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Thursday, 29 December 2011

My Art Exhibition

I have an exhibition of eight original paintings and four prints on view at the Blue angel Cafe, Findhorn from the 14th January.Well worth a visit for the excellent coffee and cakes if not my paintings! The paintings don't come free with coffee and cakes but are very affordable.Do have a look.

My paintings are also on view at The Picture This art gallery, Church Street, Inverness, The Basil Harbour Cafe, Nairn, The Moray Art Centre. Findhorn and Iolaire Gallery, Nairn.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Anam Cara

Anam Cara translates as soul friend. One of my best friends Julian ( who is also my son ) sent me this video. I invite all my friends who may read this blog to watch this and give thanks for our friendship. To anybody else reading this blog who doesn't know me I urge you to celebrate and nourish your friendships and relationships. In our busy lives we need to remember that without friends there would be little point in being busy.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Uplifting. The Choir. Gareth Malone.

I sat up late last night and was completely entranced by this documentary of the transformation of a group of military wives from two separate bases into a wonderful choir.
In contrast to most reality TV shows which are for the most part ( Strictly Come Dancing excepted ) mostly cruel, crude and voyeuristic this journey is uplifting and inspirational.
Gareth Malone is an extraordinary young man who believes music is a way to bring people together and has the supreme confidence to make it happen. The bonding between the wives themselves and Gareth was heartwarming and I was choked with emotion watching this. The story ends with the women performing at the Royal Albert Hall in front of the Queen.They are likely to have a Christmas number one with the song created from their letters to their husbands and boyfriends serving abroad You can see this on BBC IPlayer and if you want to feel uplifted for Christmas watch this.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Peppers now finished

I have now painted the yellow background in a uniform pale yellow. Thank you for the suggestions, I agree my previous background didn't convey my intention well. This is a bit ambiguous but looks better I think. It is framed up and ready to go and is priced at  £125.00. There will be no prints so this a chance to own this original for a modest price.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Not so smart phone

Nerd Confused - A cartoon nerd looking confused and...I was joking the other day when I said my granddaughter of eight months would soon be teaching me how to use a smart phone. HOWEVER my old mobile suddenly crashed. I went to CarPhone warehouse and as some of the cheaper smart phones were not much more than ordinary phones I bought one. It was a very stressful experience as there was so much CHOICE. The salesman ( boy ) was really helpful and set up everything and showed me how to use it in a display of extraordinary speed and knowledge, which of course I couldn't follow. "Isn't there a manual " I asked. " Yes " he said, " But it is useless" Did he think I was thick I wondered?
I got home and looked at the manual, it WAS useless! I looked up the on line manual, 137 pages of instructions, obviously translated from Taiwanese! The virtual keyboard did not seem to align with my fingers, even typing in numbers to make a phone call took so long as I keep hitting the wrong keys, and where was the back key? What was this about double taps and tap and hold and where the hell is the top up icon?

I went off to meditate and wished my old phone back. Did I really need the stress of facebook, Twitter and mobile web access. They tell me the IPhone is easy to use! Buying cheap is not so smart, even smart phones!
But WAIT I picked up my old phone and it is working again. Anybody smart enough to work my smartphone? Well just let me know.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Waiting for the Chef

Another fun painting. I am not sure if I need to change the yellow and white background. It is meant to vaguely suggest sunlight but although it looks ok on the original painting I must admit it does not look good on the photo. Perhaps I will make it a solid pale yellow?

Advice welcome.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Christopher Hitchins

Christopher Hitchins who died today was noted for his controversial views and acerbic quotes. I like this one.

"Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are God. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realise that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods."

I wonder did he prefer cats or dogs. He was an atheist so probably neither.

Fete at St Ambroix. France

This painting ( which is not very good ) but nevertheless is a nice souvenir of the Jerry Active cycle Tour de France last June. I have only just painted the sketch after six months! The scene is a fete in St.Ambroix being held to celebrate the Occitane culture. We just happened to be cycling by and stopped to observe. See my blog on the Tour de France for more details.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

My I. T. expert

Many of you will know that modern technology is not my strong point.

However help is at hand. My granddaughter Isla is taking a crash course in computing and will shortly be instructing me on the finer points of computer complexity. She will also be showing me how to connect my TV to the Internet and use a smart phone.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Ben Loyal 2

This is my second painting of Ben Loyal from a slightly different position. I am pleased with the sky for which I used water colour. I mixed ultra marine and light red for the darker clouds with a wash of burnt sienna underneath, finally a little ultra marine into the wet washes. The foreground is acrylic.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Noble Greyhound. Obituary.

This is a portrait of Shaker the Greyhound I was commissioned to paint a few months ago. He suddenly became ill and was found to have inoperable cancer and died. It all happened within a very short time.

Painting his portrait brought me close to him as I tried to catch his essence so I am very sad at the news.

He was a really powerful dog and had a successful racing career. However the best of his life was the love and care he received after his rescue. Many Greyhounds are put down after their useful racing career ends so he could have had a much shorter life. R.I.P. my friend.

R.I.P Shaker

Thursday, 8 December 2011

St. Enemie. France

This painting is of the charming village of St.Enimie on the river Tarn in France. I sat and sketched this during the Jerry Active cycle Tour de France last June and have only just got round to painting it.St Enimie has an interesting legend. If interested why not look it up on the Internet?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Winter Woes

The snow has arrived with a vengeance now. Just as the winds bring down the last leaves from the trees so a gale of minor mishaps have descended on us. First we discovered a leak from the boiler which had damaged the floor. The leak was fixed by a plumber as no heating engineer was available. Then the boiler broke down and now we have to have a new one. At the same time the toilet broke and needed a new cistern. Then the heating at my studio flat needs a repair. Then a fault on my car and for a grand final ( so far ) the knife rack fell off the wall.

Observing myself in meditation this morning I am amused at myself for being stressed by these minor problems when the world is full of such suffering. So many people would be glad to exchange their problems for mine.I am indeed so fortunate and give thanks that I only have these things to worry about. My thoughts and compassion go out to all the people who are experiencing real problems and pain.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Sunset Isle of Mull

This is the other painting I have put into Moray Art Clubs 60th annual exhibition. It comes framed, frame size 58cm x 36cm. Painting size 39cm x 30cm with a ivory mount. The price at the exhibition is £150.00 but if it doesn't sell it will be on my web site at £200.00 Prints will be available in two sizes. It can be viewed along with fifty or so other works at Moray Art Centre, Findhorn Park, Findhorn.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Brighton Blues

This is a fun painting I recently completed. As gardeners everywhere will know the holy grail of rose growers is to produce a blue rose.

Similarly chicken breeders have for years tried to breed a blue chicken. Finally a breeder near Brighton succeeded but unfortunately only males were produced and all further attempts failed.

Therefore when these splendid blue brothers go to the hen house in the sky, blue chickens as a breed will die out. The breeder concerned will no doubt reflect on his lost fortune and be left singing the blues.

Wild West

Just back from a few days in Plockton on the west coast.Plockton is an artists paradise (usually) so I was looking forward to sketching some of the scenes, a bit of cycling and walking. However the visit coincided with some of the worst weather imaginable, constant rain and gale force winds. Fortunately we had good self catering accommodation so I did get some painting done, even finishing some sketches I did in France back in June. Nevertheless I did get severe cabin fever as I am used to being active. The picture was taken in the summer not this week! A very different Plockton to the rain lashed place of the last few days.

Friday, 2 December 2011

When I die

When I die the world will carry on?
They say.
But what could happen without me?
I say.

I am so important I cannot leave just yet
 I pay all my dues and taxes
 And joined the village choir

I recycle all my rubbish
 And vote in all elections
I help old ladies cross the road
and sometimes pick up litter

I read about the scandals
 In someone else's life
Will those of mine stay hidden
 Or will they come to light

Will anybody remember if I'm black or white
And does it really matter if I reached the heights
Or plumbed the depths and robbed a bank
And donated most to Oxfam

Oh yes I'm so important
I've been and done so much
I've learnt to cook and speak Chinese
And chaired the rugby club

I wash my car once every week
And mowed that pesky lawn
I'm sure I don't deserve to die
After all that I have done

But soon they'll help me cross that road
And nobody will remember
And even though I'm dead and gone
The world will carry on.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The small picture

It was snowing here yesterday, a 15 degree drop from the previous day! My mind went back to the sights and sounds of summer. I was reminded that within the overall memory there were numerous small items making up the big picture. There was this swarm of Ladybirds, a sudden surge in numbers. In Norfolk where I grew up Ladybirds are affectionately called Bishy Bonnnybees and children love letting them run around on their hands. I also reflect that our opinion of likes and dislikes is very subjective. If there was a swarm of small brown flying beetles kids would be swatting them away rather than allowing them to crawl over their hands. However all life is beautiful and makes up the wonderful big picture.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Mountain painting. Ben Loyal. Scotland.

This is my latest painting. Ben Loyal near the Kyle of Tongue in the far north of Scotland.

I will be entering this in the Moray Art Club's exhibition along with another painting.

The painting measures 39cm x 30cm and comes mounted and framed. It can be viewed at the Moray Art Centre, Findhorn Park. Moray. If you are feeling rich it is only £150.00. The Exhibition runs from 3rd December to 4th February. There will be 60 works on display including paintings,drawings, prints, photography and sculpture so if you are looking to purchase an original work of art it is well worth a look.

United we fall

United we stand, divided we fall, so goes the saying. However it seems to me that if Europe's political elites are determined to save the Euro without Germany taking on the collective debt of the Euro zone then democracy itself will be threatened. As it stands Germany is insisting on forcing debtor nations to balance the books regardless of the consequences as a price for rescue. This is even without Germany taking on the Euro zone debt! We don't know the consequences of countries leaving the Euro but Greece, Spain and Italy desperately need to devalue otherwise they face ten years of internal devaluation to become competitive against Germany. Can fifty percent youth unemployment be a price worth paying? Is any ideology worth the human misery? Perhaps in twenty years it would all even out but can democracy wait that long?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Wainwrights Coast to Coast Walk

I was thinking about my wonderful spring and summer. I had so many wonderful experiences one of which was a guiding trip on The Coast to Coast long distance path. I helped guide a group of Americans on this lovely walk. This lady, Donna came to mind. Along with husband Stephen they were a charming couple. Donna and I shared some interesting conversations about Buddhism. I wonder how they are getting on?

On the edge

This is me at the moment. A bit stuck and on the edge!

No Focus

Oh Dear! Still feeling restless. I feel like a skittish horse disturbed by the wind and can't settle to anything. Went to my art group this afternoon and although my painting went quite well still can't ground myself. I have booked my transport to France for next years cycling trip and a winter escape to La Gomera and I know I am incredibly lucky to be able to do these things. Nevertheless I have this feeling of ennui! Maybe it is the tremendous uncertainty in the world with all the unrest that is arriving on the wind or in the ether that is communicating itself to me. My focus is anywhere but in the present: in other words no focus at all. So what is going on? Who can tell me? Maybe I know but cannot admit it even to myself?

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A brave New Ism

We have had Communism, Facism, Socialism, Capitalism and Euro ism. Where do we go from here?

We have tried Confucianism, Humanism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufi ism, Shintoism and all sorts of religious Isms. Sometimes we need these more than State Isms.

We are now waiting for that Brave New Ism to rescue us and lead to the promised land.

Meanwhile perhaps we should just enjoy No Ism.

Monday, 21 November 2011

It's a Euro no then?

This is a German Euro note. Taken together the Euro Zone is solvent. Everybody is pressing the Germans to allow the European Central Bank to issue Euro Bonds. Euro Bonds would equalise Euro Zone debt across all member states and therefore solve ( at least for the short term ) the Euro crisis at a stroke. Unfortunately the Germans have given it a no vote.

I am reminded of the other no votes in EU history. Denmark said no in 1992 and 2000. Ireland voted no in 2001. Swiss voters said no to even opening negotiations to join. Norway voted no in 1994. The later two votes were accepted by their governments but the hapless Danish and Irish governments were pressured to put the question again until electorates gave the right answer! When the stressed Greek PM suggested a vote on austerity there was outrage in the EU and some say his downfall was engineered!

I wonder if the Germans will change their minds and vote yes to the pressure to allow the European Central Bank to give the right answer?

Glen Coe

Sold a print of this painting today. Black Rock Cottage and Glen Coe. Very pleased as not much selling at the moment.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


It has been a beautiful day here in Scotland, as it has for the last two weeks, with temperatures around 12 to 14 degrees. Last year at this time the cold weather had already set in. Everybody is so relieved as we were all expecting another long cold winter.

In spite of the respite I find myself unable to settle. I have a feeling of anticlimax and crave excitement but don't quite know what to do to find it. Perhaps it is after such a good spring, summer and autumn everything seems dull in comparison?

In Buddhism we call this Dukkha, roughly translated as unsatisfactoriness. Craving is also one of the three poisons, namely greed. I know this but despite having the insight to what is going on I can't quite shake the feeling!

There is also a kind of grasping in my restlessness. I am very aware of the passing of time and feel the unhealthy need to grab at life's pleasures while I still have the health and strength!

I have also been disturbed by the polemic within my Buddhist group which has provoked a tremendous shift in the way I view the group and the Dharma. All of which is no doubt to the good but it has left me feeling unsettled.

It has left me feeling that a seismic shift is about to take place in my life and perhaps the craving for excitement is one of the time honoured ways of avoiding something that needs to be addressed?

So what to do? Sit with it in the certain knowledge that all feelings are transitory or recognise that sometimes action is required and sitting with it is not the correct option.

Monday, 14 November 2011


I just can't get this painting right! I am happy with the foreground but have reworked the sky three times and it's still not as I would like. If I rework again the paint will be like gloss on a windowsill!

I like the composition so perhaps the best thing would be to do the whole painting again on fresh paper?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Still unfinished painting

I have done some more work on this picture. I am still not pleased with the sky so am considering changing it. What do you think?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Unfinished painting

Worked on this new painting yesterday. It only took two hours from start to this unfinished stage. It has potential so although it needs finishing touches it may work out.

The location is the Isle of Mull

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Ideology gone mad.

I am not a political person but I cannot help being outraged by the ideology behind the Euro experiment. It was conceived with the best intentions but pushed through with a political ideology which overruled all common sense. All politicians are guilty of subscribing to this grand ideal doing anything to join even at the expense of fiscal rectitude. Greece fiddled the books to get in now ordinary Greeks are paying an awful price. The other Euro nations turned a blind eye when they knew Greece should not have been allowed to join. Also it was obvious some time ago that Spain, Italy and Portugal were not able to restructure their economies within the Euro straight jacket. It was at this point that the experiment became evil. Before the Euro the above economies would deal with any lack of competiveness by gentle devaluations. Now if they left the Euro the devaluations would be massive. It has been suggested that if Greece for example went back to the Drachma it's value would halve against the Euro. Every Greek with savings would see the value halved and any debt they had in the Euro Zone double. Who knows what the consequences would be? Obviously tourism would start growing again which would probably be the only plus point. So the Euro elite in failing to admit that the experiment had failed and thereby allow counties to exit with small devaluations, push through ever harsher internal devaluations by making these countries cut wages, pensions, welfare and everything else thereby sacrificing the only thing which could work, that is to say growth. So you have youth unemployment in Spain at 40% This is nothing short of criminal in the name of ideology! the more efficient German economy has benefited enormously from a weak ( for it's economy ) Euro but is unable to stomach the cost of equalising the debt of other nations into one common pot. What a nightmare and nobody knows where it will lead.

Monday, 7 November 2011

It's Over

It's like being pregnant and the end it will hurt.
You know it's been coming and no place to run.

The space between you is getting too large
You want it to happen but can't bear the hurt.

You feel love dying as something else grows
Reluctant to end it and cause yet more pain.

But what is the answer and what is the gain.
To stay is to perish, to stifle a life.

Stillbirth is no triumph when two go to hell
So brave the unknown and start a new life.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Number One Poem


By Rudyard Kipling.

This has consistently been voted Britain's favourite poem. No wonder. If facing a difficult decision, if feeling in need of courage, if taking a risk, then reading this poem may make you more resolute. It connects with my emotions, especially as I have taken risks and experienced gains and losses in my own life.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;
If you can think-and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they have gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: ' Hold on!'

If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings-nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but non too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And-which is more-you'll be a Man, my son!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Maitreya the future Buddha. Why the long wait?

Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, seated upon his throne in the heavens, awaiting his call to minister on earth.Thinking some more on the subject of enlightenment.

There seems to be a contradiction between the assertion that enlightenment is possible for anyone, even in this lifetime, providing we make enough effort and the assertion that the next Buddha will be Maitreya who will appear in the distant future to save the Dharma from extinction. It's a bit like waiting for a British player to win Wimbledon!

According to most traditions the route to becoming a Buddha is by taking the Bodhisattva vow, practising the six perfections and passing through ten Bhumis or grounds. Then it seems there is a choice of renouncing full Buddha hood and leading others to enlightenment or electing to become a full Buddha and then leading others to enlightenment. It seems quite difficult doesn't it?

 Are there two classes of enlightenment? I say two because of the apparent enlightenment of some who came into contact with the Buddha's teachings, without it seems even being a Bodhisattva. The Buddha's sixty enlightened disciples for example who went forth to spread the Dharma. So it seems there is a Buddha ( first class enlightenment ) and those who are just enlightened ( second class )  A sort of Buddhist ' Upstairs, downstairs '

What is the average western Buddhist to make of this?

One way of making sense of this is to treat Maitreya as a metaphor. Maitreya means ' Compassionate One ' so perhaps when the seed of Buddha nature is activated and awakened it is natural for compassion to arise. Could one not therefore treat Maitreya as the future potential within all of us? To take Maitreya literally as the next Buddha does seem to take enlightenment out of reach with no possibility for anyone else in the ( long ) meantime. After all waiting for the next Buddha would be like waiting for the next coming of Christ! So as I said in my previous article ' Enlightenment. The impossible dream. ' maybe enlightenment is just a higher state of consciousness and that it is definitely attainable for all of us, as it was for the Buddha's disciples.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Fisherman John

Photo showing Small Fishing Boat

When the wind comes up
we'll go to sea.
When the wind dies down
then we'll see.

When the tide comes in
so will we.
When the tide goes out
why can't we.

When the fish are there
let's all shout.
When the fish are gone
it's so long John.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

A starter to die for

Just back from a four day cycling trip. This is the last trip before the winter nights close in and we were blessed with good weather.
On the second night we stayed at The Fife Arms hotel in Turriff. This is a great hotel with very hospitable owners. We stayed there a year ago and arrived by bicycle after riding all day in heavy rain. The owner was not at all fazed by the appearance of two wet individuals who must have looked like tramps and gave us a great welcome.
This year we arrived dry if only marginally less elegant and were immediately recognised even though one year had passed.
The Fife Arms has superb food and we had a great meal but I would single out my starter as one of the most imaginative and delicious I have ever had. Calamaris with black pudding. As most people know calamari can be tough and rubbery if even slightly overcooked. These were perfect. I am not sure of the recipe but the black pudding was thinly sliced and slightly crisp. The salad included slivers of apple, possibly marinated in the salad dressing but not cooked. There was garlic and sweet chili in there somewhere plus olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Anyway the ingredients blended perfectly into a mouthwatering explosion of contrasting tastes. This starter could be adapted to make a very good main course with the addition of a delicately flavoured rice.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Guiding Star


Where are you my guiding star?
You are so bright when I don't need you.

Now you've gone behind some cloud
Unseen, Obscured, now that I need you.

Where are you my guiding star?
I search the heavens for a clue.

Indecision makes a fog
And I no longer see you.

So where are you my guiding star?
I'm so sad and lonely.

I look to you to answer me
And lead me far from here.

Where are you my guiding star?
The solution I am seeking.

The answer lies within not out

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Perfect Zen Moment

Wood PigeonI was thinking about those Zen moments today. Those moments when there is an awareness of being aware. When we meditate we reach these moments during the meditation practice but when going about our daily tasks it is harder to be mindful. We know we should practise awareness during these tasks but it is so easy to be in the future or past with our thoughts. Even worse we can get swept away by negative emotions such as anger. How wonderful then, when we are jolted into awareness and feel connected to and part of everything. At that moment everything is perfect. It can be, and usually is, something quite ordinary which is the trigger.

I wrote my poem ' The Rooks have Gone ' after one of these moments. You can see this poem in My Poetry if you are interested. I had been away for a month and before I went the rookery in the nearby trees was incredibly noisy, with the constant coming and going of the adults feeding the young rooks. During my absence the young rooks had left the nests and all the birds were now away or quiet.

I was hanging out the washing, mind quite relaxed when I heard the call of a wood pigeon. When the rooks were there it was impossible to hear any other birds as the noise was so loud. At that moment, on hearing the call, I was aware of the pigeon and aware that there were no rooks and aware of being aware.

It is so mundane but I was awakened to the eternal now by the pigeon, to the passing of time by the pigeon and of the future by the pigeon. At the same time everything became one in the perfection of that moment. I can think of lots of similar Zen moments. I guess to be ' an awakened being ' is when all of life is lived in awareness and the mundane becomes a miracle.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Enlightenment. The Impossible Dream.

More questioning of my Buddhist beliefs.

In our Buddhist Triratna community folk often talk of aiming for enlightenment but despite years of practice and intense study nobody claims to be enlightened. Why is this? You don't have to read much Buddhist literature about the Buddha to find numerous examples of instant enlightenment.

Have modern Buddhists lost the plot? Have we somehow elevated enlightenment to something completely different from the original concept?

So what might be a definition closer to the understanding at the time of the Buddha? Could it just be a moment of transcendence in which we see everything more clearly, a moment when the mind is unaffected by the defilement's of greed, hatred and delusion? A moment when the separation of duality is absent? If so most of us could claim to have had moments of enlightenment. I am sure many people have had what are called ' Peak Moments ' Maybe the Zen idea of sudden realisation during ordinary activities is closer to the meaning the Buddha may have intended. It is the nature of peak moments that they can arise at any time and don't depend on any specific belief system.

If you believe as I do that Buddhism is not a religion then this makes sense. If then on the other hand you believe that Buddhism is a religion then it is the essence of religion to present some kind of doctrine which is either impossible to verify or only attainable for the chosen few. Heaven and enlightenment for example require blind faith to square the circle. The Buddha explicitly warned against blind faith!

However you define enlightenment there can be little doubt that meditation opens up and prepares the mind to be more receptive to moments of trancendence, however that state may be described.

The Bright Field

The Bright field

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it.

Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth, 
but is the eternity that awaits you.
R S Thomas

Thursday, 20 October 2011


I have now had over 2000 visitors to my blog! I am very surprised so many people have looked at it. I started the blog as a diary and maybe to direct visitors to my art web site. I have had visitors from all over the world. If you are reading this please leave a comment. How did you find it? What did you search for? Why do you like it ( if you do ) and do you visit more than once?
I would be really grateful if you could leave a message. Thank you very much for looking and if you are kind enough to leave a comment thank you again.

Sit quietly and meditate

It is good to travel if only to realise you have already arrived.

Sit quietly and meditate.

Go through the gate and know yourself for the first time: Again and again and again.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

They will not look here

何でそんなところにMacavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw-
For he's the master criminal who can defy the law.
He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard the Flying Squad's despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime-
Macavity's not there!

T. S. Elliot

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Self Image

ネコ柄のネコSome people have tattoos. Some people have images of their heroes. This cat is a bit narcissistic!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Stac Pollaidh Climb

On the way up

Me with Cul Mor in background
Photos from Stac Pollaidh.071

Saturday, 15 October 2011

View from a mountain

We are just back from a four day trip to the west coast. Spending the first night at the excellent Ullapool youth hostel where we met Walter Lekie an Argentine general practitioner who was trying to trace his Scottish ancestry. Lekie being a Scottish name belonging to the McGregor clan. Walter could speak almost no English and to my delight we were able to converse in Spanish. I say to my delight because I get so little opportunity to speak Spanish I really thought I had lost it. Walter joined us for dinner and we spent a pleasant evening together.

The weather in Ullapool was warm and sunny with great clarity. Before checking into the hostel we climbed Ullapool Hill and were rewarded by incredible views of the town, harbour and surrounding hills.

The next day we climbed Stac Pollaidh the mountain in the picture. John had never been this far north and he was amazed at the view from the top over the Inverpolly wilderness. It was benign on top, so much so, we could enjoy lunch in comfort. We then drove to the far north and stayed at Tongue youth hostel ( almost empty except for two girls cycling Lands End to John O Groats and a very nice lady of Italian origin called Nadia Faccenda). Nadia had set up her own business Saffron Accessories and was having a few days away from it all.

We explored the amazing coast line with it's pristine beaches, again in very good weather, and spent another night at Tongue. On Saturday we drove back home stopping to show John the famous and isolated Crask Inn. A very good four day break.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Dharma Weekend

The Highland Triratna wider Sangha attended a two day Dharma and Meditation workshop this weekend. It was led by the chairman of Vajraloka retreat centre Tejananda.

He is an inspiring teacher with a very clear and special way of communicating and teaching. He is remarkably free of fixed view points on dogma and doctrine and his clear and honest explanations gave fresh insights into familiar subjects.

For me it came at exactly the right moment as there has been some slight difference of opinions regarding the way forward within our sangha. Some of the concerns regarding my relationship with Triratna were answered by Tejananda, not in response to specific questions but more in his attitude to the Dharma.

The situation has arisen principally because there has been an increase in the size of the Moray sangha after our recent and successful beginners courses. Up to now the decisions and directions have been made by a small group of order members and trustees in the other main centre of activities at Inverness. Now some members of the Moray sangha want greater autonomy to be considered. The other issues are more to do with teaching styles and other doctrinal matters.

However all of this is very healthy and is to be expected with a growing sangha and hopefully as Buddhists we will be able to accommodate all views.

Steve Jobs was a Buddhist

Further to my previous post when I said I didn't know if Steve Jobs was a Buddhist. It seems he was! Apparently he was a follow of Zen. This does explain the passages I posted from his Stanford University speech. The exhortation to contemplate death and therefore not waste this life is one of the four reminders.
The other three are. This Precious Opportunity, Karma and The Defects of Samsara.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Steve Jobs wisdom on death

I don't think Steve Jobs was a Buddhist but his speech at Stanford University could have been by the Buddha himself. In that long inspirational address the following short passages contain all the wisdom you need for living life as it should be lived! As Buddhists we are taught to contemplate death as a reminder not to waste this precious life. I salute the humanity of Steve Jobs, he was a great man. Here are the two short passages.

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary".

Personally I think these words are as important as his great career.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Fourth Meditation Course

Amoghasiddhi. The Buddha of the North.

Our fourth meditation course ended last night and we ( Suzie, Maggie, Kevin, Sam and myself ) were very touched by the good wishes and expressions of appreciation that we received from those who attended the course.

Many participants were keen to continue and develop their practice on our regular meditation nights.

We all agreed that these courses enliven our own practice. They ( the courses ) raise questions that would not normally arise. There is nothing quite like questions from ' beginners ' to make us look at our own understanding of meditation and the Dharma.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Cherry Tree

Photo: Close-up of a cherry blossom

This poem by A. E. Housman from his epic 'A Shropshire Lad ' is one of my favourites. It is written from the viewpoint of a young man of twenty who has woken up to his own mortality. He realises that he will only see so many springs and therefore goes to look more intently at the cherry blossoms. As I am considerably older than twenty the knowledge of my own mortality is even more acute! However it makes me more mindful of beauty and this precious human life.

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now of my three score years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Jonny Wilkinson in Zen Moments

I watched England and Scotland play in the rugby world cup this morning. I was on the edge of my seat though out the very close match. England snatched victory in the last three minutes. Key to the win was the kicking of Jonny Wilkinson. He kicked two penalties and one drop goal. The concentration on his face ( the cameras zoom in so close you could be next to him ) is wonderful to behold. He is totally in the zone, a Zen moment. He is quite small for a rugby player and good looking but not only kicks well but is fearless in his tackling of huge opponents and never loses his focus on the entire game. He is my favourite sporting hero as he is such a gentleman and sportsman. He is a Buddhist and uses his meditation practice to develop the intense concentration needed to succeed with those huge long kicks. Hats off to Scotland's players, they played a superb game and despite their deep disappointment shook hands with the English players with pats on the back and the odd hug. This was sport at it's best. Zen moments and lots of Metta.                                       

Friday, 30 September 2011

Zen Moment

I was thinking about those Zen moments today. Those moments when there is an awareness of being aware. When we meditate we reach these moments during the meditation practice but when going about our daily tasks it is harder to be mindful. We know we should practise awareness during these tasks but it is so easy to be in the future or past with our thoughts. Even worse we can get swept away by negative emotions such as anger.

How wonderful then, when we are jolted into awareness and feel connected to and part of everything. At that moment everything is perfect. It can be, and usually is, something quite ordinary which is the trigger.

I wrote my poem ' The Rooks have Gone ' after one of these moments. You can see this poem in My Poetry if you are interested.

I had been away for a month and before I went the rookery in the nearby trees was incredibly noisy, with the constant coming and going of the adults feeding the young rooks. During my absence the young rooks had left the nests and all the birds were now away or quiet.

I was hanging out the washing, mind quite relaxed when I heard the call of a wood pigeon. When the rooks were there it was impossible to hear any other birds as the noise was so loud.

At that moment, on hearing the call, I was aware of the pigeon and aware that there were no rooks and aware of being aware.

It is so mundane but I was awakened to the eternal now by the pigeon, to the passing of time by the pigeon and of the future by the pigeon. At the same time everything became one in the perfection of that moment. I can think of lots of similar Zen moments. I guess to be ' an awakened being ' is when all of life is lived in awareness and the mundane becomes a miracle.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Buddhism. What do I Believe. Part Two

In part one I started with the question to myself. What do I actually believe and what do I not believe? I explored Sangha, Core Systems of Practice, The Dharma, Buddhism as a Religion, Rebirth, Karma, The relevance of Buddhism in Modern Life, Basic Doctrines, Meditation and Ritual.

So, after some considerable thought, this is what I believe.

1. Sangha. Absolutely vital and in my view the most important of The Three Jewels. I know this is controversial but to practice the other jewels without a Sangha is quite difficult. I have expanded on this in a previous post, see 'Sangha The First Jewel'

2. Core Systems of Practice. I have written quite a lot about this in part one but essentially think that even though we choose to practice under this or that tradition we should remain open to other traditions. Indeed we should also remain open to the truths in other spiritual paths. If you study Buddhism you will see clearly that all schools of Buddhism take and build from each other.

3. The Dharma. Once the truths of the basic teachings are heart fully believed and underpin our meditation I am not sure that there is much point in endless study. Some folk like to be scholars and that is fair enough. However I truly believe study can only take you so far. It is worth remembering that The Dharma was not written down for some 400 years after The Buddha passed away.

4. Buddhism as a Religion. I don't believe it is. The Dalai Lama himself said " My religion is kindness" perhaps this is the best definition of Buddhism.

5. Rebirth and Karma. I am open to the possibility of past and future lives as detailed in the twelve links of interdependent origination. However for me the jury is still out.Rebirth is the one thing I haven't been able to test yet. When I do will let you know, perhaps!
I prefer to consider rebirth as a metaphor for a higher state of consciousness in this life and as for Karma the results of our actions in this very life are very obvious, both good and bad.If Karma in this life affects the future life then all well and good.
So can one be a practising Buddhist while not sure about these concepts? I do believe so.

6. Is Buddhism relevant in Modern Life. Absolutely. In fact it is even more relevant today than ever.

7. Basic Doctrines. The Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path, Impermanence, Nothing exists independently, Non Duality, and Emptiness. This is enough. The basic doctrines are quite profound in themselves.

8. Meditation. I believe this is the vehicle that will take you to a higher state of consciousness. I am leaning more these days to The Zen approach, that is to say the direct realisation of reality through meditation. We all have moments of elevated consciousness and I sometimes think this is enlightenment itself. Another metaphor maybe? Meditation I believe leads to a joining up of these moments so that we are mindful more often and in a higher state more often. So should we confine ourselves to the meditation techniques taught within our tradition. No, meditation is a creative process and we are continually refining our exploration of it. Nothing should be prohibited. Whatever works for us should be cultivated. This is not a rejection of the tradition we are practising in just the maintenance of an open mind.

9. Ritual. This comes principally from the Tibetan Vajrayana school of Buddhism and certainly connects with the emotions for some people. I quite like it but would not say it has the power of meditation. It is nice to practice in the Sangha.

So I believe the journey is different for all of us. Don't get stuck in narrow concepts. Test everything. Ask questions and above all be open. Your heart will know what is true.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011



We are the lucky ones
We've really had it all.
We haven't had to fight a war
Our problems were so small.

We lived the golden era
Which won't be seen again
We had the swinging sixties
And much much more besides.
And now we're off on that world trip
A gap year in our dotage.

We had no unemployment
Our pensions were gold plated.
Our appetites were so so strong
And almost always sated.

So let's give thanks for all our luck
And let us pay the price.

Our kids missed out on all our luck
They'll draw the dole
 And stay at home
And watch that big TV

It's no good for them or for us
But do we have a choice.

And when we're in that nursing home
And have to be looked after.
Who can blame them in their turn
If they don't give a damn.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Thank God for Radio 4

Often while I am painting I listen to radio 4 and I love to be surprised by the subjects discussed or debated.
Last week I listened to a fascinating talk on Shintoism in Japan. I hadn't realised before that Shintoism has no God, no founder, no scriptures and doesn't believe in any kind of transcendence. It seems there is a belief in invisible spirit beings called Kami and the idea is to align with these spirits or energy. If aligned and in harmony success in business, relationships and life is assured.

Shinto comes from the Chinese characters Shen meaning divine being and Tao meaning way So it means 'way of the spirits'.

For most of the time Shintoism has co-existed with Buddhism and Confucianism except perhaps ( if I understood correctly ) during the second world war when it was appropriated by the military government.

I hope the reports of a dumbing down of radio 4 are exaggerated as I sometimes think radio 4 is the last bastion of intelligent broadcasting media left.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Over the Cliff

Passion, gain, loss, risk and fear are the themes of my latest poem. Put your own interpretation on it.

Over the Cliff

I could go over the cliff with you
Or fly above the moon.

I could plunge the depths with you
Or visit the hot sun.

I feel you in every moment
Caressed by your luminous beauty.

I could lose my mind with you
Or hide in what I know.

I could break free and run with you
Or rest in comfort cage.

You hold me in fiery tenderness
And lead me to that place.

I could be changed for ever by you
Or stand upon my pride.

I could lose my soul to you
Or fear to take that step.

You are the wilderness before heaven
Or the reef before the shore.

I could go insane with you
Or be consumed by blackness.

But I have glimpsed beyond the veil
 Ineffable perfume of truth.

So I must go
Over the cliff with you.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Latest Painting

I had a very relaxing afternoon with my Wednesday afternoon art group. We have all decided to go out for a meal on Friday 30th September and to invite Randy ( the founder and inspiration for Moray Art Centre ) and Diane his unfailingly cheerful assistant. Accordingly we wrote a card for the invitation and signed it from The Wags! This does not mean Wives and Girlfriends of rich footballers but stands for Wednesday Art Group. In accepting our invitation they said they had another abbreviation for our group, that is to say Shags! This is not a reference to our resemblance to Cormorants or something rather salacious but stands for Self Help Art Group. As you can imagine this caused much amusement and many other witticisms. Oh and I did a picture of Ben Rinnes, Morayshires highest mountain. I was quite pleased with it after my previous failure, the portrait of Sammy.

Monday, 19 September 2011

How much teaching

The Spirit of the Tree.
Meditation is creation not imitation. Meditators who imitate their instructors do not go far and that goes for Guru devotion too. Yes it is important to have some knowledge of The Dharma if interested in Buddhism. Yes if just taking up meditation for the first time it is useful to be shown how. However instructors must remain careful to warn that there is a real risk of getting stuck in one method or relying on a Guru to do all the work. Everybody is an individual and we all find our own way, our own path.  Just as the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon so too is instruction not to be confused with meditation.  Instruction is merely the invitation to connect with spirit in whatever way is appropriate for each individual.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Judgement Day

This is another wonderful poem by Phil Cornelius. I hope you like it.

Judgement Day

We all stand alone on judgement day.
If we have a God then perhaps we'll pray.

But no one here is above the rest.
When storms blow in we all face the test.

No time for self pity, no cries of remorse.
Fate charts the waters and luck sets the course.

If those demons slink out from a restless night.
Have the guts to stand and the will to fight.

And when death comes to take you to some other place.
Walk out to meet it with a smile on your face.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Buddhism. What do I Believe? Part One.

I had a wake up call recently. After being, or at least calling myself a Buddhist for many years, I had given very little thought to my understanding of  Buddhism as opposed to the understanding of Buddhism within the  tradition I practice. Certainly there were minor differences but nothing to cause serious questioning. I had seen a big change from the first Sangha I encountered over 30 years ago ( which I didn't feel comfortable with and therefore left ) and the second Sangha I belonged to in very recent times and only left because of my relocation to Scotland. My view of the second Sangha was wholly positive.

I am now involved in helping to build what was a very small and scattered Sangha, and we are making good progress. However a minor disagreement over what is and what is not appropriate within this tradition has lead me to question my beliefs. What is it I actually believe and is it compatible with the Sangha I am helping to build?

Firstly I believe that although we need a core system of practice ( especially for those who wish to know about Buddhism and maybe start practising ) we should not allow ourselves to be confined by narrow dogma. Our tradition after all draws on other different traditions does it not? We should be open and able to explore our own individual understanding of The Dharma. Buddhism has changed with each different country to which it spread and will continue to do so. There are many references and exhortations within The Dharma to be prepared to question and test everything that is presented to us. Consider the following quotes:
1. From The Kalama Sutra. Do not believe just because wise men say so. Do not believe just because it has always been that way. Do not believe just because others may believe so. Examine and experience your self.
2. From TheMahaparinibbana sutra. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Look not for a refuge in anyone besides yourselves.
3. The Parable of The raft from theMajjhima Nikaya.The Buddha says use the Dharma as a raft for crossing the river after which it should not be carried.
This is I believe is a strength of Buddhism. It does not demand blind faith.

Then there is the question of religion. Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? Undoubtedly many do regard it as a religion. I do not. For me it is a very profound philosophy to live by.

What about Reincarnation and Karma? What do I believe about that? Is it necessary to believe in these two things to be a Buddhist? Well I can't say I believe in Reincarnation and Karma as regards to past or future lives but neither do I close myself to the possibility that this belief may be true. So my position is to regard this belief as a metaphor for this our present life. A metaphor to guide us to be aware that actions have a consequence in this life ( who could possibly doubt this ) and that we therefore are continuously creating Karma. Naturally as Buddhists we try to create good Karma and the consequences certainly manifest in this life time regardless to whether we believe that we are creating Karma in a future life or not! As for Reincarnation could this not be regarded as the attainment of a higher state of consciousness and therefore could be regarded as a sort of rebirth in this lifetime? So I would say that for me I would not let an agnostic position to future existence stop anyone becoming a practising Buddhist. In any case there is the deeper question as to what it is exactly that is reborn! A subject to revisit perhaps?

The big question for me is " Does Buddhism have a relevance in the twenty first century and can we still learn from it? The answer is yes, absolutely but we need to remember that some aspects of the doctrines are very much a product of the time and place in which Buddhism was first practised.

The basic doctrines  The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path, Impermanence and so on are as relevant today as they ever were. They show a way to overcome existential suffering in a way that does not use the modern palliatives of avoidance but confronts the issues head on.

Meditation is of couse one way of examining these profound doctrines deeply and here I do take issue with those who say we should adhere to certain meditation techniques. I very strongly believe that once core meditation is well established meditation becomes a very personal and creative vehicle. To limit this to a certain method or technique is to risk getting stuck in a rather mechanical and sterile ritual.

This brings me to ritual in Buddhism. Some traditions such as Tibetan Buddhism have an extraordinary richness of ritual and place great store on it. Other traditions notably Zen are more austere, believing in meditation above everything. Nothing is right and nothing is wrong. If ritual, Puja, chanting or visualisations lead to understanding then that is fine. If just meditation is the right vehicle then that is fine too. If Dharma study works, all well and good. Most people like a combination of these things. My view is all these things are a means to an end and we must be careful not to let the means become a trap. After all we are trying to go beyond!

Part 2. To follow.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Birthday and Mixed Fortunes

I have just returned from Norwich where I attended the special birthday of an old friend. It was quite nostalgic for me as I caught up with friends I had not seen for many years. Some seemed to have scarcely changed in appearance and were bouncing with health and happiness. Another was much happier than when I saw him last but had been through the mill health wise with a triple bypass and a hip replacement. Despite this he was obviously content and enjoying life so that was wonderful to see.

I stayed with my good friends John and Nanette and on the day of the birthday party I cycled into Norwich along an old railway track to see my son Julian, his partner Vicky and my new granddaughter Isla. Isla was even more full of contented smiles than when I last saw her in August. Julian and I had a long lunch together at his local pub and we very much enjoyed the closeness of being together. I feel very blessed.

I was struck by the impermanence of everything. Friends had changed partners and been through tough times, but somehow the human spirit continues unchanged and the ties that link us continue, even though in a changing form. Much to reflect on.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Another marvellous poem by Phil Cornelius.


Let's steal away and make no plans.
Let's drive all night through Shadowlands.

Let's dance together on a moon washed beach,
Some place the waves,and the dawn, and the ghosts can't reach.
Let's chase the clouds beneath startled trees,
Let's drive forever on this midnight breeze.

Let's steal away and make no plans.
Lest we wake too soon from Shadowlands.


Oh Dear, I worked hard to try and rescue this portrait of Sammy but sometimes things go from bad to worse. It is nearly always a truism to say if it does not go well in the initial stages it can't be rescued! I always try though and just occasionally a bad painting is turned round. Not so in this case so I am just going to start again from scratch and learn from the experience!