P N C O

Mostly photography, with the occasional philosophical contemplation

Mortality

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Reading Buddhist literature makes me question mortality and impermanence. Or not so much question, it makes me think of it.
In fact, it’s such an obvious fact that we’re all going to die that it’s almost weird that we tend to look the other way. We picture it a great drama or keep it far from our every day life. But death does not seem normal in the west. We tend not to talk about it.

I think i’d rather follow the Buddhist advice, which is to think of impermanence and death all the time.
It may sound depressing, but I know from my own experience it’s not. It actually helps to deal with difficult situations more easily.

Why quarrel and fight if you could die tomorrow?

And yet all these things – or distractions – lure our minds into busily debating sports, politics and the latest technical gadgets. Short term happiness is what we strife for.

But in the end we’re going to die. Even if we amass great quantities of wealth, we can’t take any riches with us. Why not give up attachment right now? Why not stop fighting over unimportant matters? Would it not be wise to consider death some more?

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25: Priorities

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Sometimes i wonder if i’ve got my priorities straight. The amount of distraction can be overwhelming from time to time. Willingly i let myself get carried away by endless little things which keep me from seeing what truly is important. Yet all of this existence, whether i am aware or distracted, will dissolve in the end. Like a bubble floating on the surface of a rapid river, my life can end at any point.

I used to fear death and i tried to hide this fear from myself by endlessly distracting myself. I could get caught up in gaming, having fun with friends or randomly surfing the internet. But i knew that i couldn’t hide forever. When i was younger, death had already visited me a couple of times. At one time, thinking about the incredible size of the universe somehow ended up with thoughts of death being the only certainty. And a few years later, in my first year of high school during a lunch break all over sudden i realized that all of these individuals that were there with me at that time sooner or later would die. Not an easy thing to digest as a young teenager.

So i know death has always been with me. Not so much in the physical sense, though i did see my grandparents go. Death has long been a reality in my thoughts and mind. I just wasn’t ready for it just yet. I first had to undergo suffering. The lesson came when out of the blue a former roommate of mine died. It took me many years to really deal with his loss. Eventually i found a way to cope with the loss which death brings. But i hadn’t come closer to death itself.

This all changed once i got interested in Buddhism. Death is a major part in philosophy and religion and Buddhism is no exception. When i read Buddhist teachings i soon found out that there was this openess about the reality of death, the emphasis on the importance of understanding our own mortality. It would be foolish to ignore such a basic fact, and yet if i looked back at my life, it was precisely what i had done. And what was taught to me in school, by the media and the social structure. Death was ugly, something to put away and not to look at.

In the last few years i’ve learned to look my enemy straight in its eyes. And i saw that he was not my enemy at all, but a teacher and a friend. Death taught me to see the fear within me. Death itself is nothing to fear, but the change which accompanies it, is something we may find hard to accept. But death is coming regardless. So every now and then i try to take some time to really experience the reality of death. Each moment, each second brings me closer to death. It is not something to become depressed about or sad. Rather, i use this as an opportunity to check whether i have got my priorities straight.

Life became so much simpler, so much easier once i’d accepted the reality of death. There is always this basic ground to resort back to in times of difficulties. Is this really worth all the suffering? Does it help me to understand and accept my mortality? Or is it just a mindless distraction which does not help me on my life’s path? Most of the time i’ll know within an instant that i was taking a detour, instead of being aware of the reality of death. I now try to be guided by the certainty of death. In a way it can be liberating once you allow death into your life. As long as you keep death out, you keep yourself from being whole.

I’d like to explain the image i choose with this blog. The patterns on the photo remind me of bubbles. The bubbles in the stream i’ve talked about earlier. They represent our lives. Vulnerable, very easy to break and very short lived. Yet we think we will live eternally. But reality shows us that everything which is born, will ultimately die. Next time you see a stream of water, or perhaps even your cup of coffee or tea, be aware of the few bubbles. That’s us, our lives, fleeting moments within time. Choose death as your friend and teacher, instead of as an enemy to be feared. If you become more aware of death in your life, you’ll be able to appreciate the value of life more. You’ll find it easier to make a distinction between what is important in life and what is not. And you will be able to let go of a lot of things you don’t really need. Realize that our life is like a bubble. Don’t hold onto it, you’ll have to let it go in the end anyway.

I’d like to close with a few lines from the Diamond Sutra, a famous Buddhist teaching which has inspired me a lot and helped me to deal with the subject of death

“So I say to you –
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:”

“Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.”

“So is all conditioned existence to be seen.”

Thus spoke Buddha.


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Re-minding

The mind is such a weird creature. It could have its own episode at ‘weird wonders of nature’. Its capability to create everything ranging from beautiful to grotesque, its illusive nature.. only when it is looked into by scrutinizing analysis, can we learn to see some of its workings. If we leave the mind without looking into its nature and essence, the mind will not be seen for what it is. The trickery of the mind is grand, so our investigation should be thorough.

A good first step into our research is to calm the mind. Mindfulness can create a spaciousness which makes it possible to see how the mind operates. To just be aware of what is going in the mind, gives one the opportunity to recognize and break free from the habitual patterns which normally dominate our experience. To see through our feelings, thoughts and inner demons is a task which demands determination and diligence. At first one may run away, but with time it becomes increasingly better to stay focused and aware.

Another great way of working with the mind is focusing on loving kindness and compassion. To open oneself to the reality that all beings want to be free from suffering and want to be happy, helps to break out of the confinement of self grasping. We are all interconnected.  Once this truth is realized, the circle of compassion can be widened from our loved ones and friends to strangers, animals and our enemies. Mindful giving of love and compassion combined with taking in all the suffering from others is a powerful tool to transform ourselves. At first it may seem odd to take in the suffering of others, while giving away your best, but as time progresses it becomes natural to wish for the best for others. It actually is a great recepy for happiness and joyfullness. 

As one becomes familiar with the workings of the mind, the path to wisdom and clarity lies in resting the mind. This was written as a friendly reminder to myself. May it be of benefit. 


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The lessons in life
Inspire to struggle and learn
Challenging everything familiar
To go and look beyond what I know

Pushing me to let go more and more
Of what once was considered important
Opening up new possibilities
To help others without a regret

As life becomes transparent and simple
The need to cling and grasp subsides
Life points the way
Gratitude is my companion
Compassion is her shield

Being fully open to the present
Is all that life requires

Calm breathing

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When the body is in unrest, the mind is in unrest
When the mind is at rest, the body can rest
When the body is at rest, the mind can rest
How wonderful this connection between body and mind

No wonder that so many practices focus on the breath. The key to unlock the connection between body and mind.

As Thich Nhat Hahn teaches in this practice (in your thought say the words on in-breath and out- breath)
In                                Out
Deep                          Slow
Calm                          Ease
Smile                         Release
Present                     Moment
Wonderful               Moment

 

Compassion

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6e opzet-44

As there is this creative mood at the time, i might as well utilize it. For pretty much the first time i worked with layers and it turned out quite good. What an easy way to filter out unwanted details..
This image is inspired by a thangka from the Buddha of Compassion, Chenrezig. He has multiple arms so he’s fully equipped to help beings. One of my aspirations is to help others and myself, so i feel connected to the message of Chenrezig. It’s mantra is very famous across the Himalayas, and probably around the world by now. The mantra goes like this: Om Mani Padme Hum
One can accumulate this mantra by reciting it, either by saying or whispering (when you’re not alone ;)) the text, or perhaps sing it in a melodious voice. If you want to hear the mantra in the latter category, please listen to the following beautiful recording as sung by nun Ani Choying Drolma: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flvo0QA-AnE

And my personal favorite is another mantra (Om Ah Hung Bendza Guru Pema Siddhi Hung) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ID7h3ys7qHI
To close of, some great advice by Quantumreceptor:

“Please do not forget, when practicing compassion we must always remember wisdom. Wisdom without compassion is cold and hard and compassion without wisdom is too soft and allows us to be taken advantage of.”


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Boeddha Shakyamuni klein

I realize that it’s quite a while since i last blogged about anything different from photography. But lately i feel inspired to also give some attention to writing, as i was reminded of the fun of writing. Just got back from 2 weeks of working for the tour of my Buddhist teacher. At the end of it was a 5 day silent retreat. Really interesting how 2 weeks not doing the regular job can shift things. Before the tour i was wondering what it would be like, whether things would go as planned and how the retreat would be. Now it’s all retrospect. And yet it’s all still so fresh.

I’ve noticed that the balance inside has shifted. Perhaps more than once. It’s very interesting to watch the movement of the mind. A few years ago i would be left perplexed by the process, but as i get to know the process better i now know what is the most important. And it’s surprisingly simple. Rest the mind. The rest will follow naturally. And perhaps you’re now thinking ‘easier said than done’. And it is, exactly because of our mind. So used to habitual behavior of chatting, thinking, judging and liking and disliking, the mind becomes uncomfortable once you enter the silent space within.

It has been a week since the retreat ended and my mind seems to be quite happy to be out of the silent zone. It got me engaged in some pretty rusty habits again and it’s trying its best to convince me that these habits are good for me and enjoyable. But as my mood gets worse, i know that these habits are actually not good for me. This was what helped me to give up on drinking. I noticed that each time i drank, the next few days i was more edgy, less patient, less friendly, less happy, less relaxed, less rested. I’ve once heard that nothing can stand scrutinizing observing. Perhaps that did the trick for me. Cause i tried to force myself out of using alcohol, but the same force came back to me with a big smile (and an even bigger hangover of course 😉 ).

So now that i understand my inner workings better, i can see that i’ve made quite a few improvements in my life the last few years. In a way i’ve found more balance. But the mind is still resisting the new lifestyle which includes yoga and meditation. It’s not yet comfortable with being silently present all the time. The chatter still springs up from time to time. My guess is that it has to do with deeper layers of inner work which needs to be done. There are quite some themes which deserve attention. To name a few: working with fear, insecurity, uncertainty. Buddhist practice has helped me to see beyond all these layers, it’s now up to me to clean everything which blocks me from seeing unobstructed. The true nature of the mind is clear, the thoughts and habits are like the clouds blocking the sun. And so looking back to the last few weeks, i can see that i’ve removed a few blockages, then stood on a box before falling down again and stumbling over the debree.

The good thing is that there is no need to improve anything. Again, just resting the mind is enough. It can be achieved by resting the body. I just know that my mind can’t understand that there is nothing to improve, that everything is perfect. All its life it was taught that to be someone, it had to work hard, strive to be someone, to become the best it needed to improve all day every day. And now there is this teacher in my life who paints a different picture. A clear picture, one in which everything is perfect just as it is. I really need to learn to balance between the old and the new. Cause being switched from one to the other is yet more suffering. So it’s great to see that there is so much to learn still. With trust in my teacher, i know that i’ll overcome all obstacles, one by one. Even if it takes a lifetime. Cause with his example and the support of the teachings and the students, the sky is no longer the limit. For the clear sky is already here, shining from within.

Deep in yourself, deep within all the turmoil of daily life, way below the waves of aggression, jealousy, desire, hope, fear and doubt, there is a calm ocean. Abide in there and you will calm down too.
* quote inspired by my yoga teacher

Inspiration

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Inspiration

The nature of mind
Empty full of compassion
Heartwarming presence
Touching moving gently
Subtly carrying the winds
Everything changes
Everything connected
Death like life like dream
Wake up the heart
Invitation to see
Naked openness
Fearless loving

Light Aware Mindful Presence

 

 


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Out of the closet

Today I found out what an interesting thing the mind is. And for your information, this blog won’t be about my sexual preference 😉
As I was sitting in the train I wanted to do a bit of mantra recitation using a rosary. I did it the last few days, though I always tried to keep the rosary out of sight. Today while traveling it was way more crowded and so it felt inconvenient to do the mantras.
When I made my transfer it was more quiet and the next station was forty minutes travel, so I started there.

While doing the practice I noticed an ever increasing feeling of uneasiness and tightening in my stomach area. Even while I write this hours later, I can still feel the knot. This brings me back to the mind. I know that this has to do with I, the word and the thoughts, ideas and feelings which make up this concept. As a student of Buddhism I’ve been introduced to the idea that there is no separate entity called Pieter which lives independently from the world in which I live.
This idea really helps me to understand what is going on under the surface. Somehow I fear that people might see me doing practice. I meditated once at a pretty open and busy spot in the woods and while I sat there someone passed me and looked at me for quite some time. At that time there was also the tight knot in my stomach. Somehow I feel exposed.

This brings me to the title of this blog. It’s almost like I have the idea that I need to separate between my normal self and my spiritual self. Like there’s any difference.. the mind wants to control how I appear to the outside, so anything threatening this control will result in a response from both body and mind.
Today I was very keen on not being seen while reciting mantras. This eagerness to secrecy created the tension. As I noticed the rising of this sensation in the days before this, I know that the difference lies in my response to the sensations. Today I gave in to the fear of being seen as weird etc. And because of that I started experience more fear as a result.

This whole process is so interesting to watch unfolding as it is happening. Yes, there is discomfort. But I don’t have to fight it. The real nasty feeling is all due to the labeling of the mind. The knot in itself is neither good nor bad. My resistance to it is what keeps it in place.

So I’ve come to the conclusion yet again that much if not everything I hold for my ‘I’ is actually made up out of resistance (to what was and to what is). The past can only live on in the present, so a lot of what has happened in the past survives because of my resistance to it – whether on a conscious or sub/unconscious level.

As I remember hearing Adyashanti say, there will be resistance in the progress. But don’t resist the resistance.

So I let go of my efforts to ease the discomfort and instead shed a bit of light in the darkness. I have to come out of hiding.
Yes, I am a person engaged in spirituality.
Yes, I practice Buddhism.
And as a note to myself: and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

The Eye

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Het oog

For the best view, see it large!

This image is the result of playing around with a photograph of a rainbow. At times i have a creative mood in which i start with an image and use the photo software to create something entirely different, most of the time fictitious and abstract. But it also resembles something of me and the creative process.

Now that i wrote that last sentence, i realize this also goes for this image. Life can be bright and colorful, if i am able to look and see it with my own eyes. If i block the view, life turns dark. But as the eye shows, its always up to me to take a look. Life is there, i just have to open my eye to experience it.

And to go one step further, i like to see the world not as different from me, but as one interdependent whole in which everything is interconnected. Nothing exists by itself, and yet nothing is entirely separate. All is contained within the whole.

All is well, even if nothing is well. And so i embrace the darkness and see it as the light of my own being…


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A dedication to Pooh

Pooh2Pooh

Today a bit longer post, since i feel that i want to write some things of my chest.

My deer feline friend Pooh is suffering from Diabetes. For the last few months it’s been on and off to the vet, trying to restore his blood sugar to normal levels. Sadly giving him insulin hasn’t worked out. So now he’s no longer on insulin, only on diet cat food. He is experiencing increasing difficulty in walking and it’s sad to see him not being able to do what a cat normally does.

In meeting with his suffering i receive an important lesson from Pooh. He shows me what it means to be truly compassionate. As his health decreases a motherly care came over me. At the same time i was confronted with me being attached to him. This mixture has caused quite some confusion within me as i try to help him without projecting my own fears and insecurities onto him. Pooh is a powerful mirror!

As i practice and follow the Buddhist path, i´m confronted with my own impermanence. Nothing lasts forever, so it is only natural to have to let go of the ones you love. But earlier experiences in my life have made it difficult for me to accept it once it´s really up close and personal. As i don´t want Pooh to suffer, neither do i want to suffer. And yet, the truth is that there is always going to be a little inconvenience, or major pain in our lives. To see Pooh accepting his faith without complaints is really an inspiration.

I never expected this moment to have come, to see my little friend suffer like this. I guessed part of me had the childish belief that they would live for a long time. I never realized that a cat could get seriously ill. And yet, that is the case now. The vet told me the last time i was there that Pooh is no longer having a cat-worthy existence. And that might be true. I don’t know, never been in this situation before. I see him having difficulty walking and yet i also still see his essence shine on through.

So i did a little research on the internet and with friends, asking what would be the best to do. Putting your good friend to sleep is no easy decision. And from a Buddhist perspective it’s better to let the animal die a natural death. I don’t know at this point what to do. I’ve noticed that i’ve been delaying making the decision for weeks now. These two views run counter to each other, but they exist side by side in my mind. On the one hand i don’t want Pooh to suffer and so i think it’s best to put him to sleep, and on the other hand i want to give him the opportunity to die a natural death. I don’t know how long it will take before Pooh will die of a natural cause and i don’t know how much he suffers. It is not my intention to make him suffer more. But i find it hard to having to take the decision to put him to sleep.

And so my mind has been in confusion for quite a few weeks now. It affects me on quite a few levels, though i’m beginning to see that maintaining the daily practice and relaxing the mind by meditation and mindfulness will help me best as i go through this phase. It’s weird to allow the grief to be here, while Pooh is still alive. But on the other hand, denying the grief only makes it stronger. So as i try to do my best, i realize that there is no true answer to it all. And so i wish for wisdom to do what is right and to support Pooh the best way i can.

Thank you for reading!