Wrapping up as warmly as I can – and taking a last minute look at my inflamed nose in the hallway mirror – I venture out to the call…..

On entering the park I sight no visitors – it seems like a desolate wasteland now, so different
from the summer months of marked human activity. The ducks are nestling on the small island, seemingly undisturbed by the onslaught of winter and my presence. The trees are stripped bare of their leaves and creaking in the cold, as if in pain. Nearby is a rotting knurled tree stump, just visible through the snow, moving back from its current physical form into the invisible realm from where it came. Once fine standing and full leafed, this tree must have concealed many stories but now, on this winter’s day, it goes deeper into death with each falling snowflake.
A large, diseased bush, totally barren, is also making its journey into oblivion from its previous summer of remembered fine bloom. A batch of crisp brown, curled leaves are visible in the wind-swept corner of the park keeper’s lodge, where the snow has failed to penetrate. But soon these too will be making their departure from this realm of existence. My thoughts then deepen around this uncomfortable reality of anicca ( impermanence ) that pervades all conditioned phenomena, including the aggregate conditions labeled ‘ tree,’ ‘ bush,’ ‘ leaf, ‘and ‘ me.’ Anicca is such a tiny word to describe such an awesome, universal process that will take me away from all that I have known and loved – this park, this neighbourhood, this life of mine with all its interwoven connectedness to the people I dearly care about. Relationships as deeply rooted and solid as the surrounding oak trees. Yet the Buddha’s voice, a constant call of awareness, rings out to me: “ Attachment, attachment. ” But how can I really engage with this precious life, give of myself – the very best that I can – unless I’m fully involved and heart committed, attached, attached, attached…..

I walk further into the park unaware of my slightly sombre mood until I notice a solitary robin, with full red breast, sitting on an evergreen shrub adorned with bright berries. I pause to watch awhile in cheerful fascination, but the bird is alerted to my presence and takes to the wing.
In the borders are other shrubs, deciduous ones that have shed their leaves for the winter’s rest. All of nature is resting now, in this season of rest, yet I’m still engaged with busyness, allowing it to push me all over the place as if it was the only legitimate mode of operating. If only I could learn to ease myself into a space of cessation, a reparative ‘ pause ‘ without having to carry all the attendant feelings of guilt and anxiety.
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The winter’s dispatch of chill winds bite into me, and challenge the wisdom of my decision to venture out this morning. I have never liked harsh winters – temperamentally I seem to be drawn towards the warmer seasons – yet I do feel something of spiritual depth here, in this boreal landscape. This part of London is the very place of my birth – the home of my ancestors – and in every road, and every street there are quiet hidden truths for me to gather up, if I am prepared to make myself available for their gift of insight and awakening. Today, here, now, in the lonely human figures that make their way through the deep snow, in the winter winds that traverse this city setting; bursting out of every snowflake, everywhere, is the whisper of Dharma awaiting my engagement. Sutras of realization about the beauty of the natural world, the earth’s cycle of seasonality, universal interconnectedness / interdependence and of course, the lapping tide of impermanence that will take it all away eventually…….

Turning away from the park, into an adjacent street, a noise of children increasingly becomes audible. I continue in curiosity until I reach a local primary school. Glancing around the playground my eyes cannot but follow, and absorb, the myriad of play activity that the children are immersed in. The snow, which causes many adults, many problems, seems only to add to the pleasure of the children’s recreation in this winter theatre-land. I clearly recall my own childhood being immersed in play, story and adventure until the dark shadow of adulthood descended and I had to leave it all behind to take up the burden of duty, obligation and responsibility…
Within Tibetan Buddhism the First Turning of the Dharma Wheel is the recognition that all life is precious, that all life is sacred. And within this bitter, frozen street, in this ‘ ordinary ‘ part of east London, on a day when my health is poor, I cannot do anything but reverentially bow my head in acknowledgement of this supreme teaching.

Deeper into penetrative thought, I walk on…. Feeling very cold, I try to bury my neck in my pulled up, coat collar and sink my hands in the furthest reaches of my coat pockets to avoid the onslaught of algidity. Alert, like some artic explorer on a glacier edge, I continue on with my journey. Trying to attend to the cumbersome rhythm of my walking, I follow the contours of snowdrifts that are trying to re-define this city terrain. Suddenly, in an intensified still moment of really looking the randomness of accumulated snowflakes seem to be moulding and shaping a beauty of monumental significance, not unlike a cathedral.


HOME TO MEDITATION……SEEKING REFUGE

As I close the front door and leave the bitter cold winds snapping behind me, a feeling of homecoming rises up within. How happy I have been living in this house over the years. This collection of timbers and bricks that have given me such a strong sense of identification and belonging. Its caring, nurturing spaces have slowly grown around my needs and desires in significant and inspirational ways that I cannot really articulate, even now. It habours my moods, keeps privy to my secrets and in times of hurt and pain, it contributes to my healing. I sleep deep in dreams within its walls. The same walls, book – lined, that allow words to come to me when I’m writing, words that that I need to hear. Its rooms create points of solitude for me to explore, peacefully and restfully, within the context of flowing, unified life. And these points are filled with my silence, the silence of my days, the silence of my life. Always welcoming and comforting when I return, this house is a shelter, a refuge and a sanctuary.

Feeling better after my walk, in good heart I decide to take to the cushions for a short meditation session. There are those days when I struggle and wrestle with my practice that sets me wondering why I persist with it, apparently with so little reward. But then moments of elated bliss do manage to break the surface, if only momentarily, helping to push me into a stream of encouragement and desire to deepen that experience. And when this happens, when I’m immersed in this feeling of bliss, the entire house becomes a retreat – a temple.

Because of a bout of coughing I have to arise from my meditation and take a drink. I soon return to the cushions….
Despite years of practice I still feel that I’m journeying into my mind – this vast country of mystery and wonder – very much a stranger. Confronting at every turn fear, doubt, anxiety, uncertainty. But in the very depths of meditation – full and supreme – there is no real fear, doubt, anxiety, uncertainty simply because there is no thought.

And with no thought – there is no suffering, no pain
With no thought – there is no mind, no body
With no thought – there is no cushion, no sitter
With no thought – there is no beginning, no end, no here, no there, just meditation………