Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Time passing

 My beautiful mama (how can this be?) is 87 now. She is still powerful and determined, something of a force to be reckoned with, and she always does her best. It has occurred to me that if the day comes when she can no longer manage independent living, and needs to move in with us, it could happen rather suddenly. We’d need to be ready with a plan.

When you come through the front door of our house, you pass our living room on your left, a second smaller room (still on your left) then you come to the kitchen. Beyond the kitchen is a room where in the old days the washing copper was housed. On our watch it has become Alice and Hebe’s art studio where they make their stained glass and ceramics, and refurbish church statues and bind books and all the other things they do for a living and for love. Set into the studio is a little shower room that also has a toilet in it, and there is an external door leading onto a small raised deck for sitting out in the garden. The studio had the boiler (US, furnace) in it.

I’ve often thought that if it were not for the eerie green light from the boiler controls and the bright blue light on the boiler itself, that studio could make a lovely self-contained bed-sit, with its own ensuite shower room, external door and garden deck.

Meanwhile, above the studio, Hebe’s bedroom housed (besides Hebe) the colossal hot water cylinder associated with our solar tubes. Its cupboard spoiled the look of the room and severely limited her storage space.

Then above Hebe’s room, in the attic, lives the inverter for the solar tubes, which we are meant to check regularly but never have, on account of it being up in the attic with no floorboards and no light. And having no idea what we were meant to be checking on it anyway.

So this brainwave came. If we created a kind of engine room up in that attic, having a good access hatch with a proper stout retractable ladder, we could move the boiler and the hot water cylinder up there. Then we could have the inverter and all the other electronic solar gubbins checked periodically, Hebe could have her whole room, not shared with a massive water tank, and the studio could remain as it is but be converted in its use to a bedroom for my beautiful mama in a flash, should the need arise. So we actioned this idea.

While we were planning and mulling over all this, my eldest daughter Rosie and her partner Jon were trying to sell their house and move to a bigger one that can accommodate their brass instruments, harp, drum kit, conductor’s stands, sheet music and all the etceteras that go with being professional musicians.

At the same time, our household went through a huge wave of minimalism.

There came a point when we were all sleeping on the floor (à la minimalisme, suits us fine), but had one upstairs room entirely full of furniture (mostly beds!) waiting to go on to Jon and Rosie’s new big house when finally their contract exchange materialised; we had a bed in the second downstairs room in case someone we know who is in prison needs to come and stay when he’s out on weekends, we had scaffolding all round the back of the house (oh, I forgot to mention; our roof has been leaking badly), and we had a swarm of carpenters, heating engineers and electricians on every floor of the house.

But that point passed. Now we are at a new stage. Here is our situation as of today.

This morning I had to take my car across to Jon and Rosie’s to secure a parking place for their removal van which comes TOMORROW (whoop! whoop!), but I had a flat tyre so spent four hours getting that sorted out. The sorting out threw up the information that I had two litres too much oil in the car (we don’t know how this can have happened) and two other perished tyres, which had to be changed. But after a lot of time and money had flown under the bridge, the car did end up outside Jon and Rosie’s place, keeping a space for the lorry of tomorrow.

Yesterday Rosie’s dad brought round the drumkit and Rosie’s concert harp (very large) and those are now stored in the back room with the bed (locked, if you are a burglar reading this) for the possibly emergent prisoner. Jon and Rosie’s sofa is in the living room and the rest of their furniture trembling on the brink of leaving our house. That lorry is booked for the day after tomorrow at midday, though the musical instruments will be taken separately by someone who understands and loves them.

And the building work? Ah, well. We have ripped out casing where pipes were and unfinished works on every floor, the downstairs shower has been decommissioned because the newly pressurized water system was incompatible with it, the roof was finished ten days ago but the scaffolding is still there, our furnace has been out of order for a week – the solar tubes are no longer working and we have no central heating but we can at least heat the tank by immersion heater. And where are the builders now? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too . . . they are on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, drowsed with the fume of poppies, while their hook spares the next swathe and all its twined flowers. (No, I haven't gone mad. Keats Ode To Autumn)   At any rate, they are not here. We have waited in, but no luck. Nary a glimpse of a builder. Gone.

Well, no doubt they have got embroiled in some new big job, and we shall see them back when they have lulled some other helpless soul into a false sense of security . . .

At least when they are here, they work hard and work well – they are most excellent tradesmen. Except that day when they had a massive row and the foreman sacked the carpenters; still, we won’t go into that.

But what this all made me think of is the passing of time – the inexorable onward roll.

How only a short while ago this building work was just a notion, now it’s half done.

How we waited what seemed an eternity for Jon and Rosie’s exchange to go through, and now tomorrow is moving day.

How for decades we in our household all thought a bed to be a non-negotiable necessity – and now all of us sleep happily on the floor.

How this house is in one heck of a mess right now, but the day after tomorrow the stored furniture will be on its way, no doubt next week the builders will finish off and the scaffold be dismantled, and we’ll be able to clean up again.

But then, once all that lot’s rolled through, Jon and Rosie’s new house will need some sorting out, so we can’t all relax yet.

And then there’s my beautiful mama – once so vital and strong, herding sheep, walking dogs, growing all our vegetables, raising chickens – and now we are looking towards the day when she may need to be under our wing here, when her life is ending.

At the close of next week I have a deadline for a book – I’m scrambling to get it completed in amongst all the other things going on. But once that’s put to bed, there’s another book to be written – the next in the Hawk & Dove series. And after that? Who knows?

And I was thinking, isn’t there just always some emergency, some disaster, some work in hand, something to be done and something to rejoice in? It all seems so important, and you never know where the money or the time or the energy will be found, but somehow you get there, somehow you do.

But one day, it will all be over. ‘Come in number 5,214,837, your time is up.’ And when that moment comes, and I look back, what will I care about? Not, I think, whether the plastering got finished this week or next week, or if we were three days or seven or twelve without central heating. I don’t think it will matter too much if I got the book done for the deadline or it came in the following Monday. None of those things that seem so important now will matter any more. But the kindness, the love; the way we all pulled together and helped each other; the way we rallied round, and laughed about it, and pitched in with some money and helped with the cleaning up. Just the kindness. That’s the thing, at the end, I’ll remember the most.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Praying with all my heart

Praying this morning with all my heart. Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Zen Buddhist master of Plum Village is France is seriously ill in hospital. He is eighty-eight years old and has been unwell through this last year, recently suffering a massive brain haemorrhage. Thay has worked tirelessly his whole life for peace and forgiveness, for wise practice of compassion and loving-kindness. To have breathed the same air in this lifetime is a great honour. 

Lifting Thay into the light. Here is a man the Lord Jesus loves very much . . . Seigneur, celui que tu aimes est malade. Seigneur, prends pitié. O Christ, prends pitié. . . Watch over him now, loving Lord. This man who has taught others the way of loving-kindness . . . who has lived in self-discipline and established compassion . . . his whole life has been the thing you love best, Lord Jesus . . . reach down to him, determine his course, enfold him in the peace of your good purposes . . . You in whose hands are all our days. Ah, Lord Jesus, take good care of this man.

This I pray, this I pray.    

May he be peaceful. May he be set free.


The brothers and sisters of his community at Plum Village have asked that we maybe set a little time aside to chant with them today. Here they are.


Plum Village, 15 November, 2014

To all Plum Village Practice Centers,
To all Practice Centers and Sanghas World Wide,
To our Dear Beloved Friends,

Thầy is now in a hospital with a highly reputable neurologist monitoring his progress. He is in the right place with the best possible care and attention. New tests have been done. Doctors report that Thầy is showing good progress in terms of remaining stable and not having major changes in his condition during this critical part of his recovery. The area of hemorrhage has not grown and his vital signs are normal.

In the early morning, Saturday, November 15, Thầy opened his eyes for the first time since his cerebral hemorrhage, to look at his attendants for a brief moment. He was very conscious and attentive to what was happening around him, lifting his left hand to touch the attendant next to him. Since then, he has also opened his eyes several times and his gestures of communication are clearer, nodding or shaking his head to respond. Thầy has been able to rest and sleep peacefully for several hours each day. The doctors are cautiously optimistic and remind us that Thầy’s condition is still in a critical stage and conditions can change at any moment.


Official Announcement
Re: Thay’s current condition
Plum Village, 22 November, 2014
To all Plum Village Practice Centers,
To all Practice Centers and Sanghas World Wide,
To our Dear Beloved Friends,
The doctors have expressed surprise at Thay’s resilience and stability over the last week, as the intensive treatment continues. Thay’s blood pressure and pulse are stable, he is still breathing on his own, and he is becoming increasingly peaceful. However, in recent days Thay has been sleeping more deeply and communicating less.
The monks and nuns attend our teacher continuously at his bedside, breathing with him, embracing him with their love, praying that the millions of healthy cells in Thay’s body may become millions of bodhisattvas, helping his brain to heal. As Thay’s condition remains critical, please intensify your practice of generating the energy of Great Compassion of Avalokita for Thay.
Let us support Thay by sustaining our practice of mindfulness throughout the day, wherever we are, keeping Thay alive within us and within our community. With deep conscious breaths and mindful steps, let us allow Thay’s teachings to ripen within us, helping us see Thay’s continuation body and Thay’s sangha body.
May we let go of resentments against those who have hurt us, and release our fear and sorrow, by coming back to the calm and gentle breathing that Thay has transmitted to us. This is the best way we can support Thay and be his beautiful continuation.
With trust and love,
The Monks and Nuns of Plum Village


Official Announcement
Plum Village
November 30, 2014
To all Plum Village Practice Centers,
To all Practice Centers and Sanghas World Wide,
To our Dear Beloved Friends,
As the Winter Retreat continues to unfold in all our practice centers in Europe and America, Thay’s condition in the hospital remains stable.
Thay continues to rest peacefully with the ticking clock on his pillow, and we sense that he is relying on his deep awareness of breathing, rooted in Store Consciousness, to guide his healing process. Even the doctors have been surprised at the consistent level of oxygen in his blood. Thay is truly the best breather in the world, inspiring us to deepen our full awareness of the breath. Thay continues to remind us that each day we are alive is a miracle, and that simply to breathe is a gift.
The latest scan shows that Thay’s hemorrhage has slightly reduced in size. The edema is still present, but has not worsened. The doctors have met to re-evaluate their approach and review how to nourish Thay’s body more as we enter medium-term treatment. Thay continues to receive 24-hour care from his monastic attendants as well as hospital nurses. We are very grateful for the commitment of the hospital neurologists who are maintaining Thay’s healing process with open hearts and minds.
Earlier this year, Thay accepted an invitation from Pope Francis to go to the Vatican on December 1 & 2 to support a global initiative to end modern slavery. A delegation of 22 monks and nuns, including Sister Chan Khong and Thay Phap An (Director of our European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Germany) are now in Rome to realise Thay’s wish.
We continue to be grateful for your messages of support and the energy of mindfulness and compassion being generated for Thay. Wherever we are, we know that our practice of nourishing and healing ourselves is the best way we can all take care of Thay, and take care of the present moment.
Because suffering is impermanent, that is why we can transform it.
Because happiness is impermanent, that is why we have to nourish it.
-TNH, 10th June 2014
With trust and love,
The Monks and Nuns of Plum Village