Selection of my stories
OLD LADY GURU
“I hope you are going to be abusist today - I love you best when you are abusist,” Abusist? Abuser? What abuse? Stunned and bewildered for a few minutes, I wondered if I had heard right. Why was my lovely 87-year-old mother-in-law calling me abusist? What abuse had I committed and why did she prefer me that way - did she mean abuser - or what?
Kit came to live with us a few months ago - she had not been well, and although she had been living in her own large house since Penny's father died, this had become difficult when she had some falls and other problems. Kit is very deaf, and I had certainly been impatient at times - even irritated. Her hearing aid had started whistling loudly on one occasion and seemed to fill the whole house - I had rushed into her room and shouted loudly asking her to switch it off. Was this the abuse she had referred to and why did she like it? I must have misunderstood - what had she really said?
Penny had suggested I did not shout at her to communicate but look at her straight in the face and speak clearly because she could lip read a bit - but in the heat of the moment I sometimes shouted; Penny said I looked fierce and had intimidated her.
The next day she said it again, but this time it was “I hope you are going to be abusist today and not another philosophy.” It was then that the penny dropped - she was saying “a Buddhist.” I asked what she meant, making sure to look straight at her face and talk gently. “You are relaxed, patient and kind when you are a Buddhist but bad-tempered and un-loving when you are not one.” I tried to get her to pronounce Buddhist correctly but we did not succeed too well because of the deafness - but perhaps it did not really matter.
Kit has never been religious or much of a churchgoer but I had noticed her looking through RAFT and Buddhism Now once or twice - being a keen reader and inclined to pick up magazines and articles she found scattered about. She and Penny share an interest in gardening and cats, and if they have any practice at all it is in caring for plants and animals, including the human ones - our grandchildren, her great grandchildren, and other children in the family. Kit is a kind and tolerant person with a good sense of humour and sharp mind - but like her daughter she is, I believe over concerned with appearances and worries over little things at times - but that is from my viewpoint and not theirs - they think I should be more aware of appearances, be concerned, and show my concerns more than I do.
Kit's poignant comments were beginning to hit home and I felt chastened by them, and more aware of my feelings and actions. I began to tell her regularly each morning that I would try to be a Buddhist for the day - and she gave me a smile. I put my hands together and bowed slightly - better than using words easily misunderstood. She put her hands together and bowed deeply - the sort of deep and slow bow I had only seen once before, performed by a rather camp monk at a Buddhist retreat in Sussex - very impressive in fact. Since then we have been saying please, thank you and many other things by putting our hands together and bowing - if we meet on the stairs, when one of us gives the other a cup of tea, in the mornings and in the evenings. Once or twice I have seen Penny putting her hands together and bowing, but unlike Kit she is more self-conscious about this unaccustomed way of going on!
Despite these regular reminders I did not always manage to practice the way of Buddha - I occasionally shouted at Kit in frustration, trying to get her to understand some increasingly irrelevant matter. One day I did this and she looked at me kindly, touched a small brass statue of the Buddha I keep on a shelf, and said “Remember to be like the Buddha - calm and gentle” - we both laughed, put our hands together and bowed.
From `RAFT' - Buddhist Hospice Trust - No.20 (Autumn 2001)
A Way of Distraction
The Apache Indians, it now seems, were particularly good at observation and tracking because there were many in their tribe with what is currently called “Attention Deficit Disorder”. ADD in children is sometimes referred to as Hyperkinetic Syndrome when it is associated with over-activity and difficult to manage behaviour; most children with this condition grow out of it before they become adults, but it is now recognised that some adults remain with residual symptoms - more than usually distractible and restless with an inability to concentrate for long periods on one particular thing. Perhaps the Apaches with this sort of mind were able to convert a possible “problem” into a positive and useful talent, and were better able to notice certain key signs than those trackers who concentrated in the “normal” way.
Concentration is fundamental to Buddhist meditation practice, and I wonder how the Apache trackers would have coped with sitting in one place and concentrating for an hour or so in the traditional way! I think that they might have preferred action meditation techniques like those associated with the Martial Arts, or perhaps a walking practice.
I have come to realise that I am an Apache Buddhist. This is because my mind, when it comes to meditation in particular, works like that of an Apache tracker - I am one of those people who prefer active meditation techniques, and this may be because my concentration is altered as a result of having the disease multiple sclerosis. People with MS not only have physical disability but may have some cognitive deficits as well, including difficulties with memory and concentration.
Many people have concentration problems for a variety of reasons - not just residual ADD or MS, but also due to anxiety, depression, strokes, Parkinson's Disease and many other conditions. Should people like us be discouraged from meditation practice? Certainly not. Perhaps, in a strange way, we can adapt to more active, less boring, techniques and become the Trackers of the community or Sangha!
As an Apache Buddhist I no longer try to ape you conventional ones. Yes, I do attend a monthly meditation session with our local Sangha. We use short Gathas (verses) and a Bell of Mindfulness, which means that I can just about cope because the time is divided into manageable proportions. The idea of sitting still in one place without interruption is an anathema to me.
Because I have MS, I not only have difficulty concentrating for long periods, but I also suffer from restless spasms, fatigue, incoordination and bladder symptoms. However the Buddhist World does not seem designed for people who are disabled physically any more than it does for the cognitively impaired! To be a traditional practicing Buddhist it is essential to be fit and active. I shall never forget the dismayed faces when I had to sit in a chair while others stood in an orderly fashion during a precepts taking ceremony which was being videoed for posterity. (Have you ever wondered why there are so few sick or disabled people at meditation sessions?)
Every day mindfulness techniques have been helpful to me, but I am wary of the Dogma of essential sitting meditation practice, and have never seen any convincing evidence that it is more effective than other mindfulness practices. The Buddha may well have found this way very helpful in the hot lands of the Shaknamuni, but did Mahavira, Micah, Jesus, Mohammed, Francis Assisi, Gandhi or Mother Teresa rely upon this technique? I think Gotama Buddha went out of his way to teach tolerance and the importance of learning from our own experience in our own life context.
My own practice is based on reading a chapter of the Dhammapada each day (when I can), together with occasional moments of Yogic breathing and mindfulness of everyday phenomena. I also like to write short poems about nature and live a life in keeping with the five precepts as far as I am able. More specific meditation on daily hindrances and irritations is perhaps the nearest I get to adopting formal techniques.
One of the things that irritates me most is the Motor Car - I hear the noise of a vehicle arising far away, coming to its maximum and then fading away. Sometimes the noise takes a long time to come and on other occasions it is quick and loud. I breathe with awareness when the noise appears and am conscious that all feelings, perceptions and thoughts - like the noise - come into being, exist and then pass away. So I transform noise, other irritations and adversities into a way of establishing a non-attached Yogic/Buddhist/Systemic view.
An overall Dhamma/Philosophy is an essential foundation to my practice, and I derive this from my personal life experiences understood in the light of literature, poetry and art from all traditions and none. I also need fellowship and get this from my family, friends, our local Sangha, current and former patients, fellow MS people, colleagues and my inner guides.
The essence of my practice is to develop “ A view as vast as the sky but actions as scrupulous as an atom” and “Eyes as cold as dead embers but a heart that burns like fire”. (from Mahayana Buddhist sources). And so to become, in my context, an Apache tracker maximising awareness, compassion and dispassion for the sake of all beings.
Dr Sandy Burnfield
From “Buddhism Now" November 1997
OF ANGELS AND ANTS
The house was empty apart from me, seven cats and Gemma, our collie. I was responsible for keeping it up to scratch while Penny and her parents were away for a week. After she had left, I went into the kitchen first thing in the morning to discover a plague of ants - little ants without wings, little ants with wings, big ants with wings; ants in the sink, ants on the shelves, ants on the floor. At first I panicked. How long would they stay? Would they do any damage?
Abandoning my Buddhist principles, at the end of the day I tried to wipe the shelves clean of ants and generally eliminate the ones that I could see. This took a long time and I was totally exhausted afterwards and went to bed tired. Whenever I looked anywhere, I thought I could see ants. When I went to sleep, I dreamt of ants.
Through the night I felt guilty. I was increasingly aware that I had failed to practise Harmlessness - what Gandhi called 'Ahimsa'. Harmlessness as a way of life was first put forward in a big way by the Lord Mahavira, who founded the Jain religion a few years before the Buddha began to teach in India over two and a half thousand years ago.
Before the dawn came I had serious reservations about whether it was actually necessary to harm the ants. The bites on my wrists and arms were probably the result of my unnecessary and ill-timed interference in their natural life. These thoughts were confirmed the next day by three Angels who visited me through the morning.
The first Angel was Peter the Hurdlemaker, who came to show me his photographs of Kazakhstan and China. He works in the woods and lives a life close to nature. When he saw the ants his immediate response was to leave them - they do no harm.
The second Angel was David the Tractor Driver, who wanted me to sign his gun licence application form. When he saw the ants he told me that they would soon go and that I should leave the window open; there was no need to actually harm them.
The message from the third Angel, Janet the Embroideress, was even more positive than the first two messages. She telephoned and was able to tell me that not only should I leave the ants, but they would do good in our kitchen, scavenging and eradicating bits of food matter like wasps do.
Angels are messengers and the word comes from the Greek. Angels who bring good news are called Evangelists, a word used frequently in the Christian traditions. I do not know whether Peter, David and Janet have ever thought of themselves as Evangelists, but they were certainly Angels of Mercy for those ants. Since the Visitations, which were entirely unsolicited and all within one hour on a Sunday morning, I have been living with my ants. I have been drinking them in my coffee, eating them in my salads and letting them flit about my hair, sometimes biting me on the wrists. They have almost gone now, but it would be untruthful if I were to say I am sorry that they are going. One thing I do know, I have not seen the last of them. They will be back.
BN July 1992
The end of the world
By Sandy Burnfield
For generations untold the Ungatis had inhabited their familiar world, the heart of a strange, fathomless and unknown universe. Ungati families and whole tribes existed contentedly in almost every dark corner and crevice at 27 Harborough Road. They communicated through a well-developed system of touch, smell, light contrasts and, most importantly, vibration.
Old Ungatis bored the others with oft repeated stories of past cataclysmic disasters and of strange other worlds and times - but no one really took these stories seriously, not even the Old Ones themselves. According to legend, whole populations of Ungatis had been wiped out by sudden devastating but unexplainable climatic changes.
Everyone was only too aware of the periodic mobile quakes that took place in all corners of the world - but most Ungatis survived these (even in the annual Spring Quake season) by hiding in deep cracks, in the darkness under things, or high above the Quake's reach. The Wise Ones said that these happenings were in keeping with the Six Vibrating Rules: Ungati lives are precious. Quakes will always happen. Nothing lasts. Cling not to nests and webs. Vibrate now, and Choose your own Way. But this meant nothing to most who spent much time worrying about the nests and planning bigger and better webs.
The majority of Ungatis stayed in their traditional homelands, customs varying in different parts of the world depending upon conditions. Kitcheners, a large and powerful tribe, lived in warm and prosperous circumstances, mostly under the cooker or behind cupboards. Lofters, living in the sparse conditions of the far north of the world, fed infrequently and died small and often quite young.
It was the Lofters who first alerted Ungati communities to the presence in the world's atmosphere of new and menacing vibrations. These were like mobile quakes, but much bigger, and they were getting nearer to the world at an ever increasing rate. This information was particularly sinister because the usual mobile quakes had stopped happening for a while, and many Ungati had ventured into open spaces on the world where they were more than usually vulnerable. It was not long before vibration impacts on the highest point of the scale were felt everywhere in the world. Great fears were expressed about the end of the world, and the end of the Ungati people.
Fierce arguments broke out between the Old Ones and the Wise Ones who could not agree either with each other, or between themselves. The issue of whether or not to risk a journey into space was particularly controversial, since this had so far never been done. True, some Bathroomers had in the past claimed to have seen alien beings. These had apparently come from space through the black hole. But it was well known that Bathroomers could not be trusted and told lots of enchanting stories so as to attract and water-intoxicate young female Ungatis.
Nevertheless, by the time that number 27 had been totally demolished by Higgins & Co Ltd for the bypass, a small band of Ungatis had left and were travelling through space to destinations unknown, or to perish. Most Ungatis, not wishing to give up nests or webs, had been destroyed by quakes of cataclysmic proportions.
A small group of survivors from The Space Travellers, as they were later called in the Old Ones' stories, reached flat 12b Newton Street. It was from these Ungatis that I first heard about the events herein recounted - the end of the Old World and how the New World was discovered. New Kitcheners, already fatter although much cooler than the old Kitcheners, are now well established, soon planning to explore new and wondrous territories. Most remarkable, perhaps, has been the absence of any quakes.
This, I fear has led to high expectations for a near utopian life. The Six Vibrating Rules are forgotten and will have to be found once more, together with a spirit of courage and faith in the Great Plan. The Council has asked Higgins & Co Ltd to flatten the long abandoned Newton Street district for the industrial estate development.
Buddhism Now, June 1995 Yoga and Life December 1995
Happy Solstice! - Hash for Cash!
The 'hippies' or 'travellers' arrived in Longstock just before the Summer Solstice and settled on an ancient track running between the Hill Fort of Danebury and the River Test. Our little village was full of the hippies for several days because they had been prevented from going to Stonehenge. There were old lorries, battered buses, re-painted ambulances and various other vans, cars and motor cycles. Just as prominent were the walkers; most did not wear colourful clothes but were dressed in drab regalia, a sort of uniform. Long hair or short hair with a large earring were fairly common. Some of them were dressed more colourfully, with ethnic hats or other bright items of clothing.
I decided to try and visit the camp for the Festival following the Solstice; accompanied by Mary Rose and her lurcher we set off through the village, wending our way with the various walkers going in the same direction. Mary Rose was a veteran of Stonehenge riots and she and her dog had been living in the gypsy caravan at the bottom of our garden since the beginning of the summer. She was to be my guide and interpreter if necessary, but I also took the precaution of wearing a colourful Pakistani skull cap once we reached the camp - but this was not on show at the police checks!
We could not go through the village in the normal way, and having reversed and entered from another direction we managed to pass through three police checks by showing them my Winchester Health Authority identity card, including my photograph, and designation as a Consultant Psychiatrist. Eventually we found ourselves at the bottom of a steep hill and at the camp site itself, something that few other ordinary cars had been able to do. However, there seemed to be no shortage of travellers' vehicles of every description along the old track.
My first impression was of a very large 'village', straggling for about a mile along a wide drove between fields of unripe corn on the Hampshire Downs. Notwithstanding its higgledy-piggledy appearance, the camp looked natural between the sunset and the half moon just becoming visible on the other side of the darkening sky. We wandered through the camp where I felt surprisingly at ease despite the many dogs sniffing around my feet, and staring at me as we walked past their masters' and mistresses' weird abodes. There were occasional 'cafes', often situated in old 'buses. They sold anything from vegetable curry to Irish coffee. There was also a cinema; I did not go into this, but I presume it was run on a generator and showed videos. There were plenty of stalls displaying pottery beads, clay flower necklaces, various crystals, interesting stones and also items of clothing. We were often asked if we wanted acid or speed and shouts of "hash for cash", "hash truffles" or "magic mushrooms" were frequent. Mary Rose bought a hash truffle for £1. I tasted a piece but I doubt whether it contained much marijuana. We also had a pitta bread sandwich. This should have contained hummus but it actually consisted of raw onions, peppers and salad! I was told that the person who had made this particular sandwich was "stoned out of her mind".
There were a few people who appeared to be drunk or disorderly and one man came unsteadily by, jabbering "glub, glub, glub, glub", to everyone that he passed. Quite a few others appeared to be merry and enjoying the festival atmosphere. As it got darker, bonfires and candles were lit, the music became louder and dancing began. Various 'buses and caravans broadcast lively, sometimes strange, rhythmic music, which I did not find uncongenial. There was no police presence at the festival itself but it was rumoured that some police were there disguised as hippies. I also saw no press or television people but they had been there for the Solstice on the previous night.
There were several small children playing happily or selling cakes, but there were no old folk. The people that I met were friendly, easy to talk to and relaxed. Perhaps because I was wearing my colourful skull cap no-one questioned my presence, and indeed people were dressed in such a variety of garments that no-one would have been out of place there unless they had been wearing a suit and tie. Mary Rose bargained for a clay flower necklace and managed to get it for a good price, I got a reduction on a rather nicely shaped crystal. This is my memento of the visit.
A few local teenagers were at the camp and some of them recognised me, shouting out my name as they went along. An eighteen year old, selling acid, called out, "Please don't tell my mum". The atmosphere at the camp reminded me of villages I have seen in Kashmir. In fact I met some travellers who had been to Kashmir; we were able to swap travellers' tales.
Villagers' attitudes to the hippies seemed to be divided about equally. Half the locals condemned them as being dirty, lazy people who should get jobs and earn a decent and respectable living. The other half were excited by them, especially the younger people, and saw the hippies as being free, independent, happy and peace loving. There was a strong identification with the hippies by those who felt attracted to their life-style and perhaps wished to be free from their own responsibilities, family ties and financial committments. There is room for a balanced view, and I was much aware of my own inner conflict between the two extremes still to be resolved. Maybe they are "immature, dependent people who can't cope with the grown-up world", but perhaps they are also telling our society something about different values, and it does us no good to shut our ears to their message.
Many of the camp came from middle class, well-off families; I was aware of at least one psychiatrist's son, the son of a senior police officer and a daughter of a successful accountant. Indeed, I had great difficulty stopping my youngest daughter from running off with the "raggle taggle gypsies O!" but when it came down to it, and she visited the camp, she was sensibly cautious and quite willing to come home again before it got too deep into the night!
Dr Alexander Burnfield
Consultant in Child and Family Psychiatry, Andover, Hampshire June 1991
From The Longstock Newsletter No.83 Aug/Sept 1991
Chaos Theory, The Scottish Bard, and Why my Beard was
Tugged in the Night
Penny and her parents were off the next day on a week's holiday in the Cotswolds. We all went to bed early so that we could have a good night's sleep and wake up fresh in the morning. But we hadn't reckoned on the unpredictable effects of "Chaos Theory".
Returning from a visit to the bathroom, I looked out of the window and noticed that the Doctor's light was on across the meadow. He was probably out on a late call. The Americans' light was also on, further to the left behind the willow trees - so they hadn't left for Miami.
But what's this? A downstairs light is still on. I returned to bed, rather sleepy and was thinking about this when Penny awoke. I told her about the light being on. She went down in the dark and it wasn't long before I heard her padding back again.
Suddenly there was a great shout! A light went on and Penny announced that she had spilt a glass of water. She proceeded to spend quite a little while mopping up the water all over her large pile of Embroidery magazines. I was chuckling rather loudly to myself with my eyes shut because of the bedside light. Once she had switched this off and got back into bed, I pompously said, "This is all Chaos Theory, you know". Her response was to tug my beard!
What about this Chaos Theory? Paul Friedlander looks upon it in a positive way. "Chaos says that in any system, in life, in art, however precise you are at the outset, you never really know where you're going to end up; so it's a waste of time trying to be precise - you just have to blast off and explore". Very helpful, but Robbie Burns, beloved by my father, put it more briefly and more poetically, "The best laid plans o' mice an' men gang aft agley".
Once my beard had been tugged, I muttered, "What will happen next?" "Nothing I hope", said Penny, - but something always "happens" eventually; we can never be certain even about the next few minutes - that's "Chaos Theory".
"Catastrophe Theory"? This also played a major part in our domestic drama - did you spot it? Like Chaos Theory, Catastrophe Theory is a recently demonstrated mathematical process that can be understood in terms of symbols and graphs. Next time you drink a cup of tea you can see the graph for Catastrophe Theory if the sun is shining, or a light is on. It represents what happens when something is pushed so far that it reaches a point of no return - the point at which Penny's glass of water unbalanced.
Longstock Newsletter 1992
BESIDE THE SHALIMAR
The airport at Srinagar (pronounced like vinegar) was a bubbling mixture of Kashmiri peasants in their long grey cloaks, imported low caste Hindu workmen wearing check dhoties and fierce looking Indian soldiers. We were eventually whisked off to our home for the next week - an ornate houseboat on Lake Nagin, surrounded by tall mountains but near enough to the "city" for us to clearly hear the regular call of the muezin and the chanting of the Koran.
Kashmiris, with their own culture and language, form the large majority of the population, and it was not long before we found out how much this proud and independent people wish to rid themselves of what they perceive as an alien Indian domination of their beautiful valley. "They call us terrorists but we only want to kill Indian soldiers - not the tourists". This was reassuring but it turned out that the 40th anniversary of the Indian occupation was only a few days off and things began to hot up.
Not long after our arrival, Rafiq, oldest son of the peasant family living in a smaller, more dilapidated, houseboat who were looking after us, burst upon us in a state of agitation holding his face in his hands and talking rapidly. He and his father, Rahim, had been in town when a car bomb exploded near them. They both lost each other in the smoke and dust and had for a couple of hours despaired of each other's lives. We had to feel Rafiq's injured shoulder and to give him lots of sympathy. Rahim killed a sheep in thanksgiving for their deliverance and we had very tough mutton curry twice a day for the next few days!
The next morning we seemed to be the only western looking people in the rambling city, with its rough dirt roads and chaotic mixture of horses and carts, motorised rickshaws and tinsel decorated buses and lorries belching out smoke and hooting continuously. Many of the "streets" were unsuitable for vehicles and animals of all sorts wandered everywhere in the city - cows, sheep, goats and donkeys. The whole place had a medieval atmosphere, with holes in the wall for shops, together with a constant, colourful bustle of practical activities like chopping up meat and weaving carpets. Kashmiris don't use tables and chairs but spend a lot of time squatting. They eat and trade at ground level on pieces of cloth.
A burst of small explosions suddenly impinged upon us and we looked for cover - but it was not gunfire. We learnt later that the Kashmiris were letting off fireworks to celebrate Pakistan's cricket victory over India and to taunt the Indian soldiers who, in their battle dress, were posted at key intersections and outside government buildings.
Another day we visited the famous Moghul Gardens, including the fabled "Shalimar" ("Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar"). These 17th century terraced gardens lie on the mountainside and overlook Lake Dal and distant mountains on the other side. While Penny wandered about, Mustaq and I sat and chatted. Our escort was a gentle, kind and helpful man and I found that I got on very well with him. I was, however, taken aback when he asked me if I knew where Salman Rushdie was hiding. Cautiously I enquired why he wanted to know. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised when he answered, "We want to kill him". At the end of the day Penny gave Mustaq a credit card sized calculator and this delighted him greatly. The Kashmiris we met were great admirers of the Islamic revolution and posters of the Ayatollah were up in the city. "He was a very, very good man - all the men he executed were very bad men who had to die".
Our houseboy, Farouk, had the eyes and manner of an obsequious and yet arrogant spaniel. "I am a poor servant-man, very, very poor - when you leave my hand will be open, Sahib. You know what else will make me a very happy man." This was my Marks and Spencers pullover that he coveted from the start, and he made no secret of his desire for it. Of course, I gave it to him before we left, together with 100 rupees. He demanded more because he had burnt his fingers lighting our wood fire. The more he received the greedier and more demanding he had become! I gave him no more. the family were embarrassed and agreed to sort him out after we left because they feared for their reputation.
Both Lake Nagin and the larger Lake Dal were full of "shikaras" - narrow, pointed boats paddled by someone kneeling either at the front or at the rear of the boat. They came out from the old city full of flowers, vegetables, grain, junk, cloth and a wide variety of other merchandise. They also gave relaxing trips to tourists like ourselves who lounged decadently on mattresses shaded by a canopy above. Much trading was done from shikara to shikara and we bargained for jewellery and chocolates alike with various sharp characters out to rip us off. Sometimes a cloaked figure would come on board our houseboat and lay out his ware on a clean cloth neatly placed on the deck.
Twice during the week we went to the Himalayas, passing rice paddies in the valley, strange primitive villages, and eventually climbing to above 12,000 feet in one of the ubiquitous Morris Oxford type cars that are prevalent all over India. We passed wandering Nomads with their goats and we also saw their homemade patchwork tent encampments. We resisted the pesterings of wild looking men with horses who wanted us to go trecking, and instead we picnicked by a mountain stream overlooked by spectacular snow-covered Himalayan peaks framed in a very blue sky.
Kashmiri women are not encouraged to mix with foreigners, but we did have some dealings with Rahim's wife who cooked our mutton. Peasant women, like the ones next to us, dress more informally than the city women, some of whom wore black and covered their faces Arab-style. Others were very colourful with baggy trousers and bright silk Pakistani-like headscarves.
Before we left I was told that the headquarters of the Kashmir Liberation Front was in London, but I haven't followed this up yet! I do, however, have some sympathy for their cause. It is a tragedy that these Muslim people have been made to be part of India and I was saddened to learn that the British were behind the deal, almost exactly 40 years ago.
We left Kashmir just before this anniversary when Srinagar was to be closed and put under curfew by the occupying Indian soldiers. Later, in Delhi, we heard that there had been more shootings and bombs and that the border had been closed to tourists. Some of our friends at the conference in Delhi had to change their plans since houseboat holidays were suddenly unavailable.
The second half of our stay in India is another story, best told by Penny. She rode to the Maharajah of Jaipur's palace on an elephant and saw the Taj Mahal at sunset, whilst I spent nine days in the most luxurious hotel in New Delhi with the "best swimming pool in India". The contrast between the rich and the poor must be seen to be believed, and hopefully our conference will have helped the Indian economy a little.
Message from Elk - A Medicine Dream
I was somewhere on holiday in the North-West of Scotland, perhaps on one of the islands. I left the hotel to go and watch the burning of the "skirries". These appear to have been some small haystacks which were set on fire in the early morning near the coast. As I set out for the skirries, I saw them smoking and burning in the distance. The smoke blew over me and then I suddenly realised that I was looking at a large herd of elk. They were slowly wandering across a plain with snowy mountains beyond. I then saw that I was some sort of large cat hiding in a broken down cabin. I could see that I had a grey-brown face and similar features to a domestic cat only much larger. I could not be seen by the elks.
One of the larger elks, a bull elk if there is such a thing, came towards me and I could see that he had spotted me hiding in my broken-down cabin. I did not move. He came very near to me and I could see that he was exceedingly big with large horns and a very angry expression. Elk spoke to me. "If I could get at you", he said, "I would hit you hard on the nose and kick you in the stomach!" I did not move - I did not flinch; all I thought was "I have only come to watch." Elk stared at me aggressively for a bit longer, then he went back to join the herd. I awoke.
I don't know whether you have ever been spoken to by an animal before but for me this was unusual. I had only experienced it on one occasion previously and I had failed to record it so have no memory now of which animal it was or what the message was. On this occasion I decided that I would record the dream and I would also try to find out what it was telling me. I realised that the animals in my dream were in some ways part of my own psyche and that the message had to do with some form of imbalance in my life at this time.
The dream was somehow strengthened in my mind because it had occurred on the morning of Imbolc, the pagan Festival of Renewal, otherwise known as Candlemas. I consulted Kenneth Meadows's book, Shamanic Experience (Element Books, 1991) and found the following information. "On the yearly cycle, the days around the times of the eight seasonal festivals of the ancient peoples of the northern hemisphere are also potentially fruitful times to connect with the unseen forces. Imbolc - around 2nd February, was the Festival of Renewal, an occasion for cleansing and purification in preparation for fresh approaches." In my own mind Candlemas also has to do with light, and marks a period of the year when we first notice that the days are getting longer and the nights shorter.
I decided to investigate the meaning of the cat-like creature in my dream and of the elk. Again I consulted the same book. Although I had previously read the section on Imbolc, I had not read anything on the so-called "power" or "medicine" animals. I concluded that the cat-like creature was some form of mountain lion or cougar because this would fit in with the context of elks in what seemed to be a North American geographical setting. To quote from Shamanic Experience:
Cougar is the mountain lion of western North America, Mexico and Central and South America, and is also known as the puma. It has a handsome cat-like face and a smooth and graceful body, with tawny-tan and grey colouration. As a power animal, cougar encourages you to take charge of any troubling situation and to use your powers of leadership to influence events. It urges you to overcome your uncertainty and aloofness by accepting personal responsibility, and thus generate positive action. Cougar provides strength, determination and foresight, and an assurance that right action leads to right results. It is endeavouring to show you how to be your own leader.
Elk stresses friendship and co-operation - the sense of unity that comes from belonging to a group or community. It emphasizes the need to establish relationships. If you are engaged in some kind of competitive activity, whether in your working life or in a personal relationship, you may feel threatened or under pressure. You need some equilibrium. Elk shows the value of friendships and of sharing your interests and experiences with others. Elk stresses the importance of finding time for refreshment and reflection, and of renewing one's strength. Elk has to do with stamina and the need to go to those of the same gender for support."
Now the message is clear! The dream is indeed telling me something that I need to know, something that I need to act upon. It would appear that my individuality has become too great recently and it may well have threatened some of the communities that I operate in, including family and work. It would seem that Elk is telling me, Cougar, to stop rocking the boat and being a threat to various communities. He is telling me to lie low and that if I intrude any further I will come to harm.
I mused upon the significance of this message in terms of my current life and realised that it needed my full attention. In the last few weeks I have found myself being over assertive in my family and at work, and indeed a friend told me recently that I have been uncompromising and overbearing. A colleague at work also suggested that my responses to Health Service changes needed to be co-ordinated and linked with the responses of others rather than communicated individually.
Thank you Elk for your message! I will listen and perhaps, with a little help from my friends and family, I will withdraw my individualistic approach seen by others as unhelpful and aggressive. The fact that your message was give to me at Imbolc adds to its strength and I shall in future pay particular attention to this and other seasonal festivals when, indeed, it does seem that the times are auspicious for connecting with the "unseen forces"!
THE CANNIBAL ISLANDS
"Bula!" A large black man wearing a patterned skirt appeared from the jungle of plants beside us. He had a stack of black wool on his head and I was glad to see that there wasn't a bone through his nose! My sister, Jane, and I were in the tropical island of Fiji for a few days on the way to the World M.S. Conference in Sydney, Australia. We soon got used to saying "Bula!" as no two people ever passed each other without this friendly greeting. I even found myself saying it to the cheeky and noisy mynah birds that perched in the coconut trees beside our verandah.
The Fijian Islands are set in the South Pacific Ocean, mountainous, beautiful and surrounded by coral reefs and blue lagoons. Being in the southern hemisphere water gurgles anti-clockwise down the plughole, and the sun rises on the right and sets on the left as you face North. The night sky is totally different and I tried to make out the Southern Cross in the absence of our more familiar Pole Star. It was hot, and you could not walk on the sand with bare feet. We swam frequently, resting in the shade of coconut trees, prolific on the coral beach. My only concern was to avoid coming to an untimely end by being bonked on the head by a falling coconut!
One day Jane went off to shoot the rapids on the Ba River while I sailed a catamaran single-handed, making sure not to get too close to a line of surf marking a submerged coral reef. In the past Fijians ate visitors to their shores including shipwrecked white men, and a cargo of Indians imported against their will by the imperial British to organise the natives. Nowadays easy-going Fijians and the smaller sized serious minded Indians co-exist uneasily together in about equal numbers - a post-colonial mix-up, united only by "our Queen". Fiji's rugged interior consists of mountains, rivers, sugar cane farms and occasional dirt tracks. Lorries and very old 'buses bump along the coast road, black faces looking out of windows whose glass has long since been smashed out. Missionary Pie is no longer on the menu. The last Fijian cannibal was on our side - he ate a Japanese soldier in the second world war.
On the way back from "Downunder" we broke our journey for a few days at the famous Waikiki Beach, Honolulu. We were back in the northern hemisphere so it was late summer and the hottest time of their year. Captain Cook 'discovered' these Islands and was eventually killed and eaten here. Perhaps that is why the Union Jack forms part of the Hawaiin flag, although they are now one of the United States of America. Hawaii is much more sophisticated and commercialised than Fiji with numerous skyscraper hotels, towering over Waikiki Beach mixed in with palm trees and blue lagoons. The effect is stunning and somehow in keeping with the mountainous background, white surf and deep blue ocean.
No one racial group predominates in this cosmopolitan paradise, and everyone wears flowery "Alloha" shirts and shorts for which the islands are well known. Swimming at Waikiki Beach, like eating the enormous ice-creams, had a dreamlike quality - you can't quite believe it is really happening! This effect was enhanced by snorkelling amongst a myriad of tropical fish at nearby Hanuamha Bay. Shoals of exotic fish, beautiful colours, different sizes, amazing shapes mingled with us over a fantasy of coral and sand.
The Hawaiins and other Polynesian races are as friendly and beautiful as they have been described. It is easy to see why Robert Louis Stevenson, of Treasure Island fame, stayed for so long in Hawaii. I ate an ice-cream to his memory under an enormous old banyan tree said to have been a favourite of his. The British are now uncommon visitors here. We were even asked what language is spoken in England because our accents appeared so foreign and apparently unnatural. Longstock seemed very far away at that moment. We enjoyed a Hula show and discovered that Hawaiin college girls study hula as well as Economics. It makes sense. We also drank delicious Hawaiin cocktails, such as Mai-Tai and Chi-Chi, both made with spirits, coconut oil and exotic fruits. We drank to our return and dreamed of another chance to visit these, and perhaps other tropical islands like Samoa and Tahiti. Does anyone know of an interesting conference in, how about New Zealand!
30th September, 1986
MEETING WITH A STOCKBRIDGE INDIAN
Red Indians from Stockbridge? These I had to see. It was the last day of the Indian Summer Festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Penny and I were in town for a few days while travelling in the U.S.A. Our information was that Bill Miller "a Stockbridge Indian from the Shawano area of northern Wisconsin" was going to sing that evening.
Filled with fantasies about our wild and noisy neighbours from Stockbridge, Hants, and with my childhood memories of gang warfare in the Marsh Court wood, we went down to the shore of Lake Michigan and joined the throng.
There were several bands and craft displays, but mostly dubious looking characters dressed in a mixture of Red Indian and Cowboy clothes drinking around an enormous bar. After listening to Joanne Shenandoah, daughter of an Onandaga Indian chief folk-singing with her group, I spied a squaw with "STOCKBRIDGE INDIANS" written in bold letters on the back of her tatty leather garment. She and her group were waiting their turn to mount the stage and I had time to introduce myself.
The Stockbridge Indians, apparently a well known tribe of Mohicans comprise one thousand five hundred people living beside the Hudson River. Originally from Stockbridge in the State of Massachusetts they have been moved on at least eight times since their displacement many years ago. Their first home, not far from Andover Massachusetts took its name from an Indian trading post set up by an Englishman. (There are pictures of a more modern Stockbridge, Massachusetts in our own Stockbridge Town Hall).
It was strangely exciting to meet people so identified with the familiar name and yet with no knowledge of our own part of the world. I wonder who it was that went West, perhaps from this village, and ended up trading with the Mohican Indians? I would like to think that somewhere in the vastness of North America there is a tribe of Longstock Indians - and that one day I will meet them too!
Fierce yellow eyes, unblinking, bored deep into the side of my head. I could just detect them from the corner of my eye. Without changing position I focused on my unnatural task; the whirr of the machine varied its tone moving over the rough contours beneath. Each time this happened I became aware of the twitching of a pair of pointed, extremely hairy, protruberances above the eyes - two grey ears on closer inspection. As my head turned slowly to face the unexpected presence our four eyes made contact.
A quick aversion of gaze was followed by a movement towards me - the eyes engaged a second time - questioning, puzzled and perhaps a little disdainful. I finished what I had to do, still watched intently, almost insolently, until the whirring ceased.
It was over. Fizzy vanished under the bed and immediately went to sleep. She had witnessed, for the first time, a strange uncatlike spectacle - and her feline form gave three little twitches as she dreamed of being chased by a giant, whiskerless, ginger Tom riding on a loudly purring electric shaver.
Sandy Burnfield 26 December 1993
Codependicitis Ephemera (CDE)
Sandy Burnfield, March 2001
Sam felt guilty about Charlie's disease and was scared of its unpredictable
nature - and of losing control. Sam had to do as much as possible for
Charlie. At first Charlie really liked having constant care, and let Sam do most things. When people saw the care and attention fostered on Charlie they would say that Sam was a great person - the way Charlie was looked after. At first Charlie, walking with a cane, used to be seen in the town with Sam.
As time went on Sam increased the care given to Charlie. This however,
had no relationship to Charlie's physical needs. They both became increasingly resentful of each other. Charlie did not mind Sam doing the cooking and cleaning, but objected when Sam began picking out clothes and scheduling activities without consultation. Sam felt that Charlie's anger was not fair - Charlie should be grateful for the constant caring and hard work.
Neighbours said that they had seen Charlie being pushed by Sam in a wheelchair. They were surprised at how limp and vacant Charlie had become and how confident and cheerful Sam appeared to be.
Doctors found no continuing evidence of Charlie's initial illness but Charlie remained in the care of the loving and protective Sam who did all the feeding, washing and speaking for Charlie. Their home had never been made accessible which kept Charlie dependent. At social events, doctor's visits and other outings Charlie was accompanied by Sam - the two of them had become inseparable.
Neighbours reported seeing Charlie in a child's buggy - and the funny thing was that when they looked carefully, Charlie had somehow got smaller and looked younger than before.
Charlie was only ever seen once more - if it really was Charlie - for the person in the pram Sam was pushing seemed like a miniature baby version, and indeed it smiled inanely and gurgled.
Although Charlie was never actually spotted again, Sam and the empty pram were often seen - it even came to meetings of the CDE (Codependicitis Ephemera) group that Sam chaired locally. People tried looking in the pram but it was always the same - their old friend Charlie had completely disappeared. And people soon forgot Charlie ever existed. But Sam is now twice the size, and rumour has it, will shortly get an O.B.E.
From Buddhism Now