The passion and courage of women

If Michelle Obama’s mighty speech on the dignity of women wasn’t enough to cleanse the palate of recent events, here’s a tribute to a man who reveres women, the Spanish filmmaker, Pedro Almodovar.

I just saw his latest movie, Julieta, about women, their mothers and daughters, and how grief and guilt, amongst other wounds, is passed down through the generations by the mechanism of well-intentioned silence. It’s as good as Volver, starring the magnificent Penelope Cruz, which he made in 2006.

Pics from Volver and Julieta, starring Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte (click on an image to enlarge it).


“What was your face before your parents were born?”

Today is Thich Nhat Hanh’s 90th birthday. Many people around the world who revere him are contemplating a question posed by Thay himself: how are we being Thay’s continuation?

Thay says birthdays should really be called continuations: “The day of our birth was only a day of continuation. Instead of singing, ‘Happy Birthday’ every year, we should sing, ‘Happy Continuation.'”

What he means is based in the insights of no birth, no death, nonself and interbeing. The last one, which is also called interdependent co-arising, is the realisation that everything is both cause and effect of every other thing, including every thing and person who has ever been born and every thing and person who is yet to be born; everything that ever was and ever will be is arising, all of a piece, in this moment.

Following is a particularly beautiful passage from Thay. May his love and compassion touch your heart. Happy Continuation, Thay!

“When you look at this sheet of paper, you think it belongs to the realm of being. There was a time that it came into existence, a moment in the factory it became a sheet of paper. But before the sheet of paper was born, was it nothing? Can nothing become something? Before it was recognisable as a sheet of paper, it must have been something else – a tree, a branch, sunshine, clouds, the earth. In its former life, the sheet of paper was all these things. If you ask the sheet of paper, ‘Tell me about all your adventures,’ she will tell you, ‘Talk to a flower, a tree, or a cloud and listen to their stories.’

The paper’s story is much like our own. We, too, have many wonderful things to tell. Before we were born, we were also already in our mother, our father, and our ancestors … We usually think we did not exist before the time of our parents, that we only began to exist at the moment of our birth. But we were already here in many forms.

‘Nothing is born, nothing dies’ was a statement made by French scientist Lavoisier. He was not a Buddhist. He did not know the Heart Sutra. But his words are exactly the same. If I burn this sheet of paper, will I reduce it to nonbeing? No, it will just be transformed into smoke, heat, and ash. If we put the ‘continuation’ of this sheet of paper into the garden, later, while practising walking meditation, we may see a little flower and recognise it as the rebirth of the sheet of paper. The smoke will become part of a cloud in the sky, also to continue the adventure. After tomorrow, a little rain may fall on your head, and you will recognise the sheet of paper saying, ‘Hello’ …”

~ From The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation by Thich Nhat Hanh


Something wicked this way comes


The worst thing about Trump’s odious way of being is that it’s contagious. Look what happens to Robert de Niro.

Yes, it’s very funny – “he’s a mut … this bozo” – and by the end he’s fallen as low as Trump and is talking physical assault.  Any columnist or commentator has the same issue.  Trump’s way of being calls forth the corresponding way of being in each of us. Like calls to like.

It’s the case with any way of being. If we’re being love, we call forth love in the other; if we’re being mean, we call forth mean in the other; if we’re being dishonest, we call forth dishonest in the other.

That’s why the issue is never with the other, it’s always with us.

Some time ago, I was part of a group engaged in a task, and a woman in the group kept switching the group’s attention away from the task to something she wanted to talk about. I knew her a little and knew she hadn’t been in good shape. We kept going round in circles, getting nowhere. I was starting to get annoyed and at one point I looked into her eyes, and it was as if I could see her little demon looking back at me.

Meanwhile, the little demon in me was getting hooked, and there came a nanosecond when I noticed my heartbeat had increased, and when I noticed it I had enough awareness left to disengage. I consciously softened my face and smiled. After that, the conversation changed. She made a few more bids for distraction, only now I wasn’t in it and soon we got back to the task; 10 minutes later we finished it.

Afterwards, I thought about the incident and what had happened. The little demon in her hooked the little demon in me. In times past, that would have been it. I would have been gone, lost in reaction. This time, I had enough training to pull away before it happened. What I also see is that I tended to myself and that that was enough; in fact, it was the best course of action. I took care of my own reaction and the situation resolved itself. I didn’t have to do anything or say anything to her.


For Aussie readers: GAME ØF TØNES



My friend, Steve Jasper, writes a column on Facebook called Game of Tones, about you-know-who.

He thought it was time to hang up the quill, but lo …

Here’s his latest instalment, the best yet.


And now, it’s time for another episode of …


Stonus Abbottheon was dead. Dead, buried and cremated. Copperwire had roundly defeated him, and gone to fight for the Six Kingdoms (and Two Territories), where he had defeated Ser Bill Shaftem by the narrowest of margins, with many from the House of Libberster dead. (Goodbye Bronwyn. Goodbye! Bronwyn, Bronwyn, Bronwyn, goodbye! Toodle pip!).

But Copperwire’s biggest danger was not from Ser Bill Shaftem and his army – although they *were* a constant thorn in his side – but from his own right flank, who questioned the legitimacy of his rule. Every. F*cking. Minute. And who raised stupid questions about plebiscites, and Muslims, and halal hamburgers and safe schools and whatnot.

At least Stonus Abbottheon was dead. Dead, buried and cremated.

Or was he?

There had been some frightening reports of Stonus’ corpse seen to be animated in the nation of his birth, Bleak Island. Rumours grew louder. Had Stonus become … a bluetiewalker? The prospect was too frightening to contemplate. And would Ser Grecian2000 make another tilt at deputy? (Probably.)

The turmoil around the Krudd / Red Queen years seemed inevitably to be replayed, with Copperwire doomed within a year. Only time would tell …


The turning point

It was eight years ago this weekend (Grand Final weekend in Melbs) that I did the Landmark Forum. It was the turning point of my life, and I date events in my life as either before or after.

Up until then, my experience of life was often a miserable one. Much of the time I felt anger, boredom or despair, and I had little or no control over these gusts of emotion. I was scared of other people and life in general, and spent loads of energy trying to cover this up. I was at the mercy of the world around me, a world which occurred as hostile.

Everything changed with the Landmark Forum. Since then, I’ve lived as much of my life in possibility and joy as I previously spent in suffering.

Following are some of the insights and propositions of the Landmark Forum, many of which are also part of Buddhism. I feel a thrill to say them as mere words. To experience them as reality has been the greatest gift.

  • The world is empty and meaningless
  • Human being is the space or clearing in which the world is arising
  • Human being creates the world through language (through thought)
  • Human being is the meaning-making machine
  • What you call “you” or “your wife” or “your husband” are simply fixed ways of being or identities made of “strong suits” and “rackets”
  • Strong suits are fixed ways of being you took on as a small child and an adolescent in a moment of perceived failure in order to ensure you never experienced that moment again
  • Rackets are persistent complaints you entertain – about others, about the world, about yourself – because you derive a covert payoff from keeping them going; payoffs include being right, being justified, dominating/avoiding domination, looking good/avoiding looking bad, and the big one, avoiding responsibility
  • Who you really are is everything and nothing.



Please call me by my true names



“Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river,
And I am the bird which, when Spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay his
‘debt of blood’ to my people
dying slowly in a forced labour camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so full it fills up the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace


The boat in which we’re sailing


“When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centred, it was enough. It showed the Way for everyone to survive.”

~ “What one person can do”, Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

On the radio this morning I heard a man crying for his 16-year-old son, drowned in the refugee boat that capsized off Egypt. Today I commit to increasing the peace of the world, to not adding to the misery of the world. I commit to refraining from gossip and criticism of others, no matter how justified it appears, no matter how others are behaving around me.


Image: From The Boat by Nam Le

The great venerated organ

Human beings take the mind and its effluvia (otherwise called thoughts) so seriously.

All those neuro-something-or-others, psychologists, psychiatrists, novelists, ordinary human beings, men who relish saying the word “rational” in order to make some woman wrong somewhere. And here’s the truth of the great, much-vaunted organ …

“Your mind is all stories.”

~ Dipa Ma


No trouble


“Sometimes, when someone would come to her with their troubles, she would laugh and laugh. Finally, she would say, ‘This problem you are facing is no problem at all. It is because you think, ‘This is mine.’ It is because you think, ‘There is something for me to solve.’ Don’t think in this way, and then there will be no trouble.”

~Amy Schmidt on Dipa Ma

The river

Klee bird

Walking home, I suddenly experienced myself as a river. I am flowing, leaving every moment behind me. It arrives, it is gone. How stupid to try to hold on to things! The things are past the instant I think of them. A thought. Already Gone. A moment. Already Gone. A conversation. Already Gone. A person. Already Gone.

And there’s not sadness about this ever-passingness. Sadness would also be stupid, misplaced. There’s recognition and more flowing.

I think the river metaphor may be used in a few contexts in Buddhist literature. But the concept of it and the experience of it are worlds apart. Like the moment I was sitting in the Landmark Forum eight years ago and the leader up the front suddenly started quoting Heidegger and I realised, “My god, it’s about my life!” Three years of study, a quarter of a million of words in thesis drafts, hundreds of books read, and suddenly I realised I hadn’t understood a thing. I’d been thinking of a concept, and it was nothing to do with concept! And it wasn’t until that moment when I stepped out of the concept that I saw I’d been in a concept.

There’s an ancient Greek word used in philosophy, aporia. It means something that cannot be reconciled. Whenever someone used it in lectures, I’d think of a chasm. There’s a proposition on one side and another on the other side, and nothing can be made to cross the gap. They just can’t go together.

It’s a bit like an aporia, the relationship between a concept and the thing itself. There’s an unbridgeable chasm between the two. You cannot get to the thing itself through the concept. In fact, you’re never further from the thing itself than when you have the concept, the thought, of the thing.

The only passage to the thing itself is the abandonment of the concept, the giving up of the thought.


Image: Paul Klee, Bird Garden, 1924

Can’t / Yet


A friend was thinking about the power of language and she sent me this note about her three-year-old daughter.

“I have trained my 3-year-old to say ‘I haven’t figured it out yet’ instead of ‘I can’t.’

We’ve been working on it for 1-2 years, and now she says the desired phrase during an effort, without being reminded.

In times past, if she left out the ‘yet’, I reminded her of that as well. That word is everything.

I never disagreed with her. I simply asked her to say the desired phrase. And then I asked, ‘So what are you going to do next, then?’ And she’d work on it some more, whatever she was doing.

It’s amazing what becomes possible with that phrase. Now one of her frequent phrases is ‘I did it!’

She is a capable little person, more so every day, and whereas she used to give up easily (by pretending to be interested in something else all of a sudden … I spotted this trend from infancy), she now knows herself as a capable human being. I’m so proud of her.”


Image: Cinerarias in the conservatory in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbs

Beloved is where we begin


“If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.

Do not leave
without hearing
who you are:
named by the One
who has travelled this path
before you.

Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.

I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from danger,
from fear,
from hunger
or thirst,
from the scorching
of sun
or the fall
of the night.

But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.

I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.

I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
bearing comfort
and strength,
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
curious insistence
whisper our name:


— © Jan Richardson,



Images: The golden pom-poms of the wattle trees down by the river starting to emerge.