Thursday, 25 January 2018

THE MINDFULNESS OF DOG WALKING



 

Mindfulness is simply paying attention in a special way, non-judgementally and in the present moment.  In the Mindfulness of Breathing meditation the focus is the breath, but it could be almost anything.  You could be mindful of a flower or the flame of a candle.  This morning I discovered that it can also be the mindfulness of walking a dog.

This Mindfulness of Dog Walking doesn’t take place on a deserted beach or on a cross country ramble, but just an ambling walk around town.  Dogs love routine and although I have always tried to avoid becoming a creature of habit, since we came to live here and particularly since we adopted a scruffy dog, I have come to enjoy the routine of our regular walks.  This morning I decided to pay attention to every aspect of our walk around the small town of Alaior in Menorca.

The walk was fairly typical.  We left the house at just before 8.30 in the morning and as usual turned right.  This takes us to a large plot of weed covered land where Donut the dog can do his business.  Although it is off the pavement, I always make a point of using a poo-bag – something the locals are rather lax about.  At this time of day parents are taking their children to the adjacent school.  There is quite a large population of Muslims in our town and the number of hijabs tends to grow every year.  The women all seem to be frightened of dogs and pull their children close to them as they pass.  They also avoid eye contact so whilst the locals always give you a cheery “bon dia” they always remain silent.  I wonder if they are forbidden to speak to strangers, particularly men.

We run into other dog walkers, nod and exchange ‘bon dias’ whilst the dogs sniff each other’s bottoms.  I don’t know if there has been research into what dogs learn about each other from these encounters.  It is obviously very important to them. Most nose to nose meetings are friendly with much tail wagging but occasionally, for no obvious reason, they can react with a growl.  So whatever information is being exchanged it seems essential to scent mark every tree and lamp post in the neighbourhood.  I like to refer to it as  sending and receiving ‘pee-mail’.

We head towards the centre of town, enter the square and take a seat outside one of the coffee shop.  The Spanish love their coffee but unlike Costa and Starbucks; they serve coffee in sensible sized cups not giant pint-sized mugs of weak coffee topped with 2 inches of foamed milk and sold at extortionate prices.  I have come to love my early morning café-con-leché together with a freshly baked croissant shared strictly 50/50 with my dog.  

The winter is the peak time for citrus fruits.  Everywhere you look orange trees are laden with fruit. Consequently a popular alternative to coffee is delicious, freshly squeezed orange juice.  The oranges are enormous and far juicier than anything you would find in a British supermarket.  They are also extremely sweet but seemingly not sweet enough for Spanish tastes as they are always served with sachets of sugar.

The town used to have many traditional bakers but most of them have closed.  Mainly because all the local supermarkets sell freshly baked bread so cheaply. The bread is baked on the premises but there are no bakers needing dough and baking in traditional wood fired ovens; the dough is produced elsewhere and delivered daily to the supermarkets who cook it in electric ovens with pre-set baking times.  Usually these baguettes and pans are slightly over baked for our English pallets so bizarrely we buy our bread in the petrol station.  They also have dough delivered but the pointy ended pans they produce are whiter and more to our taste.  Our regular morning purchase of bread at the petrol station has become so routine that they see us coming and it is already on the counter waiting for me as I open the door.  Each pan costs just 95 centimos, about 75p.  Brilliant value but I feel slightly guilty for not supporting the few remaining traditional bakers.

We pass one of the depots where the supermarkets’ dough is produced and where they make many types of cakes and pastries.  The smell as we pass by is unbelievably mouth-watering. We have come to know Tollo, one of the bakers.  He must start work incredibly early in the morning and around 8.30 he emerges covered in flour and heads to the nearest bar for a much needed cup of strong coffee.  He is a strikingly handsome man.  Aged about 40, very personable, with a full jet-black beard, he looks like a character from an old Spanish movie and must surely make a few women’s hearts flutter.  He speaks excellent English and we always exchange a few brief words before he hurries back to tend his ovens.  How he copes with the extreme heat in July and August goodness only knows.

The circuit has taken just under an hour and now leads us back home where Donut will be fed and we will start our day.  Naturally, as the seasons change, so do some of the rituals of our walks but it remains a charming way to begin the day.

Friday, 1 December 2017

BUDDHISM AND NITS



Practicing Buddhists undertake to abide by a number of precepts.  Lay Buddhists have five, ordained members of the Triratna Buddhist Order have ten and Buddhist monks have many more.  However, the first universal precept is, ‘I undertake to abstain from taking life’.  Now, as there is no Buddhist pope sending out edicts on what is right and what is wrong, it is up to each individual Buddhist to interpret this precept and decide to what degree it should be applied.  The religious group known as Jains, take this to extraordinary extremes.  They sweep the ground in front of them as they walk to avoid accidentally stepping on any insects.  They also wear veils over their faces so they will not accidentally breath in any insects.

The Buddha consistently taught us to seek ‘the middle way’ between extremes.  He decreed that animals should not be slaughtered to feed him but when he stood in the villages with his alms bowl, he accepted whatever was given and this may have included meat.  His view was that to refuse a gift was to deny the giver the merit that comes from generosity.  Although the overwhelming majority of Triratna order members do not eat meat or fish, you could no more say that all Buddhists are vegetarian than you could say all vegetarians are Buddhists.  The Dalai Lama was once a vegan but following a severe bout of jaundice, he began eating meat on the advice of doctors, whilst still advocating vegetarianism.

My personal interpretation of the second precept is that as far as I am able, I avoid killing harmless bugs.  I don’t kill spiders but I would take measures to clear an infestation of ants in the kitchen.  I don’t want mice in the house but I hate to use mouse traps, so we have an electrical device that sends out a signal to make mice uncomfortable and less inclined to take up residence. I would not hesitate to use the most powerful anti-nit treatment if, in the unlikely event they were that desperate to find somewhere to live.  I am one of the fortunate few who seldom get bitten by mosquitoes but if I saw one feeding on my arm, I wouldn’t hesitate to swat it.  

Because of this precept, I gave up eating meat.  You could argue that no animal is slaughtered for my particular benefit, but I don’t accept that premise.  Someone has to do the killing and by doing so there is a danger that they will become hardened to the suffering of their victims, and this would have a powerful karmic effect.  I try to avoid eating fish although as I now live in Spain, I either have to eat fish or go without.  I also have to confess that from time to time I eat traditional fish and chips, albeit rather guiltily.

The world is changing and it is predicted that as the population of this planet swells it is going to become increasingly difficult to continue to feed everyone with animal protein.  Some say that in the future we will derive our protein from insects specially bred for the purpose, whilst others say that we would be perfectly able to feed the entire population of Mother Earth if we ate the vegetable protein we currently feed to sheep, cattle and pigs.

We experienced CJD in beef, an influenza epidemic created by poultry, salmonella poisoning in eggs and massive outbreaks of swine fever and foot and mouth disease, all due to intensive farming methods.  It seems to me that nature is telling us something and we really should take notice.  I am not suggesting that the entire population will become vegetarian sometime soon, but as we become more aware of the suffering inflicted on animals in order to provide us with affordable animal protein we will demand improvements to their welfare and perhaps eat a little less meat.  As we learn more about depleting fish stocks, we may also be encouraged to eat less fish. 

A few years ago lived surrounded by fields full of cattle.  From my bedroom window I would see them grazing peacefully with their suckling calves.  Human beings are the only creatures to demand that we should drink milk throughout their entire adult lives, so in order that we should have the milk rather than the calves, the male calves are taken away to be slaughtered and the young cows are taken off to eventually become milking cattle.  The moment the cows are separated from their calves they become distressed and start calling for them.  Their calls become increasingly desperate, even through the night and frequently one or two will force their way out of the field and run up and down the lane, bellowing for their young.  This goes on for at least a week until they calm down.  Eventually they will be put to the bull, and the whole process starts again. I found this upsetting and consequently moved slightly towards veganism by cutting cow’s milk from my diet.  To my shame, I still eat cheese as it seems currently beyond food scientists to invent an acceptable alternative.  We eat eggs but never from the supermarket.  Fortunately we have friends who keep chickens and allow them to joyfully run about freely.

That’s purely my personal viewpoint, but I would bring out the heavy artillery to tackle nits but think twice before stamping on a spider, look for alternatives to trapping mice and consider eating a little less meat.  But please don’t cook bacon when I am around, even after over 25 years as a vegetarian, the smell of bacon frying still makes my mouth water.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

HARVEY WEINSTEIN AND KARMA



Buddhists believe that all actions have consequences.  Positive actions have positive consequences and negative actions have negative consequences.  So we may say that Harvey Weinstein’s current predicament is the karmic consequence of his many negative actions both recent and historic.

Firstly, it is important to establish that karma is not a form of punishment meted out by some powerful deity, neither is it fate or destiny.  Our actions are often likened to seeds that are planted in the present but harvested in the future.  This future may be just minutes away or it may be many years before our actions mature into consequences.  However, this may be a little simplistic.

Karma is not a general law of causation but it is the way our deliberate actions shape our relationships with other people and affect the world we live in.  It is our intention, the deliberate wilful action that creates Karma.  

So in this case, it seems undeniable that Harvey Weinstein’s actions were aimed deliberately at satisfying his sexual urges with little or no consideration to how other parties were affected or damaged by them.  But what of all those who, because of the power wielded by him, were coerced into being complicit or remaining silent?  

These were deliberate actions albeit taken under duress.  They could have spoken out but chose not to out of fear of reprisals or damage to their own careers.  It could be that their actions were partially responsible for fostering the continued belief among some that sexual harassment was acceptable.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

THE FOUR SEASONS


There’s a widely held misconception that we don’t experience the four seasons here in the Balearic Islands.  The transitions may be very different in appearance to those experienced in the UK, but we still enjoy spring, summer, autumn and winter.  

Spring is notable for its profusion of wild flowers.  No daffodils or bluebells but spring is around the corner when there is a sudden explosion of bright yellow flowers that seem to happen overnight.  They pop up everywhere, every nook and cranny, every crack in a wall or pavement will be filled with them.  When the sun bounces off the carpet of yellow blooms it is dazzling and you have to look away.  Then just as suddenly they are gone to be followed by oxide daisies and a proliferation of wild orchids including the fascinating bee orchid, mimicking female bees to trick males into mating and thereby pollinate them.

This year however, spring suddenly became summer without warning.  Half way through May we were enjoying the warmth of early season’s sunshine when suddenly temperatures soared into the low 30’s, and it stayed that way all through June with high levels of humidity.  June became July heralding killer temperatures way off the scale, reaching the low 40’s in several places. 
We took showers several times a day but it was futile, just toweling off was enough to get the sweat flowing again and sleep was almost impossible.   

August was unbearably hot and humid, we could hardly remember the last time it rained. Then on the very last day of the month the rain came.  Temperatures plummeted as the skies clouded over and at last the garden hose was redundant.  

Yesterday the thunder rumbled and skies turned slate grey.  Strong winds heralded more rain and it   I remembered many years ago when we were running a country bar/restaurant in August and at 6.30 in the morning a storm broke the drought.  In an instant the gutters were overflowing with rain, water streaming off the roof to create a waterfall .  I leapt out of bed, grabbed a bar of soap and stood naked under the gushing water, filling the patio with suds. I had never felt so alive.
was delicious.

This morning the grey skies are gone as have all the puddles.  The breeze is still quite perky but the temperature was up in the low teens when I exercised our dog at 8.00 but quickly climbing to a manageable 28⁰ by midday.  The humidity has gone and the air is crisp.  Hopefully, in spite of this sudden shift from Summer to Autumn, we will have a few weeks of this wonderful weather before the winter chill arrives.

Friday, 1 September 2017

THE ACCIDENTAL BUDDHIST - RETIRED



Four years ago my wife and I left the UK to live in Menorca.  The reason for us emigrating was threefold.  Firstly, financial.  Now retired on a very basic state pension, rent and council taxes would be much lower there - an important consideration.  Secondly, we had family in Menorca; my wife’s son’s family lived there with our two grandsons.  Finally, it was the year of the big floods in the Somerset levels.  Luckily we lived high on a hill, safe from the floods but for months and months we looked out over the saturated levels hating the grey, leaden skies and desperate for some sunshine.

We knew the island well, in fact some 20 years earlier we had lived there for a few years struggling to make a living as artists and interior decorators.  Having failed, we returned to the UK but continued to take our holidays there.  We owned a primitive ‘casita’ literally ‘small house’.  It had running water, flush toilet, a fair sized plot of land, but no electricity.  We couldn’t afford to install solar but we enjoyed summer evenings by candlelight.  We always looked forward to our annual holiday in Menorca visiting friends and family.  When we landed at Mahon airport we felt the stresses of day to day life in the UK immediately begin to fade away.  After a couple of weeks laying in a hammock or swimming in the sea, we were totally relaxed and ready to face the world once more.

But now we live here – our pensions converted to Euros and paid directly into our local bank.  At first everything was rosy.  Sterling was probably over valued as we were receiving over 1.40 to the pound and with a single client left over from my freelance days adding to our income, we felt that we had made the right choice.  

Then came the referendum.  Even before the results were known, sterling was already on the move downwards and it continues.  Now not far short of one for one, we have definitely felt the pinch.  My stepson lost his job with a local nightclub and unable to find alternative work, took his wife and children back to the UK where work was plentiful.  We missed them terribly and this combined with our diminishing income began to create stress.  In the past we would counter this with a short holiday in Menorca – but now we lived here and there was no escape.

This reminded me of the piece I wrote on this blog a few years ago about the Wordly Winds I read it through again and remembered how much I enjoyed leading classes at the Bristol Buddhist Centre and also the pleasure in writing these notes afterwards.  So I have decided to revive it – maybe not writing as regularly as I did when I lived in the UK, but just now and then.  Quite what I will write about and who I will write it for, I am not sure.  

Maybe just some very brief notes from a retired Accidental Buddhist living on a very small Mediterranean island.

(pictured is Calas Fons at Es Castell)