P N C O

Mostly photography, with the occasional philosophical contemplation

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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Farewell dear Pooh

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My dear friend Pooh has left the earthly plane today. He had become very skinny and almost didn’t eat and drink any longer. 2 years ago we were in a similar situation, but back then i had the feeling that his life was not over yet. This time it felt different. It felt that he was ready to leave. So when i came home from the vet yesterday, i thought about what he said. He told me it was better for him to go to sleep. I could not decide immediately but after a few hours i realized that he was right and that i was ok with Pooh having to go.

So this afternoon the vet came and gave Pooh the injections which caused his death. Pooh was calm and died within no time. I’ve been doing a lot of Buddhist practice the last few days and playing a lot of Vajrasattva mantras for him. Pooh was to me a true Bodhisattva, a big hearted lovely creature who taught me patience, being calm and how to rest when turmoil is trying to take over the mind. I am thankful of the many years we have shared together and i wish him a safe journey to the other side.

OM MANI PADME HUNG

21: All clear

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Soon all will be clear
Bare trees remind of the fact
We’re all born naked

Stretching our being
Branching into ground and air
Longing warmth and food

Sheltering within
The ever presence of mom
As we learn and grow

Independence calls
Us to grow to great new heights
Let mom and dad go

The cycle goes on
Each new family member
Is like a small tree

Finally we reach
For the top of the forest
Seeing miles ahead

Our destiny clear
One day we’re naked again
Waiting for our death

14: Nature’s Sonnet

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Life of a Tree

As a tree admires her beauty by looking into her own reflection
Water flows gently beneath and carries along her mirror image
Birds singing from the canopy come down to see the spectacle
A moment in time connects the tree to her own past lifetime
Once she stood firmly and proud on the banks of the forest creek
She was a home and shelter to many animals who befriended her
Her roots went all the way down deep below the water level
The crown on her head was majestic full of the greenest leaves
Years went by as she grew and grew with many seasons passing
She saw humans dramatically change the landscape around her
But the forest was left untouched and remained a peaceful sanctuary
With her birth ground safe she started giving in to gravity
Letting go of her connection to both the air and the ground below
Her the faithful task was to become a bridge between life and death

6: Winter, Spring and everything in between

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In the Netherlands the climate is moderate. The winters are not too harsh and the summers are not too hot. Because of this, i’m not always aware of the changing of the season. There is just a constant flow of the seasons coming and passing. Right now it’s summer and in a few months autumn will be here again. The cyclic nature of the seasons has always been there, but the way i see this cycle has changed a lot since i was young. When i was young, there was the expectation of hot summers at the beach and snow at Christmastime. It was all about enjoying the possibilities each season held.

Now i observe the seasons from a different perspective. Spring means i can start going out again with the camera more easily, do some work in the garden or just sit and relax outside. Winter triggers me to go inside. Both on an external and internal level. Like the bears who go into hibernation, i tend to become a little more seclusive and contemplative during wintertime. And springtime brings the much needed sunshine. After all the long dark nights, it takes some time to recharge the batteries and start enjoying the arrival of spring.

The most important thing i’ve learned to observe is that everything is impermanent. Although things may seem solid and build to last hundreds or thousands of years, in the end everything which is made will eventually break down again. Glasses and cups fall to the ground and break, flowers grow until they fade away, and grandparents are there until they pass away.
At first i was quite intimidated by impermanence. With my youthful enthusiasm i thought that life would last forever and that i would always be healthy and sporty no matter what. But when a good friend and also former roommate suddenly passed away at the age of 28, i realized after going through a lot of denial, pain and frustration, that i am going to die one day too.

And that’s why it has become important for me to recognize and acknowledge impermanence. Not to be nihilistic, but more in a sense that i become more sensitive to the changing which is happening all the time. Every moment is impermanent. Everything changes, although we might not recognize this. Some things we can easily learn to deal with, as they are mostly on a mental level. Take for instance cold and hot. We suffer a lot because of these two. In the office, a colleague might think it’s too hot and open the window. Then another colleague will start complaining that it’s cold. So why would i bother with this? If it’s warm, then it’s ok. If it’s cold, that’s also ok. I can dress accordingly. Accepting the inevitable change of the weather makes life so much easier. It helped me to actually enjoy the rain instead of feeling sorry for myself for becoming wet. By seeing the larger picture, i can now see the benefit the rain brings to farmers and the land.

To come back to the image. This young fern was at the start of its life and now a few months later i’m sure it has grown a lot bigger. And at the end of the year all of it will be gone again, after the seeds have been spread onto the earth. In the end it doesn’t really matter that the fern grows or dies. What matters is its relationship with everything else. Without the earth, without the rain, without the shade of the trees, without the sunshine, there would be no ground for the fern to grow. And the same goes for us. We tend to cling so much to what we want and who we are, but we tend to forget that we can only be in relationship to everything. Not to mention that there is just one me and 7 billion other humans. Pretty presumptuous to say to myself that i’m the most important one huh?

For me the journey is now about honoring the relationship, the interdependence of things. It’s about the act, the doing. Not the subject or object, but the verb. Cause everything changes, everything flows. We are all part of this flow, we can not be separated from this flow even if we think we can. And even if we separate ourselves by living our illusory dreams and thoughts in our minds, we’re still one with the flow. So i’ve decided that i will just let go. As said in the movie Waking Life: “Go with the flow. The sea refuses no river”

3: Butterflying my life

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I´m always amazed by all the beautiful butterflies. So delicately build and yet so agile in flight. They´re in our stomach for a reason. Tingling, joyful, exciting, almost too much too bear. And yet also very gentle, colorful and peaceful. They call to me in a way i can´t describe.

The most amazing part of the butterfly is its capability to transform. Starting as a small caterpillar, they morph into pupa before the final metamorphosis is completed. I often feel the same. One day someone said to me i was not yet showing who i really was and he compared me to a butterfly in pupa stage. Funny enough i sometimes feel like that. Knowing that it’s me who prevents the final transformation. Luckily every night i sleep under a blanket filled with butterflies.. and i’m working on transforming myself. I’ve come to realize it’s all about letting go. Letting go of my expectations, of thoughts, feelings and ideas about who i should or should not be.

In this way the butterfly becomes a powerful reminder to wake up to what’s actually here. Dealing with everything as it is, is so useful. At this moment there is no need to improve anything. Once the moment is here, it is all here. Nothing is left out. So i can rest and just enjoy whatever arises. If i make the transition or not is not even the point, cause everything i need is already here. I just need to recognize. Clearing my thoughts, creating space by being mindful and meditating, accepting.. all are part of the ongoing process of self(less) inquiry.

Searching for the truth has always led me to the same conclusion, whatever angle i used to tackle it. See the ego for what it really is. For me it’s the cocoon. It has its purpose and is very useful in my every day life, but it is not who i really am. The first time i recognized i was identifying myself as the cocoon, it was wild. I could feel the space which lay beyond. But also there was fear and anxiety. What would happen, once i let go of this cocoon, of this protection i had been carrying for so many years?

I’m still learning to let go of the cocoon. Every now and then i get the change to see through the holes which are now there and see the wild open spaciousness which lies ahead. The experiences have shown me that this spaciousness is my true home. Pure from the beginning, simple and full of love, wisdom and understanding. Which gives me the breathing space i need to deal with the cocoon which is still here. No longer it is necessary to fight it. As the caterpillar´s instinct tells it to create the cocoon, so i now know from deep down inside that everything is ok. I know it´s safe to let go. With the cracks appearing in the cocoon, i can taste more and more of the freedom which lies ahead of me. And with that i´ve learned that death too is another transformation.

Am i ready to let go?

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

 

 

The Beauty in Impermanence

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A Tulip decaying

A Tulip decaying

Impermanence

Once we’re willing to look deeply into life
Seeing that all what we work for and strife
Is shattered at the inevitable end of us all
We all know nobody can escape death’s call

We can wish for eternal existence
Hold on to what is most dear
But in the end death is always near
Accepting this fact of life will lead to freedom

 


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Slowly dying sunset

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Slowly dying sunset

Slowly the sun glided over the water on its way across the horizon, underway shedding off light. The waves slowed down as they settled for the night.
The boats enjoyed the calmness of the evening and anchored their stay. As the sun touched the mountain, a path of light came my way. As my feet stood in the sand, my eyes gazed upon the sky. At this precious moment no need to wonder why. Appreciating that nothing lasts forever, the beauty lies in accepting death like its now, not never. Life has meaning in every moment met, just like a slowly dying sunset.


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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!


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If you lose a friend

I could not bare the pain inside

Losing you was so hard

No chance to say goodbye

On the other side of the world

Too afraid to mourn the loss

Anger kept me from grieving

All these years I was hiding myself

Wondering where you had gone

And now I found out

You were only a dream away