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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24: Waking Up

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Slowly i seem to be waking up
But still the wondering:
Who is waking up?
The city betrays a deeper layer
What is this dream?
Penetrating all the senses
Human existence so dense
Living twenty-four-seven
The city invites me to go further
‘Look beyond the old dream
I offer a new dream of hopes sky-high
Speed up and lose control!’
But i know i am tired of dreaming
All these old and new castles of illusion
Try to lure me back into deep sleep
But i know this dreamworld
Has nothing to offer me
It’s just a circle of never ending stories

 

Lesson learned?

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I forgot that I knew

I now know that I forgot

Cause once more I remembered

What I knew but had forgotten

 

It took an old familiar pain

To point out the obvious truth

The reason why I left you

You only cause me harm

 

Now or in the near future

You may tempt me again

Lure me into your deadly trap

Full of your poisonous lies

 

I may even fall for you again

I know my flesh is weak

And so is the craving mind

Which blindly follows

 

But it no longer matters

So easily the winds blew away

Your so called stronghold

Tumbling house of cards

 

I can now see that in the end

I’ll know and I’ll remember

Trust

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When I first met you I was still young.

You played along with my childhood games as we both shared the fun.

Unaware of the challenges of life I gave in to you without a doubt.

The fullness of life was so overwhelming I did not have to choose.

Later when doubt had entered the arena, you slowly disappeared to the background

Life became complicated with rules, relationships, expectations, punishment and reward.

The simpleness was replaced by intricate thought mechanisms which locked me into place.

Each day my life became more and more an experience of dull and boring rationality.

Playfulness was thrown out of the window in order to make sure I would fit in with everybody else.

But the more I fit in, the less free I felt.

Trapped by tempting promises and nightmares of hope and fear, the web of illusion closed in on me.

The one thing I had lost I had no idea I was missing.

Only when I found you back I knew I had been wandering in a cold and barren desert forever trying to clench my thirst.

The walls build around the inner temple squeezed the life out of me.

I tried to forget, suppressing everything I did not want to hear – I did not want to know.

Cause forgetfulness was better than to be reminded of not having you near.

Oh trust, life saviour, love giver.

On your shoulders I long to build my life.

Better than the sweetest dream, you wake me to a reality which is profound in its evidentness.

You are the atoms which hold the universe together.

Universaly revered because you are so humble.

I can now see myself again when I trust.

Naked with arms wide open, laying myself to rest in the heart of the world.

To trust is to know.

The wise among us know how to trust.

Trust. Let go. Fly.

Self-Improvement

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Self Improvement

Like so many of us, at one time I became somewhat obsessed with the idea that I could improve myself all the way up to enlightenment. I was convinced that I was here to make that realization and the best way to do it seemed to be improving myself on all levels. So I started reading a lot of philosophical and spiritual books. Also I started having some mysterious and unexplainable experiences which seemed to come from a different world. I was intrigued by my own success and it never came up to me that these things could just happen by themselves.

Alan Watts explained my situation to me in a video on self improvement. As a start, he pointed out that our whole educational system – and after that the business world – is only occupied with the idea of improving and growing. In school we get grades and degrees to show that we have learned something. But instead of seeing the learning as the real goal, the degree has become the goal in our society. So the curiosity of a child who just wants to learn about the world is seen as bad and is replaced by the insatiable mantra “improve yourself and you’ll become the best”.

The same goes for work. When we work because we like what we do, we tend not to focus on the money we earn with it. The money is not a goal in itself, but is a necessary good since you need money to survive and eat in this world. So far there is no problem with money. The problem arises when the money becomes the goal. The reason why you started working in the first place (e.g. because you like making good clothes) is pushed to the background and is replaced by the need to earn as much money as you can. Success is no longer measured by your ability to do what you really like doing, but instead is measured by the amount of money you can accumulate. More money means more improvement.

But it’s just an idea in our head. What if there is nothing to improve?  What if the world happens to be just as it is right here, right now? We’re in constant conflict with this idea. Because we feel the need to improve ourselves, we’re unconsciously telling ourselves that we’re not good enough. We think we need to overcome all our flaws in order to be a good person. But what if it is actually perfectly fine to have flaws? I’m not saying we should stick with old and toxic behavior; we should try to let go of the idea of improving ourselves.

Just look at growing up as a child. As a child, you’re not busy improving yourself and yet you grow. It’s a basic characteristic of human existence: you are born as a child and inevitably you will start to grow and learn. It’s part of being human. And it explains why we are so curious by our nature. If we can see that there is nothing to be improved, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with us at this moment, we can start to relax and breathe. We can start to observe the world in a new way. There is no need to look for something to be improved. Why make the world a better place, if it is ok right now?

To me this is a powerful mirror. If I look at my own situation; I think I want to help other people. What does this actually mean in the light of self improvement? It still reflects that I want to improve myself, helping other people being the disguise.  So I still believe at some level I need to improve myself in order to be whole. But where is me? If I look I can’t find it anywhere. The world seems to be rolling by itself just fine!

*The quote used in the image comes from the website https://www.tinybuddha.com

11: Being one with nature

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Last weekend i did a course called Deep Ecology which is inspired by the work of Joanna Macy and Arne Naess. The following poem is all about my experiences of last weekend

Being one with nature

We come together
To share our concerns

Overwhelmed by our common fear
At first it is painful to admit
Will there be a future?

Speaking out our truth and worries is liberating
I am concerned about what we do to our planet
Why do we chose to remain ignorant
When profit comes before people and planet?

It is difficult to listen to what everybody has got to say
Despair, courageous words, anger and deafening silence
We ask for guidance and wisdom – what is happening right now
Is impossible to ignore at the same time too big to comprehend

Allowing all of this to be with us in the present
Opening to the totality of experience is a gift in disguise
Through pain and suffering comes space for joy and peace

I feel a strong connection with nature and the planet
Spending time contemplating in solitude
Realizing there is no true separation

Letting the heart of nature speak
I feel grateful to just be here

Being one with nature

 

 

 

Experiental

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Today i’ve wandered through the forest, seen and heard many birds.. came back home full of experiences and photographs

The interesting thing about all these experiences was that earlier today i was reading a book by Lama Tsongkhapa in which he describes how much we’re attached to our senses.. and indeed, in the forest i was constantly on the watch for sights and sounds. Perhaps that’s the downside for me of taking the camera with me. Or better said, it’s a lesson for me. First relax the mind, eyes and ears and then engage with the forest, connect with it without wanting to grasp at certain experiences (like seeing a kingfisher or a squirrel)

So today ended up being both rewarding in terms of photographs and in applying wisdom..

 


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Job Interview (II)

As i promised to some of you, i would come back to the job interview i had last week. I knew yesterday that i would receive the answer yes or no today, so i mentally prepared myself for both answers. I mentally rehearsed both conversations and monitored how it felt in the body. When i was sufficiently sure that i wouldn’t be too upset, i knew that i was well prepared for today.

Pretty early in the morning i received the phone call i was expecting. It was not my job to be. The other candidate had more juridical experience and they choose him/her. So as i heard the manager say that i didn’t get the job, i realized that the practice of the day before did its magic. I was calm and was even able to ask a few questions on why they didn’t choose me. No stress, no disappointment, just an immediate sense of acceptance and of letting go.

So altogether it was quite an interesting ride. If i had gotten the job, it would have been very good as i would have had to learn many new skills and also do challenging things like speaking in front of (large) groups. I knew that there was a lot in it for me to learn. I also knew that i could not tell whether i was really suited for the job, as it was so different from what i do now. But now that i don’t got the job, its time to refocus to the work i’m doing and continue that and see what else is in store for me.

Focusing on equanimity has been the true lesson here.. no matter what the outcome, don’t focus on hope or fear but just remain aware and mindful of what is happening. Saves me a lot of stress and wishful thinking 🙂


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Giggling

These young giggling girls
Have interesting ways of
Communicating

Rather than speaking
Screaming seems to be the norm.
Can my ears handle?

Yet it’s quite funny
What these youngsters talk about;
Exaggerating


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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!

Ghost

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Ghosts klein

Wandering in the forest I meet the ghost
He captures my imagination as he swirls around me
Filling my body with feelings of excitement
As it creates its magic out of thin air

Impressed by the appearances I forget where I am
And soon I find myself lost in the forest with nowhere to go
Yet the ghost keeps on animating me with its stories
Soothing and comforting words and images appear

As I start to worry the ghost suddenly screams out loud
WE’RE LOST AND THERE IS NO WAY OUT OF HERE!”
All I can think about right now is
I want to get out of here and just disappear

The ghost starts to become unbearable to be with
It wont shut up and is totally out of control
No matter how hard I try to escape it
It finds me quicker than I can find my own shadow

So now stuck in this dark forest of illusion
Looking for a way out even though I’m afraid
Lying on the ground I begin to lose hope
While the ghost seems to be laughing at me

Full of desperation I wonder to myself
Why did I ever started this endeavor?
To travel alone into the dark woods
Trying to find the source of life

Continue reading

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…