Memoirs with Karuna
I was born at around midnight of 15th to 16th August in the year 1960. Coming into this world about two weeks premature and unknown to anyone at the time with a significant eye problem - a lazy left eye. I was my mother's first child - she had been married to Henry for coming up to two and a half years. Living with him and his ageing mother in a very small terraced house in South London. The hospital I was born in - The South London Hospital for Women - is now a Tescos supermarket close to Clapham South Tube Station. My mother remembered me spending most of my first two weeks in an incubator at the hospital. This must have been doubly difficult for her with her partial deafness - a condition that originated while she was still very young. My earliest memory is of sitting in a pram in this room - watching our small second hand TV (probably recently purchased by my dad on his meager wages - along with an old - possibly pre WW2 small Austin convertible with a very dark hood as I remember it.) My dad told me how my mum held me on her lap sitting in the front seat when we went out for a drive. One day he nearly ran into someone backing out from a driveway - a lucky escape for me since there were no seatbelts.
My earliest memories include bustling around this very room in a 'walker' and bumping into sundry objects in the process ! I also remember getting up very close to the screen of our ancient black and white TV - fascinated by the bright flickering dots making up the grainy picture. TV was still a relative novelty at the time - with only two channels to choose from and only a few hours of programs a day - mostly between about 4 and 10 pm. I can also vaguely remember my father's aged mother, who lived mostly in our 'front room' during my pre-school years. She would eventually succumbed to cancer in 1965. A few months later I began attending the local infants school.
I remember the most notable experiences of my very early life were going on holiday once a year to stay in a modest caravan in either Herne Bay or Great Yarmouth (my mother's home town). Always an adventure - travelling there in my dad's 'new' even smaller light blue Austin A30 (this time with a fixed roof and a seemingly perpetually damp floor). Going occasionally to a local cinema to see sundry colourful films - mostly Disney or James Bond - which made a huge impression on me after watching a primitive black and white TV set at home. Finally came the highpoint of the year - Christmas day - with the festive run up culminating with the large pillow case full of presents at the foot of my bed on Christmas morning - a truly magical holiday time when everyone seemed to be just that little bit happier and joyous and more friendly - marvellous.
One standout experience of these early years was my 7th birthday - the first memory I can actually put a date to - when I received my first proper 'wheels' a small blue child's scooter - not unlike those ridden by some adults in recent years . I remember the sense of freedom as I scooted round the park at the back of our house - only to hit a stone and be knocked down by it. What a deflated feeling I had as I picked myself up - inspecting my chariot for damage ! Yes I was finally growing up !
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Note: Above menu dates may not exactly coincide with all details in that specific memoir.
I would say my young childhood ended just before my tenth birthday with my near drowning. A year and a bit after that my 11th birthday was followed by my arrival at secondary school in September 1971. I joined the class of around twenty boys in the newly constructed 'huts' at a newly designated Comprehensive school. All of a sudden everything became much more serious with proper subjects like French and even Latin, Science with proper experiments and equipment and even Rugby with a special outfit complete with studded boots - and finally a smart blazer, long trousers and shirt and school tie - much more grown up ! Early life at the school was also somewhat more regimented with eight lessons a day (some double), two short and one longer break for lunch and a much longer walk to and from school.
I felt somewhat up against it being younger than anybody else in the class (and possibly my entire year) but made steady progress, even earning a prize at the end of my second year for general improvement. I also had an illustration published in the school magazine at the end of that Summer term. Then it was summer holiday time again with my last Junior BB camp having taken place the year before in a deserted junior school I believe probably somewhere on the south coast. In 1973 I had my 13th birthday, I was now officially a 'teenager' as my Auntie Florrie informed me. As a result on my return to school a few weeks later I moved into the 'Upper School' - a much larger modern block than the older 'Lower School' building where I had been based for two years.
Life in the Upper School was markedly less pleasant, the boys being older and generally more agressive. I often felt it to be a somewhat threatening environment and somewhat wilder than the more Junior school like older building. My two main positive experiences at this time were spending time in the art room with an encouraging teacher - Mr Shaw - where I was showing a growing artistic talent. This led to me contributing several pictures for the school magazine by the end of the 5th year. The other positive thing in my life was the now Senior Boys Brigade which I attended three times a week. Wednesday evenings for band practice (I became the star bugle player) and gym, Friday evenings for Parade Night in full uniform including 'drill' and sports - often volleyball, and Sunday mornings or evenings for a church service. The evening Church Parade sometimes included us marching through the local streets with me playing my rather idiosyncratic bugle solos as part of the band. I soon became an 'NCO' - first a Lance Corporal in 1974, then a Corporal in 1975 (leading my own squad on parade nights) and finally a Sergeant giving commands at drill practice around 1976 - 1977. Two highlights of the BB year were our 'display' at the Church hall on a Saturday afternoon in May or June and our camp in July or early August. With me in later years being a Tent commander in charge of around half a dozen boys in an old fashioned Bell tent.
Once through a somewhat painful puberty following my twelth birthday life of course became more complicated. Gradually at first but with things coming to a head so to speak after my fifteenth birthday, with increasing unpleasantness from some bullying at school, some tensions within our family and increased pressure to pass exams. However through it all I did make fairly steady progress, managing to pass my Maths 'O' level a year earlyat the age of 14 (my first serious academic qualification) followed by five O levels and equivalents a year later. While at the same time contributing five illustrations of increasing sophistication for the school magazine. I vividly remember my relief that summer knowing that I would be going back to the Sixth Form in September in a different part of the school to start my A levels in a much more adult setting. With over half of my year having left the school at the end of the previous summer term.
So back to school I went wearing my stylish new Polo Neck Sweater, no need now for schoolboy collar and tie - Hurrah ! To enter the far more civilised atmosphere of the sixth form common room, A levels and O level retake classes. And then at the end of September our first Inter - school social with pop music and - girls ! A new world was dawning ! A few weeks later I attended my first sixth form disco at a local girls school, the loud music, flashing lights and sexy 6th form girls made a huge impression on me - still a callow sixteen year old after all. I remember a lot of wild dancing and loud shouting on my part, looking back on it I must have looked completely daft !
Well life proceded into 1977, after my first date with a lovely Argentinian girl just before Christmas (which sadly came to nothing more). In February, having been obsessed with the music of the Beatles since my fifteenth birthday, I went out to buy my first 'Punk' single. The agressive uncompromising energy of it made a huge impression on me - I was hooked. Later (in the Queen's Silver Jubilee year) I attended my first rock concert - going to see The Jam at Battersea Town Hall. Dressed in my Mod / Punk plastic 'Donkey Jacket' and later being chased by some lads waiting at a nearby bus stop, it could be risky being a Punk back then !
The following year I finally left the BB and took my A levels - passing all three, while providing half the illustrations for that year's school magazine. I was now ready to enter college to start my degree in October after turning 18 while on a family holiday in August. My schooldays were now behind me and new horizons beckoned....................
45 minutes 1026 words.
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Enter the 80s !
So my life had moved on - it was autumn 1978 and I was now living away from home for the first time, in student diggs in East London. I stayed there for a few months, sharing a flat with two girls who were somewhat older than me and feeling somewhat out of my depth (again). I was only just 18 and attempting to get down to serious studies for my science degree. The following year I started to become interested in listening to jazz music, which was to become something of an obsession over the next dozen years.
Well I moved back to my parents' the following April and would continue to live there for the next six years. I think it was around 1980 when I became friendly with a fellow student studying mostly the same subjects as me - Peter Wong. Peter's father came from Hong Kong, then a British province on the edge of China, he introduced me to Chinese restaurants around Soho and taught me how to use chopsticks. I think our friendship may have been based to a large extent on me helping him with his studies and him introducing me to a small extent to life in the exotic 'West End' of London.
Well after making a particular effort at systematic revision during my final term at the start of 1981 I managed to attain a reasonable pass - a lower second class with honours, I now had letters after my name. This meant that my mum and dad had a child with a degree, at that time out of their eight brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles, they were only the second ones to have this. My dad's youngest sister, having 'married well', had four children at least three of whom would eventually go on to attain higher education degrees. I wonder how my mum and dad's brothers and sisters felt about this, my mum and dad having seemed to be very much the 'poor relations' in their families up to then.
Having left college I applied for a wide variety of jobs - mostly science related but including a few long shots such as the Hong Kong Police ! However I failed to secure a decent job having to settle for a temporary job in a warehouse a few months after attaining my degree. This was the early '80s with rapidly growing unemployment after all (eventually rising to one in ten of the working population of the UK) and I was one of the so called 'lost generation' which had been particularly hard hit. So I ended up working in a local warehouse which held a stock of fancy crockery and kitchenware and other household items. I was so embarrased about my failure as I saw it that I gave the impression to my workmates of having been on a degree course and 'flunked it'. I also no doubt hoped for a bit of sympathy from them over my story.
At the same time I had got to know a man living just around the corner from us, he had heard me practicing my new trumpet (a recent present from my parents). I got to know Guy quite well, he was in his sixties (not much older than me now !) and had had a colourful life. After serving as ground crew in the RAF during WW2 he had become a taxi driver from which he seemed to have recently retired. He shared an interest in attempting to play Jazz music and had even managed to make his own cello and double bass, the latter being a lumbering box like structure. He also let me try his instruments including a rather nice old alto saxophone. I would occasionally join him and some of his other old friends for impromptu music sessions over the next two years or so until he died.
Through my friendship with Guy I soon met another music enthusiast - Vince - who inspite of being three years younger than me had a 'proper' full time job as a postman, while I was languishing on unemployment benefit or doing grotty temporary jobs. During my friendship with Vince I had the opportunity to drive a succession of different cars he brought and let me try after having passed my driving test in 1982. At about this time I joined - along with Vince's sister and her friend - a local Brass Band. This later gave me the chance to perform infront of audiences as a member of the band. I continued as a band member until 1987, even joining them for a short performing tour through Germany in 1986. Another interest I shared with Vince was in driving to various Roman sites around this part of Britain. In this way I developed an appreciation of the history of this part of the world that has stayed with me ever since.
I drifted in and out of temporary work for two years until the spring of 1983 when I had the chance of a fresh start. The lady my mother had been working for as a cleaner (a job acquired through her deaf group) on hearing of my predicament mentioned how a friend's son had recently enroled on a course of teacher training for adult education at a place called Garnett College. A month or so after visiting the college (which was a 55 minute bicycle ride away) for an assessment I was accepted onto the course. I was able to apply for a grant for the course due to it being vocational - leading to a teaching qualification. This meant that as with my degree I could in effect attend for free, the grant also covered my living expenses. I successfully completed the course the following year, receiving a post - graduate Certificate in Education which entitled me to teach in either adult education or secondary schools. While at the college I had met a whole new group of people, some of whom became friends. At the same time I gradually started to drift away from my friendships with Guy and Vince.
Towards the end of my course my dad took early retirement from his council job at the age of 58 and brought a 'new' car with some of his redundancy money which he kindly allowed me to use. At about the same time Vince introduced me to Sandra, another musical person who would eventually become my first proper girl friend. Seeing Sandra over the next few years opened up a new dimension of life to me, we were never in a full relationship, during most of this time she was dating someone else. Infact I think in some ways my friendship may have been something of 'light relief' for her from the other man in her life. Sandra's parents were from Martinique in the French West Indies, this was at a time when mixed race friendships between the sexes were still a slight novelty.
After getting my teaching certificate and a short stint teaching at a convent school in North London I was to spend the next two years working part - time at varous FE colleges around London.
50 minutes 1196 words.
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My life as a teacher
My teaching career lasted from autumn 1984 to the autumn of 1992. In that time my career developed from part - time teaching in FE colleges to full - time salaried employment followed by a year of self - employment working in commercial computer training centres mostly in East London. This was my period of progression from more or less 'school boy' mentality to becoming a much more confident self - supporting young man. There were a number of ups and downs on the way.
In the autumn of 1985 I moved back to my parents' place and would continue to live there for the next two years. Following the end of my temporary full - time contract at the South Bank Technopark in Elephant and Castle (see above) I successfully applied for a full - time post at another training centre in Wembley, with the help of the woman who had taken over from me at the Technopark. This one was called the Brent Microelectronics Project and in common with many such government funded centres had been set up by a local business consortium. I remember being informed by our friendly manager later on that it was essentially a 'Tax Dodge' being registered as a charity and so not taxable, so it was not quite a purely ultruistic educational enterprise (this was the 80s afterall !) The project was run by an organisation called the Brent Asian Professionals - more of them later. I gradually settled into my new job over the first few months of 1987, having arrived at the end of February. I was one of only two somewhat token white employees there, the other was a woman of about my age who soon left for greener pastures elsewhere. The place was extremely multi - ethnic with a chairman and manager from the Hindu community, another senior staff member who I believe was a Muslim, another trainer from Nigeria, another trainer from the Greek Cypriot community and an electronics instructor who appeared to be part white and part West Indian, finally there was a West Indian secretary. The latter was a former student who I believe took over from the woman who left, it was she who invited me to join the Carribean Catholic Choir previously mentioned. Her sister had also attended previously and another relative was one of my students, so there was quite a strong family link to the project. LIke Sandra previously this family came from one of the smaller 'Windward Islands' at the fringes of the Carribean, in this case Dominica (Sandra's parents had hailed from Martinique). Through my links at work and especially with the Choir I gradually got to know their family quite well. Even attending with the choir a special service commemorating Dominican independence at the smaller church in the grounds of St Paul's Cathedral.
I gradually developed my computing skills and knowledge during my two years at the project, these having still been rather basic prior to my employment there. I think those in charge wanted me to bring in extra 'cudos' to the place with my reasonably good qualifications for teaching, not to mention my fairly obvious naievity. The latter may have come in useful when I was invited to become the Union Rep for the project, which of course I accepted in the foolish belief that this would look good on my CV ! Eventually I moved up to diggs in North West London so as not to have to make the long commute from South London to Wembley every day. I ended up in a communally shared house (complete with live - in landlord) in a place called Kenton I believe. I remember taking up jogging while I was there and having to live in a rather tiny box room, I stayed there until Christmas. In the spring of 1988 I managed to find another shared house in Wembley this time which was of course much more convenient. It was a kind of BBC community house, with the other three people there all working for that organisation. I had a reasonable sized room and my housemates seemed friendly enough. At about this time I believe I brought my first car, a very 'bog standard' second hand saloon which gave me something of a new lease of life. I remember driving to see my teacher friends one evening, they lived several miles away in Uxbridge not far from Heathrow airport (Boris Johnson is now the local MP !) I could see they were somewhat impressed at seeing me turn up in my own car.
Most of my memories from this time are fairly sketchy, one thing I do remember is laying in my bed some Friday or Saturday nights overhearing the variety of sexual shenanegans going on in one of the two adjoining rooms, usually involving visiting boy or girl friends. I was definitely living in a more grown up setting now !
My employment at BMP continued until December 1988 when, due to blanket cuts in funding by Brent council, the project had to close. One wonders how long I might have remained working there if the funding hadn't been cut - another lucky escape ? The following year I did a bit of part - time teaching at Willesden College a few miles away for just one term and then I had to sign on for a few months while looking for another job. It was during this period that a rather shocking incident took place involving a physical attack on me by one of my housemates - more on that in a later memoir. Eventually we all had to leave the house when it turned out that our landlord was a fraudster who had illegally taken out multiple mortgages on other properties, causing us to be evicted. So it was back to my parents again for Christmas 1989 as the final vestiges of Communism in Europe fell in Rumania.
I had already got a new job, just before my 29th birthday, this time in East London at a similar kind of IT training centre. This one was run by a part business / part charity based in the North East of England called MARI. This would be my final salaried teaching post and I would end up working there until my resignation in early 1992. Life was moving on.................
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Entering a new world
Going back to 1990 a significant event happened that summer, this was my first journey to a non - English speaking country on my own. Inspired by the events of the previous year I decided to make a 'pilgrimage' trek to Berlin, by Interail ticket, to collect some pieces of Berlin Wall. I remember the slightly apprehensive feeling as I approached the harbour at Ostend on the ferry from Dover. I was now truly on my own, with only a smattering of French and even less German to help me. Well I made it to Berlin in about six days, stopping on the way overnight at places of interest including Brugges, Ghent, Cologn, Hanover and finally arriving at East Berlin via the ancient Metro Train at around half past six in the morning. I wandered around East Berlin for most of the day - even attending briefly some kind of festival. One vivid recollection was of sentries still manning the now irrelevant checkpoint sentry boxes as I strolled by, something I could not have done just over a year before. I managed to pick up a few pieces of the wall soon after I arrived - with the sound of clanging as a handful of other people broke off bits to sell as souvenirs I assume - I wondered about the people just waking up in the nearby flats on the 'other side' ie: West Berlin. At around 5 in the afternoon I decided to walk to West Berlin along the long avenue that passed under the famous Brandenburg Gate, to hopefully arive at West Berlin by early evening. However it was a much longer walk than I had anticipated and I didn't arrive until night had fallen. Consequently I failed to find anywhere to stay and decided to take the train back to Hanover to hopefully arrive the following day, which I did in a state of semi - exhaustion not having slept properly for over 48 hours. I then recounted my steps back to Ostend for the ferry back to Britain. How primitive the train to London seemed after those much larger and more comfortable European trains ! I would take another trip abroad the following year, this time down through France to Bagner de Bigorre by the Pyrenees, stopping off at Lourdes and other places en route and travelling most of the way on the 200 mph TGV train. I now see these two adventures abroad as a kind of precurser to my entry into a completely new and previously little anticipated chapter of my life .
It all began at Christmas 1991 when by chance I happened to bump into my former workmate from BMP. Greg was the NIgerian I had originally met five years earlier at the training centre in Wembley. I met him while travelling home on the northern line from work in East London. He was with someone who turned out to be his agent, finding him lucrative freelance contract work in the commercial sector. He suggested I resign from my job at MARI and give it a try. So in the new year I gave a month's notice to my somewhat nonplused manager at the MARI training centre in Bow in preparation for a new four week contract of training in March. This job entailed me driving myself and my agent to Woking, to the west of Greater London. So that month I earned maybe twice the wage that I would have received for a month's work in my previous post. When it finished I simply had to let my agent, an Iranian immigrant, know when I would next like to work and leave it to him to find me something, things were looking up !
The new arrangement gave me far more freedom with at least a few days between new contracts and so no more need to work 'full - time'. As a result I could spend a lot more time doing pretty much whatever I wanted, including reading often 'esoteric' books on things like UFOs etc. This was something that had become a growing interest from the previous year. I discovered a second hand type bookshop had recently opened locally and one fateful day in early May I was browsing in the 'New Age' section. A bright pink book caught my eye with the striking title 'What on Earth is happening ?' I purchased the book and avidly read it from cover to cover over the next 24 hours. It was based on information 'channeled' from helper spirits to the authors since 1989 and predicted future dramatic changes in the world which it strongly suggested one would be wise to be ready for. One suggested response to these predicted changes was to begin involvement with any spiritual traditions one felt particularly in tune with. Well I had felt an affinity for Buddhism since 1978. So the next day I decided to attend both the Buddhist Centre in East London, which I had seen previously, and also the Buddhist Society in Victoria - whose name I may have found in the phone book. I visited both the following day, coming to the conclusion that the movement behind the East London centre seemed to have more going for it. The following weekend I believe I by chance happened to see a TV program about the founder Sangharakshita who it said had grown up in South London - clearly a sign I decided !
So the following week, on the evening of Wednesday the 13th of May 1992, I turned up at the nearest FWBO centre to me which was several miles away in Croydon for the regular beginners' meditation class. The class was led by a casually dressed Order Member called Sthiracitta (who at that time was the heaviest Order Member in the movement). This was not the kind of person I would have expected to see running a Buddhist meditation class ! From then on I attended most Wednesdays until the end of the summer, learning the two principle FWBO meditation practices the Mindfulness of Breathing and the Metta Bhavana.
After a few weeks I started to hear about something called a 'retreat', this was clearly the thing to try next. So in late August, just after my 32nd birthday, I attended the week long 'open' retreat. This was held at a former vicarage in the sussex countryside by the name of 'Rivendell'. At the end of an eventful week we had a reporting out session and when it came to my turn my comment was '... Well this is the week that changed my life....' Later the same day I drove back, via Croydon trainstation to drop someone off on her way to Spain, to my parents place where I was again living. The following day, which was Saturday, I was off to the Notting Hill Carnival for what would be just about the last time.
For the rest of 1992 I engaged strongly with my meditation practice while attending several weekly classes both at Croydon and the newly established South London Buddhist Centre in Clapham. Later in the autumn I also attended a weekend retreat at the recently refurbished large men's retreat centre in Norfolk, with it's impressive new shrine room (a converted barn) having it's inauguration that weekend.
By the following spring I had taken the plunge and not only joined the Clapham community in the Buddhist Centre house, but had also started work at the 'Right Livelihood' gift shop associated with the Croydon Centre. I would go on to work at the Croydon shop for the next two years, while living at the 'Utpala' community house in Clapham and very eventful years they would turn out to be !
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A change of scenery
1995 - I had been living at Utpala for coming up to two years and working at the Croydon giftshop for as long. My 'honeymoon' period with the movement was drawing to a close. I had made a fair bit of progress with my practice, my former alienation was beginning to significantly abate. In the early spring I had decided to broaden my horizons and maybe move to another part of the country, having always lived within the Greater London area up to that point. At first I considered moving out to a region that the movement was just expanding into. An Order member at the community had recently started a once a week class at Southampton University on the south coast, with a view to developing a more substantial FWBO presence in the town. I joined him for an evening meditation session at the University, travelling to and from there by train I think over the course of one evening. A little while later another Order member living at the Utpala community suggested that because of my esoteric interests I might be better off heading for Brighton instead, the nearby town of Lewes being apparantly a hotbed of esoteric activity. A substantial sangha and well established communities had developed in Brighton over several years, my Order member friend Amritavajra had also recently moved there to start a new community so this was another substantial draw. Amritavajra was another participant in the Glastonbury project who had also been involved in that rather wacky Brixton Cooltan arts meditation class along with myself. He would become a key person in encouraging my increasing involvement with the Buddhafield project over the next few years.
So it was in early May I believe that I borrowed a friend's bicycle and literally cycled to Brighton to give the place a 'reckie'. I planned to stay at camping sites en route so I spent my first night in a farmer's field (uncomfortable) and another on a patch of rough ground, I think near some kind of college. I remember my ride into Brighton itself - freewheeling down a long hill into the town was an enjoyable experience - to eventually meet up with my parents and sister and brother in law who were there on a day trip. Probably that evening I cycled to a place called Seaford to stay at a campsite for a few days while I explored Brighton itself to get a sense of the place. I then made my way back along a different route out of the town which again included staying the night in another farmer's field (uninvited this time !) I remember a striking feeling of crossing a 'psychic boundary' as I cycled under the M25 London orbital motorway for the final interminable leg through the suburbs of South London.
A few weeks later (almost exactly 25 years ago today) I was to leave for good - on my new heavilly laden bicycle. I managed to make it to my first stopoff at a campsite near a horseracing course (Kempton Park I believe) rather late in the evening after cycling through half an hour or so of rather heavy rain. I eventually managed to secure rented accomodation in Brighton after staying for a few days at another farm on the outskirts of the town. I moved into a large room in a grand old house about a mile from the seafront and not far from the Brighton Buddhist Centre with Amritavajra's new community house nearby. The house I was living in had belonged to Roland Hill in the nineteenth century - he was the founder of the British 'penny post' which in turn led to the production of the world's first postage stamp - the Penny Black - in the mid nineteenth century. Sadly my first few months in Brighton were somewhat marred by a noisy neighbour in the room adjacent to mine. I think his plan was to drive me out so that he could have my much larger room - which I don't think happened after I left. However all this did have the effect of encouraging me to engage with more Glastonbury Project activities. Including helping to set up and run a meditation space at a new 'eco' festival called the 'Big Green Gathering' in early August and finally attending my first Camping Retreat in September.
Once I got back to Brighton I quickly arranged to move into a small men's community where I was to have replaced the third person who had just left to live on a boat I believe. However just before I was due to move in the second person also decided to leave. Thus leaving me to share the flat with someone who at that time really didn't seem to show much interest in Buddhism or the movement apart from his friendship with two 'senior' Brighton order members. I was to end up living at the flat for three and a half years. During which time I did engage somewhat with the Brighton Sangha but more importantly I further increased my involvement with what would soon become 'Buddhafield'.
The following year, very much prompted by my friend Amritavajra I was off again to the Westcountry. I would be joining the Buddhafield team on setting up the big Summer Retreat in a field a few miles from the Glastonbury Festival site. This was followed by my helping to set up the first Buddhafield Festival, which was initiated partly due to the postponement of that year's Glastonbury Festival so that the site could recover from the record breaking attendance (possibly quarter of a million people) at the previous year's 25th anniversary event. That first season of Buddhafield, focused on the summer retreat and the new festival, was something of a turning point for me..........
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I arrived for the summer retreat set up in probably late June, having been invited to join the team running the retreat by Amrita. Afte a few days the retreat began with around 20 to 30 retreatants joining us. I had brought my old trumpet along and my main role on the retreat was to blow BB style bugle calls (as I had done on BB camps twenty years before) to mark different events during the day: 'Revalle' for the morning meditation, 'fall - in' for the morning work period and other meetings and meditation sessions and 'Cookhouse' for lunch and dinner - nice ! An eventfull retreat followed based on what would become a favourite theme for Buddhafield, the so called 'Five Buddha Mandala' of Akshobya (blue), Ratnasambhava (Yellow), Amitabha (Red), Amogasiddhi (Green) and Vairocana (White). These were introduced on successive days over the course of the retreat. At the end of the retreat a number of people stayed on for the setting up of the first Buddhafield festival, which took a few days until the Wednesday start day when we found ourselves wondering just how many (if any !) 'punters' would turn up for it. Well I think around forty people did arrive that afternoon and evening including several from the Croydon Buddhist Centre (where the Glastonbury Meditation Project had originated in 1992). I remember sitting there just after our communal dinner that first evening in the sunshine listening to some pleasant Gipsy style music. By the end of the festival we had a total of around 150 people on the site comprising mostly crew and others who had come to set up specific venues and events, including the Native American style Sweatlodge. I remember laying in one of the communal spaces just after the festival had ended and feeling a pleasant sense of belonging to this slightly wild and woolly 'back to the land' community.
After probably returning to London in August for my birthday I then went on a big weekend event at the Padmaloka retreat centre in Norfolk where a forthcoming 'Karuna' appeal was being promoted. I subsequently took part in the autumn door knocking appeal taking place in the better off areas of West London while living in a temporary community in a place called Harlesden, that just happened to be about half way between Wembley (BMP) and Notting Hill (the choir). After an up and down two months I managed to amass about £4,000 in donations and covenants towards the building of a girl's school and hostel in India, to my modest amazement.
The following year I set about sorting out temporary work in between Buddhafield duties in the summer. I ended up in a temporary job setting up and then taking down election booths around Brighton and Hove for the upcoming UK general election. I was then offered a job as a beach cleaner for a few months until June when I attended a rather damp Glastonbury festival to be followed by the summer retreat and second Buddhafield festival. This time around 300 people attended the festival during a very hot July. The latter included a number of notable 'firsts' for me including my first Sweat Lodge as well as a number of shamanic journeys and finally learning to dowse for 'earth energy lines' at the Big Green Gathering in early August. Back in Brighton for most of September I worked as a highway maintainance man, helping to clear the main roads leading to Brighton of litter thrown from cars. Following two notable retreats in Wales and Norfolk I then secured a job sweeping the streets in Hove, which I continued into the new year during a thankfully relatively mild winter !
The next year - 1998 - I would everntually end up doing daily litter picking around Hove using a 'grabber' to fill numerous plastic bags with litter dropped on several roads around the town. That year I had decided to embark on an extended season of around two months with the Buddhafield team. This would include another trip to an even wetter Glastonbury festival in June as well as two summer retreats, the Buddhafield festival, the Big Green Gathering festival and another event called the Earth Spirit festival in late August. After a brief return home I then attended an end of season regulars retreat in September. Once back in Brighton I eventually started working at my final job there, this one was as a janitor (again clearing rubbish !) at a medicine label printers in the nearby town of Lewes.
Towards the end of the year, after attending a 25th anniversary event at Croydon (with Sangharakshita as guest of honour) I made a connection with a woman called Gerda. We had originally met while supporting the meditation class at the Cooltan in Brixton four years before. Over the course of the following few months I had what could be called my first - albeit brief - relationship (at the age of 38) with her, marking something of a milestone in my life up to that point. In the new year I also became more than friendly with another person who I had met years before in Croydon - Sophie - she was now living with her young son in Brighton. This was just about the closest I have come to partaking in a proper long term relationship, however this also (as with Gerda) ended in the spring - life was becoming more complicated !
At around the same time Alyavajra - the new chairman of the rapidly growing Buddhafield project - invited me to join the new Buddhafield Core Team of around a dozen people. We would be the principle crew responsible for setting up and running Buddhafield activities for the coming season. As a result in May of 1999 having transfered most of my gear back to my parent's place (courtesy of a kindly lent small van from the printers) I set forth on the coach to the Earth Spirit spring festival in Kent; to enter into the 'homeless life'. I would continue to be deliberately homeless for the next two and a half years, living in a tent for half of the year without any home address to my name. This turned out to be a rather disorienting experience for that first season as I seemed to virtually forget who I was.
After an eventful 1999 season including the 'Total Eclipse' festival in Devon and my first attempts at being a retreat organiser in September I would briefly return to my parent's place. A few weeks later I was off again - this time going to Newcastle in North East England - to help set up and run a new FWBO giftshop in the town. I stayed in a temporary men's community in Newcastle over the turn of the 'New Millenium' which turned out to be a memorable time for everyone. Then in early 2000 I arranged to join a 'working retreat' at Guhyaloka the men's ordination retreat centre located in the mountainous region of Valencia in south eastern Spain. I stayed there for most of February.
On my return to the UK I stayed for a number of weeks at the Kunzanling community in Streatham. This was an offshot of the now sold Utpala community house where I had previously lived. As we prepared to begin the 2000 Buddhafield season.
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Into the new millenium
So off we went around May 2000, having packed all the equipment stored at Kunzangling into the vans we said goodbye to the Kunzanling community and were on our way back to Summerset and the familiar fields. These being a couple of miles from the village of Pilton adjacent to the re - awakening Glastonbury festival site. I had again taken on the role of retreat organiser for the Spring Retreat. The setup did not go very smoothly, there seemed to be a frequent lack of co - operation by even some of the Order Members on the team for some reason, still the retreat itself went OK.
Our next stop would be in another part of the country again, this time the West Midlands and a small woodland site recently acquired by another Buddhafield linked Order Member - Lokabandhu. This retreat was based around the so called 'Private' and then 'Public' ordinations of the first full Buddhafield team member to become ordained. This would result in Martin Taylor (who initially got involved with the team back in 1996) being transformed into Dharmacari Aditya. This was a notable event for both Buddhafield and Sangharakshita since it would turn out to be his final involvement in an ordination ceremony. In the event all went well with numerous guests joining us on the big day for the public ordination ceremony led by Sangharakshita himself. This event marked a significant rise in the status of the Buddhafield project in the wider movement. This was something that certainly in the early days had more than once been something of an issue, with the somewhat bohemian behaviour of several of the Order Members on the team right up until 1998. In fact the formation of the 'Core team' had largely been done in response to such issues.
The 2000 season progressed on to what would be my final visit to Glastonbury festival in late June (with that standout David Bowie concert topping the bill). Other notable events of that year included an extended retreat in Ireland, our first overseas event, which was followed in August by the first of the large 'Child friendly' retreats which was another new departure for us - this one being open to family groups as the title suggested. I again volunteered to be retreat organiser but after a few days I was getting somewhat out of my depth trying to keep a handle on what was after all by far our largest retreat to date - with around a hundred adults and children in attendance. I was very grateful for the helpful assistance of an order member during the second half of the retreat. Finally there were the two 'specialist' retreats back in the small field where we had begun the season four months before. We had a successful 'Meditation retreat' with a high flying order member meditation teacher in charge and finally the second Padmasambhava retreat - with me back in the retreat organiser role.
We didn't finish packing up from that final retreat until about a week into October ! I went on to spend the next few months staying with Aditya at his place in Bermondsey, not far from the south bank of the Thames. Thus I was able to maintain my 'Going forth' into no fixed abode by avoiding going back to my parent's place. During December and the January sales period Aditya and I both helped out at one of the movement's Evolution gift shops, this one based in North London, which at least some of the time was quite enjoyable.
In the new year I made the decision to attend a residential 'Permaculture' based course, which had originally been suggested to me in the summer by fellow team member Carl Davis. So in mid January I was off again to the West Midlands, this time with just one other team member to Ragman's Lane Farm in Gloucestershire.
There followed a month and a half of study and practice for a certificate in Sustainable Land Use which I eventually passed after completing my last few assignments later in the year. Following this interesting interlude, with the course being cut short by a serious national outbreak of 'Foot and Mouth Disease' the core team was back up and running for our third full Buddhafield season in a rather wet April. This time our destination was a remote rain sodden and plough ridged field somewhere in Devon for believe it or not - a Permaculture retreat ! It was during the setup for this event that - while laying in a damp sleeping bag one cold and wet night and half way through my fortieth year - I resolved that for the sake of my health this would be my last full Buddhafield season. Infact it would turn out to be the final season to involve the original Buddhafield Core team.
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Part 2 - From Buddhafield back to London
So it was next stop the spring retreat and on for our last season in the core team. Notable events would include a new 'Healing Festival' in the large field, this had been set up by Jacob - the person in charge of the two main fields used by us each season. This was followed by our 'Set up retreat' during which the Buddhafield festival site was prepared for the last time on the same large field, where it had been based from the start. The festival would come to an emotional finale on the final day with a closing ceremony held in the large Sacred Space containing the shrine tent and with a large sycamore tree at its centre. There was also a large 'Dharmacakra' representing the noble eight fold path and resenmbling a cross between and wagon wheel and a flying saucer. This had been constructed by myself out of thin sticks of willow mostly covered with reflective plastic 'Space Blanket'.
From here the team split with some going on to set up another retreat in Ireland and the rest of us staying behind in the big field to set up the second 'Child friendly' retreat. The season ended with the third Padmasambhava retreat again organised by myself. Before this we had returned to the site of the earlier Permaculture retreat for the September Meditation Retreat. We were on this retreat during the events of the 11th of September in New York. In fact we did not find out about this until almost two days later and then most team members did not see TV images of the event for another two days until after we had left the site. Because of the rush between these final three retreats (the first and last ones taking place back on the large and small fields in Sommerset) I inaugurated a system where varous small teams took down most of the camp during the final work period - this would become something of a Buddhafield tradition in future years. This 'communial tat - down' had an almost ritualistic feeling to it and would mark a poignant end of each retreat as we looked out over a largely empty campsite during our final lunch period.
I returned to London in early October to briefly try my hand at public survey work monitoring new cars at busy junctions and railway passenger numbers at different times of day, a job suggested to me by my fellow team member Carl Davis. Following the new year I would eventually start a new job. This time I would be working as part of the main Office Team that would oversee the shutting down of the existing North London Buddhist Centre and its transfer to a new much larger and more prominent building on the nearby Holloway Road. At the same time I joined what would turn out to be my final Buddhist Community in a house in Harringay a few miles away. I had been offered this place along with the office team job by Arthacarya, a recently ordained Order Member who I had originally met on that Padmaloka retreat back in 1997 and had subsequently caught up with at various Buddhafield events. I think the idea was for me to bring a taste of Buddhafield into the new Noth London Centre, which I would do - in more ways than one !
Following our final move into the new building in June I would become for most of the remaining year almost the sole person keeping the office ticking over, in a hot airless attic room. this was while everybody else got involved with the substantial refurbishment of the rest of the building. The idea was to complete the refurbishment for the official opening the following June which would be no mean feat, even with so many helping out. The concentrated schedule was required to get us fully up and running as quickly as possible to help bring in much needed funds to begin paying off the substantial mortgage on the property. So there followed a hectic twelve months of activity, we just about made it for the big opening in June 2003. On the big day I had the pleasant surprise of seeing my mum and dad sitting there as I walked into the large shrine room upstairs. I had let them know about it but had not expected them to make it along for the opening ceremony. Finally I felt they were giving some positive aknowledgement after ten years of my involvement with the movement.
So we held our opening ceremony in June and settled down to our regular program of events, bringing in some much needed income for the centre. These included ,as well as meditation and Buddhist events, numerous yoga classes in our new yoga studio in the basement and treatments in two Therapy Rooms. The latter including various types of massage and esoteric therapies for body and mind. In addition the third floor was rented to the Karuna Buddhist charity (whom I had done the appeal for in 1996) and finally there was a solitary Order member renting the 'attic' area where he created various video documentaries about the movement under the title 'Lights in the sky'. For the first few years we also had a small cafe to one side of our large reception area.
My eventual job title in the Office team was 'Reception ahd information manager' and my main duties included managing the centre database and website, answering the office phone and emails and forwarding messages on to relevant parties. As reception manager I had to manage a large team of volunteers working in the reception area from around 11am to 9:30 pm most days. In the new year I would also become involved in an African Drumming group set up in the basement yoga studios on Saturday Afternoons and also join the 'Environmental and Social Action group' recently set up by a group including Arthacarya. The latter would develop a relationship with a Permaculture allotment site in another part of the borough called 'Plot 21'. In the spring I ran two 'Urban Permaculture' weekend events in association with the centre and the Plot 21 site.
The permaculture course would encourage a friendship with one of our early reception helpers called Avni who lived in a flat almost opposite the centre. His Visa was about to expire which meant he would have to return to his native country which was called FYR Macedonia - a former part of the now broken up country of Yugoslavia. But not before he invited me to visit him and stay with his family in the summer, a trip that would have a profound effect on me but not necessarilly in the way I might have expected. To be Continued ............!
For next memoir click on this link: seventh memoir with mudita
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A change of perspective - 2004 to 2006
So we are up to the Buddhafield festival 2004 which was very spectacular, being centred around an amazing Saturday night ritual with a static trapeze act to begin followed by a 'woodland walk' through verous lamp lit tableau. It ended with a beautifully lit (including hundreds of nightlights in paper bags) large waving 'Lotus Petal' ritual - almost worthy of a hollywood musical and finally a rather tasteful firework display. From here it was just a few days to my first trip to Macedonia, the idea being to teach some meditation and maybe some permaculture principles there. I would be staying mostly at Avni's parents' place with their Muslim family where I was made very welcome. in the latter part of my stay I would stay in the holiday town of Ohrid for a few days to teach the meditation sessions we had planned.
Well once in Ohrid I spent a day or so finding a good site for the session - choosing a small wooded area close to the famous lakeside church of St Jovan and putting up about a dozen somewhat inadequate A4 posters around the town - all in English ! So on the first day of the sessions I ended up with one person (one of Avni's numerous friends) for the first two sessions plus the first one the following day. However Avni managed to get around 8 people along for the final afternoon session who were all members of a local Bahai community - including some young refugees from the previous Yugoslav wars. They seemed very engaged with the brief meditation session, which Avni had to translate directly from English as best he could, even if they probably didn't learn much from it. Later in the Evening we joined them for an evenings entertainment at their community house which I found alternately amusing and quite touching.
Then I think as we were walking back to my diggs on what was probably our final day in Ohrid Avni just by chance said something about a doubling in local petrol prices in the past two years or so while he had been in Britain, this reminded me of Dharmarucci's comments from the previous month. Once I got back to London a few days later one of the first things I did was to type 'world oil supply' on Google and subsequently discovered the subject of 'Peak OIl' - and nothing would be quite the same for me again.
All of a sudden I became seriously interested in sustainable living. I brought a second hand bicycle from Tess (Arthacarya's girlfriend) and started to devour as much information as I could about the predicted coming global Oil crisis. With dire warnings of how it could lead to the the proverbial 'end of civilisation as we know it'.
2005 became mostly about finding out all I could about the Peak Oil crisis and how it might effect the future. I ordered two fairly large solar panels in the spring and eventually a load of other gear in preparation for a possibly dire future. My engagement with work at the NLBC started to suffer somewhat as a result of this new obsession. Around May time I also saw the independently made documentry film 'What the bleep do we know' - having originally read about it on one of the 'alternative' sites I was now regularly perusing. The pleasingly upbeat message of the film concerning our potential as individuals in the face of contemporary knowledge on the fringes of fundamental Physics and Brain Physiology. This message, along with the somewhat 'in your face' style - very Californian - made a big impression on me amidst all the dire information I was otherwise consuming.
A couple of months later I attended the tenth Buddhafield festival - which turned out to be something of a let down after the previous year with a distinct sense of dilution of the Buddhist content overall. This was soon followed by my second trip to Macedonia again for around a month or so. This time I went virtually straight to Ohrid with Avni on my arrival, staying at a more plush guest house than before and again having the chance to enjoy swimming in the huge lake. This would become a big encouragement to develop a proper regular swimming practice on my return to London. I also was able to celebrate my 45th birthday while in Ohrid with Avni and about a dozen of his friends at a pleasant restaurant in the town, when this photo was taken of me in a happy, mildly inebriated state !
A few weeks later I would return to the capital Skopje and this would lead to me running two meditation sessions over two days within the walls of the hillside landmark Cale Fortress on the southern side of the city, with a pleasing view of part of the city including a nearby minaret in the Muslim 'Old town'.
Shortly after my return in September I heard the pleasant news from the local chapter of Order Members that I had been OK'd for ordination by them. This would make my acceptance by the Padmaloka ordination team apparantly little more than a formality.
Then a month or so later on All Saints Day I had a past life regression session - facilitated by the centre therapy rooms resident hypnotherapist Zoe. This took me back - via a visualisation of an endlessly long corridor of doors - to other lives ? - to an existence seemingly 200 years ago. It seemed to be not an easy life - to put it mildly - apparantly my last time in England before returning to the East for the next hundred and fifty years or so. See my Mudita memoirs for a description of what happened. The upshot was as I 'returned' to this life - with bonds to it being severed on the way by Zoe with a pair of scissors ! I came around - but I was not 'me' - I was still 'him'. I left Zoe's flat and walked back - via the Highbury Urban Farm gates and an agressive looking local youngster - then probably back to the centre for my afternoon shift. From then on my ordination trail would be going backwards, 'why do I want to do this' I had wondered as I lay there on Zoe's couch - gradually coming back to this life.
A few weeks before I had given my six months notice of resignation from working at the centre. Up to then it had been my place of longest employment - just over three and a half years. In the new year things started happening. In early January I received an inheritance from my oldest aunt who had died eleven months before. This had happened on the day I returned from a solitary retreat staying at my friend Saul's holiday hut in the south of France. My dad received a large sum from the sale of her house which had been left to him as her only surviving sibling. During my final three months of work at the centre I managed to secure an appearance on a new popular cience program for Channel four. I was to be shown teaching one of the presenters how to meditate (it was Metta Bhavana) as part of a program on the effects of different activities on stress levels. Sadly I never got to see the show which was broadcast the following September.
I finally left my job at the centre after working there for almost exactly four years at the end of March 2006. After my final day of work I immediately joined a weekend retreat with the NLBC sangha, held in the picturesque village of Castle Acre in Norfolk, for my NLBC 'Swansong'.
For next memoir click on this link: eighth memoir with mudita
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