Memoirs with Mudita
Childhood comes to an end
Well we come to July 1970 - I was 9 years old as a new decade dawned - and I was getting on a
coach with other members of the Junior BB company, which was based at the local mission hall
in Fairlight Road - just 5 minutes walk away from here. We were off on our Summer Camp - and I
was about to embark on my first experience of being away from family and relations for more
than just a few hours.
We were on the coach for hours, I think I was sitting by the window, getting mildly travel sick.
Until finally we arrived at Portsmouth (or was it Southampton) to make the brief ferry crossing over
to the Isle of Wight - just off the south coast of Britain. We ended up at probably a youth hostal
near the coastline. Once by my bed I unpacked my case and awaited further
instructions and possibly put the folded blankets on my bed, soon to go off to the dining room
for our communial evening meal. Very possibly feeling just a bit nervous about the
whole novel experience - later to spend my first ever night away from family and relatives.
The next day dawned, probably fairly sunny and possibly after lunch we all went off to the beach
for our first dip in the sea. My first clear memory is of walking out - with my fellow BB chums
into the sea - noticing how shallow it still was even after walking for over a minute towards the
vast expance of wave rippled water. We were all by now fairly evenly spaced out - the water
was almost up to my navel - probably about 50 cm deep - I looked down and noticed a crab
skuttling across the sand - and felt a slight twinge of nervousness - I knew they had claws !
After a few more moments of walking I noticed a motor launch arching round maybe 40 meters
in front of me. I could see waves extending in it's wake as it turned away to move on into the
distance - and then the waves hit me. I was carried back by them and when I got back upright I
noticed that the sea bottom was - gone. I started to struggle and sank down to finally hit the
bottom - but the water's surface seemed to be about 30 cm above my head. Not being able to
swim I jumped up from the bottom and managed to raise my head above the surface - to take a
desperate inbreath - and then down I went again. I must have carried on like this for several
minutes with a growing sense of terror engulfing my mind. What if this was it ? The end ?
Was there a god ? What if not - where would everything go ? A great black fear entered me -
and then my mind realised well this is probably it - my short life is coming to an end - how unfair
it is ! Then - seemingly in a last desperate attempt to cling to life - experiences from my meagre
9 and a bit years flooded into my mind - my mum and dad and sister, vivid memories of the past,
joys and maybe some sorrows - as my mind appeared to split into two. One half moving into a
calm acceptance, the other thrashing and panicking and trying to hold on to dear life. And then
- a miracle - I glimpsed a small rowing boat coming towards me, maybe a battered sky blue
colour. The next moment two men grabbed me / or I grabbed them - or was it an oar ? And I was
'fished out' of the sea and dragged into the boat. As I lay there in a kind of reliefed daze one man was pressing my stomach I believe - as a substantial quantity of sea water was gently
forced out of my mouth - 'he's swallowed a lot of water' one of them said.
Once back on land
the boatsman and our mission vicar walked with me back to the group at the other side of the
beach, how deliciously warm the sand felt beneath my feet !
The BB captain and his wife commented 'we thought you were swimming !' And I stood there -
wondering at the whole experience. With a growing sense of the intrinsic value of my own and
everyone elses life - and how much people took it all for granted. A few minutes later I joined
my fellow BB comrades for a game of hide and seek amongst the sand dunes.
30 minutes, 795 words
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Note: Above menu dates may not exactly coincide with all details in that specific memoir.
A notable year
After Christmas of 1973, when I received a cheap electric organ as my main present - with my sister receiving a 'Mini Moulton' bicycle, the new year of 1974 beckoned. I was now in my third year at secondary school and doing reasonably well. This year was to see a number of notable events and even breakthroughs in my life.
The first event occured at the end of March. On a Thursday evening just after dinner as we came to the end of the BBC nine oclock news I sat down to watch the weekly 'Play for Today'. It began with some ominous classical music and a scene of typical English countryside while the narator pronounces 'Oh my country.............' I then proceeded to watch a succession of scenes - interpersing everyday life with extraordinary mythic visions in this mesmerising play about a young man coming of age in mid England. The striking visual style was complemented by intriguing dialogue touching on many subjects: the countryside, Christianity, Paganism, music, drama and poetry, modern education and work, politics and the ongoing Cold War, sexual awakening and myth and legend. I was gradually drawn into the extraordinary story about a young man living with his parents - one the local vicar and the other a dowdy housewife and the revelation of a secret they had planned to keep from him until his coming of age at 18. The final scenes of the play, after almost one and a half hours, showed the young man rejecting his social, religious and family conditioning to walk off into the distance with a new sense of purpose including an anticipated suspicion of rebellion against the social norms around him. The play Penda's Fen had a huge inpact on me and in a way pointed out much about my future life direction. On re - viewing it more recently I also realised it may well have been an inspiration for the arrival of Punk Rock the following year.
A few months later in July I was joining my fellow BB members for my second Senior BB camp - probably on the coast of Suffolk in the east of England. Due to an accident the year before I had missed the traditional 'initiation' into the Senior BB Camp in my first year. So a day or two after our arrival I found myself in a large tent in my swimming trunks being offered a drink and being blindfolded before my own initiation. Out I went with blindfold on with someone leading the way through an obstacle course of sorts to end up kneeling infront of 'King Neptune' (I now recollect the mythical King Penda in somewhat sinilar garp appearing to the young man at the end of Penda's Fen). He gave me a mock shave, after almost covering me in shaving foam, and pronounced my initiation into the senior BB camp, possibly tapping me with his trident. I then moved away, still blindfolded, and found myself chatting to probably another initiant.
During this brief episode I found myself embarking on an extraordinary inner journey. It began with me considering the loss of my sense of vision and wondering what would it be like to also loose my sense of hearing, smell, taste and touch - what would be left ? I realised that without those senses all I would be left with would be a state of pure awareness of simple being - in a kind of shiny blackness. At this realisation I felt my personality seemingly fall away, to reveal first the possibility of awareness of limitless physical space which led in turn to a state of expanded pure consciousness with no apparant limits. This then led to an awareness that all dualities and opposites could be contained within such a state. In this way I had gone beyond all opposites - up / down, good / bad, light / dark, even life and death. I then had an inner vision of reality as an endless black shimmering sea of energy which my senses could interact with. This was then interpreted by my consciousness to create a mental image of not just the world around me, but the very universe itself. I then realised I could leave my life if I wished to enter into this expanded state. But then I heard a seemingly female voice imploring me to 'come back, come back' which I obeyed (partly out of sexual desire) and that was it. My life defining inner journey had ended after just a few moments as I removed my blindfold. This experience was subsequently put to the back of my mind until reading a book recalled it four years later - during the first term of my science degree.
During that same summer I had become increasingly interested in reading adult Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, completing my first short novel a month or so before the summer holidays. This interest may well have been prompted by watching the first half hour or so each Wednesday evening, just before my BB Band Practice, of a series of classic American Sci Fi films again on BBC1. In September my mum and dad returned from a Saturday trip to Croydon's large shopping centre with a copy of a large format magazine called Science Fiction Monthly to further feed my interest in the genre. These monthly magazines included copious amounts of colourful artwork, many pictures being taken from the exotic cover illustrations of contemporary Sci Fi novels. I'm sure this magazine had a profound impact on my ongoing artistic development, particularly in realation to my illustrations for the school magazine completed during the next few summer terms.
Christmas came and went, with my mum and dad giving me my most elaborate present yet - a steam powered model traction engine vehicle. Probably later in the following spring of 1975 I decided to start practicing Yoga (I thought it would turn me into some kind of superman !) using a book based on the popular 'Yoga for health' TV program. This would be my first 'spiritual practice' and coincided with a concern for a healthy diet that has stayed with me ever since.
45 minutes approx 1030 words.
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Some key events of early adulthood
During this period I had a number of positive and beneficial experiences in connection with most of the things mentioned previously, but the following particularly stand out:
The first three cover a period of time towards the end of 1978, as mentioned earlier I began my science degree around October of that year. After just a few weeks I was to read a book relating to the history and philosophy of science section of the course called the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The basic premise of the book was that there are two types of science - 'Normal Science' which was what goes on most of the time, with scientists performing experiments to test and usually extend and develope an accepted scientific theory. This would correspond to say genetics or evolution for Biology or Relativity and Quantum Theory for Physics and so on. These essential theories form the basis of their particular field of science, making up a kind of foundation of assumptions for the field in question, the author called this basic set of theoretical assumptions a paradigm. The author - Thomas Kuhn - then went on to suggest that every so often results would turn up that could not be accounted for by the Paradigm in question. He suggested that such a discrepancy could eventually lead to a so called 'Scientific Revolution' with possibly more than one new theory being proposed to explain these new results. This would eventually lead in turn to one of the competing theories coming out on top and so becomming accepted as the best explanation for both new and previous results, in this way a new paradigm would arise. Once this had occured then 'Normal Science' for that particular field could return again but this time based on the new paradigm. I remember how reading this book caused me to realise that no theory in science could be regarded as ultimately definitive - due to there always being present limitations in existing experiments and experimental instruments. I also realised that this principle could be equally applied to other areas of knowledge including technology, the arts and even religion. A doorway in my mind had been opened - and I would never be quite the same again.
A few weeks after this, and also after moving into my student diggs I went to see a film probably at the famous Scala cinema in Kings Cross. This was a bizarre American film by the name of 'Eraserhead'. I took my seat in the mostly empty theatre, I'm sure the lead singer of the Punk band The Lurkers was sitting just to my left in the row in front of me. We were then treated to a truly bizarre cinematic experience as the surreal tableau of the film unfolded before us. The film was described as of the 'horror' genre but infact was actually pretty much unclassifiable, full of hauntingly powerful dreamlike imagery filmed in sombre but vibrant black and white and with what has been described as a 'gale' of a soundtrack. The young director David Lynch would go on to make a name for himself as one of the few truly original and visionary American directors. As the final extraordinary scene abruptly gave way to blackness I sat there stunned, this would be just about the last film I would see that would have a truly overwelming effect on me. I was so strongly affected I completely lost my way going back to my diggs on the tube, so it took me over twice as long to get back as it had to get to the cinema. It had been a truly unforgettable experience, completely beyond any idea of 'the norm'.
Finally a few weeks after that and just before Christmas I was to read another book that would change my life. This was the 'Tao of Physics' which was another book connected with the history and philosophy of Science section of my course. This book pointed out the many similarities between theories of modern physics and ancient beliefs and spiritual traditions from the East such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. Reading this book brought back memories of my 'initiation' experience of just over four years earlier, but now I had a context to relate this to. Both in far Eastern traditions such as Buddhism but also in modern scientific theories.
There is a further experience that stands out from just over four years later. This was my arrival for the first time at Garnett College for the selection and induction day leading to the forthcoming Certificate in teaching for Adult Education. I remember arriving at the front gate of the college after my long bike ride skirting Wimbledon common to end up in Roehampton. I could feel myself approaching the possibility of a fresh start in my life, after languishing in the doldrums for the last two years. From now on there would be no looking back...................
approx 40 minutes. 825 words.
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Stand out events during my teaching career
Things began to change for me at the start of spring 1985. Thanks to my more regular income from teaching part - time in colleges of Further education around London I was able to move into a realatively self - contained bedsit (just sharing a bathroom) in a large house in Southfields. This was just a few miles from my parents back in the family home in Tooting. I now had my own 'Pad' and when I wasn't teaching I remember spending around two hours or so a day practicing Tai Chi and doing related excercises. I had taken up Tai Chi the previous summer after finishing my course. I initially attended a mid week class run by an American teacher around lunchtime at a place called Neal's Yard. This was a rather 'New Agey' enclave fairly close to Shaftsbury Avenue and so in the heart of traditional Bohemian London. I remember after each class I might join one or two of my classmates for a 'hippie' style vegetarian meal from the small cafe below our practice room. This would be my first taste of that kind of alternative lifestyle.
I continued part - time teaching at a number of colleges for another year and a half until 1986 when I had the chance to work full - time in one of the new computer training centres that were now springing up. This was in response to both the very high levels of unemployment at that time and also the explosion of the new Personal Computer based IT sector. It felt like a real breakthrough for me to finally be working full - time in a 'proper' teaching post with a salary and other benefits. Even if I found the job itself, trying to teach computer programming to young school leavers, distinctly uninspiring. In a way I felt that, having just turned 26, I had now finally 'arrived'.
My teaching career would continue for the next five years with me mainly working at two further computer training centres.
The next notable experiences of my life would be in connection with my membership of the Carribean Choir attached to the Catholic St Mary of the Angels in Notting Hill, West London. I would be almost the only regular white member of the choir for about three years - starting in 1987 at the invitation of the new receptionist at my second place of full - time employment in Wembley. I would go along every Sunday afternoon for choir practice. I must have been almost the only non - Catholic there. This showed me, among other things, that I was capable of singing in such a situation, another activity that before this I would never have imagined myself being involved with.
My engagement with the choir would open up my life to a number of new experiences, including regular attendance at the Notting Hill Carnival, the largest street event in Europe with around half a million or more people attending. The church, as well as holding a special service on the Sunday morning of Carnival weekend inwhich the choir participated, also ran one of the festival 'floats'. This consisted of a large trailer that was pulled by either a road or farm tractor, the trailer having an upper deck filled with members of the steel band associated with the church. This was a distinctive feature of Carribean carnival culture, as well as a brightly decorated procession of dancers in extraordinary glittering costumes. Infact in the second year of my involvement with this I was one of the official marshalls for our procession, walking along at the side while holding horizontally two long sticks to prevent onlookers from getting mixed up with the dancers. I remember the extraordinary sense of altered reality, standing at the side of the carnival procession the year before. With the dancers and their musical accompaniments processing by while the music of each procession melded with and eventually gave way to the next to create a strange slightly hypnotic flux of experiences.
I also began to participate in monthly visits of the choir to other churches where we sang for the Catholic mass. I remember even taking communion a few times myself, inspite of this aparantly being not allowed due to my not being a Catholic. One of these was even in the presence of Cardinal Hume, the Primate of Great Britain at the time and I believe a future candidate for Pope. This service took place at Westminster Cathedral prior to a large pilgrimage to the Continent - possibly to Lourdes in southern France.
The most notable experience however during my years with the choir was my attending of two 'Healing Conferences' at a large hall in Scarborough probably in the spring of 1989 and 1990 - the latter just before I left the choir. These events, each attended by over a thousand people, were based on a kind of faith healing ritual based around a daily Catholic Mass. I remember some extraordinary experiences during these rituals with the music seeming to help generate a powerful feeling of faith in the entire congregation, as a number of 'healing teams' moved around the congregation for laying on of hands. At one point during one of these sessions, with one of the teams close to the end of our row and us all holding hands, i believe I actually experienced the 'rotation of breath energy'which I had heard described during my previous Tai Chi classes. This was the only time I would ever experience it, a kind of excellerating rotation of energy moving through my body down from the face to the seat and then back up through my backbone to the top of my head. I remember the energy rotation becomming smaller and seemngly more rapid as it rose up to and beyond my head, while I felt I might literally levitate off my seat ! It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life.
45 minutes approx 998 words
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Some highlights of the early '90s
So here are some highlights of my life at this time - four episodes from consecutive years from 1991 to 1994.
Firstly we come to my second extended rail trip abroad which was to the South of France and back in 1991. Just before arriving at my destination of Bagner de Bigore I decided to stop off for a while at Lourdes. I visited the famous shrine the next day and was struck by the dozens, maybe hundreds, of crutches left around the back wall of the grotto. I walked into it and around and managed to bang my head on the back wall, I felt my brain rattle as I did this but I felt no discomfort at all. Shortly after I drank from the sacred spring (which was now actually a tap) that was said to have miraculously sprung forth during Bernadettes vision of the Holy Mother. It really was the sweetest water I had ever tasted. I brought some back to Tooting in a small bottle and drank some a month or so later - it tasted remarkably bitter and couldn't have been more of a contrast - amazing.
On the way back I stopped off at Toulouse just inland from the southern Mediterranean coast. I wandered around the town - I think with my case in tow trying to find somewhere suitable to stay. While I was walking I passed, at least twice, a very strange and I thought slightly scary woman walking towards me, I remember her heavy eye makeup creating a distinclty disconcerting effect - I assume she may have been a prostitute. After dropping my stuff off somewhere and having a meal in the town I was caught in a sub - tropical storm - sheets of light filled the night sky along with booming thunder. To shelter from the downpour I went into one of those small open French urinals in the middle of a small square. I stood there for a moment and then heard what sounded like the sky being torn in half above my head as I believe the urinal was struck by lightening - a shattering experience !
We now move on to my first retreat at the end of August1992, where early on I remember having some remarkably vivid visual experiences. it felt almost like watching a feature film as I clearly saw a wafting wheatfield and later a stream with the water seemingly dyed red. A bit later while practicing the mindfulness of breathing I remember a weird plunger like effect, with my breath appearing to move up and down my body. Occasionally my breathing actually stopped altogether for what seemed to be at least a minute at a time. Then on the final day of the retreat, at our report out, I had the strangest feeling that we had all met before. This seemed to have been in some distant previous life as princes and princesses in a Royal Palace in ancient India, or maybe Egypt. Later that same day I remember another odd experience on returning to my parents home after dropping some retreatants off in Croydon. Here I was standing at the front door of this place, where I had lived most of my life up to that point, and almost not recognising the place while wondering - what am I doing here ? Then when my mother came to the door I just stood there wondering to myself 'and who on earth are you ?' This strange feeling persisted for at least an hour after as I came in to see my dad and my mum's old friend Florrence who had visited from Norfolk.
The next experience is from ten months later, arriving for the first time at nighttime at the huge Glastonbury festival site in order to help out our small meditation team. Looking at the hillside facing the main Pyramid stage and being astonished at the site of what seemed to be hundreds of campfires extending over the hillside. It reminded me of nothing so much as a scene from the famous Hollywood epic Spartacus (released the year I was born) with a scene of the rebel slave army campfires burning on a hillside the night before their fatefull battle with the Roman legions. The following day I had a profound culture shock when I saw many more naked people in about two hours than I had probably ever seen during my entire life previously. For a while I almost didn't know where to look !
Finally my last remeniscence is from a creativity retreat I attended again at Rivendell a year later in 1994. This was a very vivid memory and was my first prolonged experience of combining meditation practice with creative activity, specifically drawing, painting and sculpture. The retreat culminated for me with my sculpting of a small Buddha figure (Amogasiddhi) from clay. I remember the organic, living quality of the damp clay as I moulded it into the shape of the seated figure and I realised how in the book of Genesis god could have been described as forming Adam's body from clay. Of course this whole retreat experience is very relevant now to our current sessions which I see as a clear progression from this quite primal experience of all those years ago.
So there they are, just a few of many memorable experiences from the few years leading up to and following my initial contact with the FWBO and subsequent transition into a 'new life'.
Approx 40 minutes 893 words
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Into the 'web of weird' in the late nineties
I had a nunber of notable experiences on that first Buddhafield season in 1996, but one that really stands out was during the summer retreat. We were just past halfway through the retreat based on the theme of the five archetypal Buddhas and I had already participated in some engaging rituals. It was now the evening of the Green Buddha Amogasiddhi's ritual. I had brought my trumpet along with my 'Miles Davis' sounding metal Harmon mute to put into the bell of the trumpet. As the ritual puja progressed with the 'offerings' section and people came up to bow to the Buddha rupa and offer incense as we chanted the Amogasiddhi mantra (Om Amogasiddhi Ah Hum) I blew some simple melodic lines to produce that slightly mysterious and even meditative Miles Davis sound. I would have been just about the last to go up and bow and as I did I had a strange internal sensation - it was as if the spirit of the Mantra was coming down from above my head while a focus of energy originating in my lower body was moving up to meet it just infront of me. As these 'energies' met I had an intense inner vision of the deep green Buddha Amogasiddhi infront of me, to whom I prostrated (probably three times). So vivid was this experience, along with an amazing sense of what I can only call 'softness' associated with the particular green colour, that a sense of this peculiar shade of green stayed with me for hours after. Indeed it was still there vividly in my awareness the following morning on my waking. I realised that the particular shade of green was very close to that of the old Cafe Hag jar lid. Bearing this in mind I was able to render it fairly closely when I painted my own clay Amogasiddhi rupa (made on the Creativity retreat two years before) on my return to Brighton.
The following year I again had several notable exxperiences during the Buddhafield season including my first shamanic journeys, my first - rather gruelling - Sweat Lodge at the Buddhafield festival. This was followed a day or so later by a beautiful moon lit final evening of the festival. Later at the Big Green gathering I also learned to dowse for earth energy lines (as well as water). However I think all of these are probably trumped by an experience I had while on retreat in the Autumn.
This happened during a 'just sitting' retreat, my second retreat at the specialist meditation orientated retreat centre Vajraloka, set in an attractive valley in Wales. Once I had engaged fully with the extended senses and body scan type meditations I began to find that I could focus, once I had fully relaxed, on my thinking with great clarity. This caused my thoughts to begin to slow down somewhat, which then allowed me to notice how at times my thoughts would become simply a kind of intermittent 'inner voice', punctuated by periods of literally 'just sitting' in pure awareness. I found that as this continued my thoughts ie: the voice in my head; eventually reduced down to what appeared to be almost gobbledigook - which somehow did not seem to be actually originating from me at all. I thus came to realise that this inner voice of my thinking mind was not 'me'. This was a real revelation at the time, since for probably most of my life I had tended to identify myself with the thoughts in my head more than anything else. Instead I realised I was really much more the background expanded awareness of what was happening moment by moments - whether specific thoughts were present or not. Typing this out now i can see the link with that earlier initiation experience all those years ago on my second Senior BB Camp.
The next experience occured in the 'Tipi field retreat' the following year. About half way through this retreat the person who ran the field, who called himself Bethleham, had decided to lead a native American style ritual of releasing. The focus of the ritual involved us writing down things we wished to release from our lives onto small pieces of paper. These were then collected by 'Goddesses' (one of whome I seem to remember was played by a male retretant) to be ritually burned in a special container. Just after the completion of the ritual a fellow retreatant told me to look up into the sky, there directly infront of me in a blue patch of sky were two small clouds in the clear shape (the right way up) of an exclamation mark ! It was one of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen.
The following year - 1999 - towards the end of the first season involving the so called 'Core Team', which included me as a member - having gone forth into homelessness at the beginning of the season. I took on being the Retreat Organiser of a new style retreat dedicated to the mysterious figure of Padmasambhava. This semi - legendary figure was said to have converted the demons of Tibet to Buddhism thus allowing the first Buddhist monastry in Tibet to be completed in what I believe is now Lhasa, the former capital and home of of the Dalai Lamas. Well during this retreat we initially designated eight sections around the field as the eight great cremation grounds of norther India where he had originally practiced austerities and meditation. During each early evening meditation - just before dinner - as the others meditated in the large shrine tent I took it in turn to meditate in one of the eight ritual 'cremation grounds' around the site. I remember the very distinct atmosphere that seemed to be associated with each of these spaces during my solo meditation sessions. Something of an esoteric initiation at the time I believe.
Finally I attended a standout concert by none other than David Bowie at the 2000 Glastonbury festival, the highlight of what turned out to be my final attendance at the event. I stood there with a huge crowd of over 100,000 people listening to a great performance of several of the hits, that had been so much a part of all our lives decades before. The concert was clearly a standout experience for both the audience and Bowie himself.
Approx 55 minutes
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And an extraordinary time was had by all !
Looking back now this period from 2000 to early 2004 includes countless notable experiences - but here are a few that really stand out:
A number come to mind from Buddhafield retreats around this time - I think the first would be from either a spring or summer retreat during the Core Team era. During the retreat I had noticed a youngish woman who was fairly plain apart from her rather striking wavy blond hair. One day during a meditation session I was sitting almost opposit her, I had a good concentrated session (possibly Metta Bhavana). On coming out of the meditation I glanced over to her and she now looked to me absolutely stunning, her luxuriant golden wavy hair reminded me of waves on a golden ocean and her serene expression brought to mind a goddess come down to earth - it was an extraordinary experience. On another retreat, probably for 'regulars' we had a day dedicated to feminine Buddhist figures called 'Dakinis'. For our evening ritual five of the women on retreat were to sit infront of the Buddha figure (probably Padmasambhava) in the shrine area made up as Dakinis. This meant they were sitting there in 'whispy' outfits and covered in body paint so that we could each in turn make offerings to one of them as part of the evening puja. There was 'Vajra Dakini' in blue, Ratna Dakini in yellow, Padma Dakini in red, Karuna Dakini in Gree and Buddha Dakini in white. I went up and offered a small 'Circle of Runes' I had made to the central Padma Dakini who lifted it up to her third eye to read. She was 'played' by an acquaintance of mine who I think was called Claire and I must say that she looked amazing.
The third event happened in October 2001 after that final Core Team season. I had decided to meditate for at least one circuit of the Circle line on the London underground. So I sat there in the end for two circuits round central London and the West End from around 2:30 to around 4:45 thus just hitting the early rush hour. I was sitting there trying to look as if I was dozing and I reckon I made it into something close to first Dhyana the second time I passed Paddington following around one and a half hours of the mindfulness of breathing. I finally opened my eyes after about two hours and ten minutes to be moderately surprised by how full the carriage now was, but the place felt notably still and I was in a pleasantly peaceful state after my 'meditation marathon'.
Finally I move on to my second just sitting retreat during the spring of 2003. I was participating in an unlead afternoon session doing a mindfulness of breathing when I started to have almost a visualisation of the atoms of air entering my lungs and blood. It was as if I could almost see the oxygen becoming part of my body while CO2 molecules were released from my blood back into the air being expelled from my lungs. I gradually came to perceive of myself as being a flow of atoms through my body which seemed to become more like a field of flowing energy held in a particular pattern, a bit like an eddy in a whirlpool. Thus I came to the realisation that I was not really an 'entity' at all, which then caused me to experience the most delicious feeling of what might be called 'energised egoic release'. My focus continued on into what I took to be first dhyana and then possibly on to the second. In this way I moved beyond the idea of being any kind of fixed 'self' to the experience of becoming a non - egoic flow of energy. The resulting feeling of 'rapture' or rising thrilling energy took hold as I relaxed into it. Then as the meditation began to end and I 'came down' into something like normal identity - orientated consciousness the rapture graduallly changed to a much less pleasant feeling of 'edgy' nervous energy...................
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The period from around summer 2004 to 2006 had probably offered fewer stand out experiences than the previous few years, but there certainly were a few, however the period did mark a big change in direction for me. I have already mentioned the amazing Saturday evening ritual at the 2004 festival - maybe marking a peak that would never again be scaled as the Dharmic message of the festival would subsequently begin to dilute.
In May I attended the Gate cinema in Notting Hill (another old stomping ground of mine) to see the ground breaking 'What the bleep do we know ?!' For the first half I found the 'in your face' style of it slightly heavy going. But once I relaxed into it (and a nuisance couple behind me had got up and left) I found myself actually starting to enjoy the somewhat wacky Californian concoction. I would even go on in the following year to organise two screenings of the film at the NLBC, where it received a somewhat mixed reception
The tenth Buddhafield festival turned out to be something of a disappointment, the highlight of the week being for me a walk in nearby woods with some of the Karuna Cafe volunteers after the closing ceremony. It was then on to Macedonia for my second extended visit, this time being driven almost straight to Ohrid with Avni on my arrival. I stayed at Ohrid for almost three weeks and the day after I got there I remember spending some time with Avni and some more of his friends at a small private beach by the lake. I ran an impromptu meditation session during which Avni's Muslim friend said he witnessed water snakes emerging from the lake. A short time later - while a thunderstorm gathered over the other side of the lake (about two miles away) I went for a swim with Dejana and Sandra under a strangely coloured off - grey sky. As I swam back to the shore Avni shouted from the beach pointing to something just behind me in the water. I looked back to see what I thought was a floating branch, I then looked again and it was another water snake with its front jutting out of the water, following just four metres or so behind me !
The next experience occured on All Saints day a few months later. I had requested a past life regression to hopefully discover the source of my seeming inability to form any proper relationships in my life. I thought it may have been down to some kind of religious vow taken maybe many lifetimes before - however what I found out was something very different. Zoe - the hypnotherapist - firstly guided me down a long - possibly endless - corridor with countless side doors. She then invited me to open one of them - well I went for the fabled '101' door and walked through. I had walked into what appeared to be a cave surrounded by damp seaweed, I also discovered that I was wearing flippers ! I became aware of a woman within the cave who seemed to be maybe my wife, as the scene shifted to something more like a room. I noticed that she was extremely unhappy about something that it seemed I was about to go off and do, to the point of throwing a saucepan at me as I was just about to leave ! My next memory is of being in an office type room with two men, apparantly naval officers. I was being somewhat pressured to sign an agreement to take charge of a number of Indian sailors (who apparantly couldn't speak English) on a Royal Navy ship. The two officers' outfits suggest sometime around the Napoleonic wars. I then find myself on said ship and in charge of maybe a dozen Indian sailors, we are under attack and a cannonball hits us close by me - I notice my leg is badly injured and pass out. I then appear to be moving towards a distant light and - what ? But I hear a voice saying "no - you need to go back to your life, now is not the time to be moving on...." I came to in a possibly naval hospital bed making the unhappy discovery that both my legs were gone. There follows a change of scene where I appear to be a beggar sitting on a street corner in some kind of naval town, possibly Portsmouth. I am in a very bitter frame of mind having lost faith in just about any form of authority either secular or religious. The tableau then moves on to my involvememt with a group of people who seem to be plotting some kind of assasination. Interestingly around this time I appear to forge a close friendship with a woman also linked to the conspiritors. This even appears to include som form of sexual intimacy which is rather striking given my physical state. The plot appears to involve myself as some kind of lookout but it is discovered and my last memory is of being on a scaffold with some of my fellow conspiritors, I appear to be wrapped in chains. Looking out at the large crowd I have a strange experience of feeling sorry for them - realising that their lives are ultimately dominated by fear, whereas for me there is only acceptance as the scene fades into light. Then at the end of the session Zoe 'cut the bonds' to that existence seemingly from around two centuries before, by clicking a pair of ordinary scissors. As she did so I could almost feel something like thick roots being separated from my lower body. I then just laid there, seemingly I was still that person from all those years ago. Wondering why on earth I wanted to join a religious order of people that I actually probably had little really in common with. It felt as though, in that moment, my ordination process - as they called it - had come to an abrupt end.
The final event took place on March the following year and involved me appearing on a TV item for a channel four program called 'Men in White'. The idea was to demonstrate the effect of meditation (and other activities) on stress levels. I was videod with the keen young presenter in a raised section of the studio that I believe was almost directly under the M4 flyover into London. I chose to run a metta bhavana session which actually went fairly well, inspite of my somewhat faltering start. I was struck at the end by the positive effect it had on the young presenter, as indeed was he ! It was yet another peak experience around meditation.
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More memorable events - mostly from 2006 - 2008
So we are up to summer 2006 and that Total Immersion retreat. The first notable event was during a meditation session just before lunch, probably on the first Thursday there. I noticed a horsefly land on my right arm and I was about to brush it off when I had the thought - 'Well I'm just about to have lunch - so you can have yours'. So I let it continue and suck my blood, after a while I looked at it again and noticed it's amazing jewel like blue green eyes. Once it had finished feeding I looked at it again - and I can only say that some kind of communication took place between us, very likely linked in with the metta bhavana I was practicing. It then flew off - leaving a small drop of blood but no discernable puncture mark and no swelling or irritation afterwards. I had the strange impression that it had somehow given me a form of acupuncture initiating some kind of healing. The second experience was on the Saturday at the end of my first week. It was during the evening ritual intended to help us 'contact our heart's desire'. Well I ended up having a spontaneous visualisation of myself sitting on a raised platform surrounded by avid people looking at me intensely - interesting and rather unexpected. The final experience happened towards the end of the retreat - possibly on the second Thursday. While the rest were meditating in the shrine tent I decided to initiate myself as a 'latrine master' which I had been for the retreat. I took a cup of urine from the urine receptical part of the loos - and drank it ! When I forgot it was urine it tasted like - Camomile tea - when I remembered what it was it tasted like - yuk ! After this I can only say that I had a feeling of myself having been empowered in some way.
The following trip to Macedonia was often quite pleasant but I don't remember any really stand out experiences. On my return I joined the new Thursday group at the centre which had been set up by my friend Anthony and a fellow psychotherapist - Tony Royle - specifically for long term members not focused on ordination. AFter a month or so I gave a presentation on 'problems with Going for Refuge to the Sangha jewel in the FWBO / WBO' which I was to discover had become quite an issue for some in the Order itself. It felt most liberating to be able to give such a critical presentation infront of my fellow Sangha members within the NLBC building, I would say it was another 'breakout' experience for me.
My next really standout experience would occur the following year with the successful engagement of myself and my friend Phil in my new Meditation Course in Balham. It was satisfying being able to pay him something from the moneys I received from those attending the sessions. The six week course culminated with myself and the three remaining participants taking part in a mostly silent 'just sitting' double session with a silent Tea ceremony during the middle tea break. 2008 would include many notable experiences including my talk in probably March at the Sutton Organic Growers Society where I spoke about permaculture under the title of 'Back to the Garden of Eden'. I would go on to attend some enjoyable Prom concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in the Summer. Shortly after this in October I joined my parents along with around eight relatives for their 50th Wedding anniversary celebratory lunch at a restaurant in Great Yarmouth during a brief holiday. The culmination of the year involved my helping to create and take part in the LETS TV item shown on BBC1 in the new year.
2009 turned out to be a quieter year but there were a few highlights. These included teaching myself the Butterfly stroke at Tooting Bec Lido and actually swimming there right through the winter - something that would have been unthinkable to me even just a year or two before. I remember the latter experience of swimming in extremely cold water induced a sense of my body being almost a kind of interface through which I could interact with this level of reality. I also attended the 3rd and 4th Shambhala training sessions (I began these at the start of the year) in Brighton - a pleasant way to return to the town after ten years away. My birthday celebration was definitely the highlight of 2010, sharing a large box with close friends at one of my favorite proms of all those I attended. There was also the interest and satisfaction of completing four short articles on the development of mostly Western Economic systems and history for the quarterly LETS newsletter during this year.
The years 2010 and 2011 also included a number of effective presentations at the Thursday group comparing the Shambhala training with Sangharakshita's approach to practice. I also looked at spiritual aspects of Quantum physics using information gleaned (as for the economics articles) almost exclusively from the interenet. Finally in November 2011 I would read the Power of Now - a gift to all members of the study group from Anthony for group study. This proved to revolutionise my meditation practice by emphasisng the state of presence and awareness over basic technique, which seemed to have been somewhat emphasised in the previous FWBO approach.
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A Change of being - 2012 to 2016
My father died on May the third 2012 at about four oclock in the afternoon. He passed away while I was buying a cold drink for him in the nearby hospital shop. When I got back to the house my mother asked me to see him, he must have passed away just a minute or so before. In the evening members of the Thursday group were doing a Mayday ritual invoking the Buddhist goddess Tara as a kind of 'Queen of the May'. At the same time, with my father's body laying on his bed in the 'front room' I went up to my bedroom directly above to do a special meditation - linking up with what Anthony and Karen were doing at the Buddhist centre. I probably did a Metta Bhavana and as I did there appeared in my mind my father with a young woman who seemed to be directing him somewhere. After a moment she introduced him to all his deceased brothers and sisters and the most notable thing about it all was that they all appeared to be in their early 20s with my dad maybe about 17 - and off they all went. This experience had a hugely positive effect on me, I cam down the stairs, shaking hands with the policeman who had been present during the last few hours. He was just about to be replaced by another prior to my father's body being taken away a few hours later (happily in the middle of the night).
Able seaman Henry Bradford circa 1943
Two years later, in late September, I was attending the Thursday group with Anthony, Karen and possibly Marcella. Anthony was running a special meditative prayer session based on the well known Christian chant of Maranatha - which means both the Lord is come and the Lord is with us. He suggested we focus on these meanings as we chanted, based around rhythmic breath awareness. On I believe the following Monday I took a train trip to my sister's at King's Lynn where my mother had been staying for a few days. I arrived at the station early so unusually decided to walk to my sister's, about three miles away. About half way there walking along a long road I noticed what appeared to be a convent school on my right called the Mary Magdalene school (or college). A small distance further on I past a fairly large hotel on the left whose name struck me - it was the Maranatha Guest House. It is interesting to remember here that opposite the NLBC where we had done the prayer ritual four days before there is a large parish church - St Mary Magdalene's with a nearby church school of the same name. On my return to london I mentioned this during a phonecall to Anthony who did a Google search on the name - finding only two examples in Great Britain - in KIngs Lynn and Northern Ireland. I had walked past what was apparantly the only hotel of this name in the entire British mainland !
Finally almost exactly a year later Anthony was running a similar meditative prayer session at the Thursday group, this one had my friend Phil present who had recently joined the group. This time we would, I believe after doing the Maranatha chant again, focus on asking for something good to enter our lives. I asked for a closer friendship with Elisa, then during the visualisation part of the session I perceived her walking in and coming up close to me. Then I noticed I was dressed in a strange garb and had I believe a slightly golden hue and then I noticed that Elisa - had grown four extra arms ! As the session ended and I described the experience I noticed how Phil, sitting next to me, seemed to be in quite an emotionally excited state. On his return home that evening Anthony checked his online copy of the Daily Telegraph newspaper where he noticed a photograph of a many armed Durga Rupa (incorrectly described as Kali) at the top of the front page !
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Coming up to date - 2
Here are some experiences that stand out during this period - particularly from 2016.
The first happened around Eastertime - I was in a bit of a state after the Church service and I ended up laying down on Clapham Common - getting worked up I must admit - to the point of having almost a panic attack where my breathing became difficult. I then almost angrilly said - probably out loud - 'This is not me !' - the crisis passed and I was left wondering 'then who am I really ?' Then I had the realisation - 'I do not know who I am - and that is actually a good thing - because I can be just about anybody !' I then went for a walk via the local Sainsburies (where an Asian man gave me a long hard look). Walking back to my car I was looking at people walking past - and noticing how in some way most of them appeared subtly constricted in their demeanor. I realised that this did not need to be my state, as I returned to the car to drive home for Sunday lunch..
The next notable event occured around four months later just before my 56th birthday. I had just got back from taking my mum to visit my sister at King's Lynn and ended up in the the Hare Krishna temple in Soho. They were about to perform one of their regular weekday early evening pujas, so I joined in. As people sang and chanted and the curtains where opened to reveal Krishna and his consort on the 'stage' a woman came around sprinkling us with water. then she possibly wafted incense at us and finally came round with a small flame - which I made a point of putting my hands into quickly. I felt a wonderful sense of 'being at home' during this and later realised that my attitude to life - keeping so much of it at arms length so to speak - was likely due to a kind of fear of what could be called 'ritual pollution'. A key concept in the east in both original and Muslim cultures - at last something about my life now made deep sense to me. Having realised this however I also realised that my life in this society had been my chance to 'break out' of this kind of attitude which in Buddhist terms would be seen as ultimately a form of attachment, so in this way my life experience started to make more sense.
The final experience from 2016 occured about a month or so after this. At this point Marcella was in quite a bad way - experiencing intense pain from shingles on a nerve in her jaw, the pain was so bad she was using morphine patches to try to control it. I was at the Tuesday meditation meeting in North London which this evening was being run not by Saul but by a regular member who had just got back from a transforming 'mindfulness' retreat in silence. He led a just sitting session (extremely well) and while I was doing the meditation I perceived in my 'mind's eye' Marcella sitting on the seat opposite (she was almost certainly at home at this time). At the end of the session for our reporting out David - who was sitting fairly close by commented - it's rather strange to see Marcella sitting just over there ! I mentioned to him afterwards I had also seen her - and even asked if she had 'passed on' - to my relief it turned out she was still with us.
The next experience occured at the funeral for an old family friend the following year in March I believe. Dora was about to be cremated while in my minds eye - as the minister sang her praises - a kind of vision of her ascending a long sloped flight of steps with very prominent beasts on either side - either dragonlike or maybe lions. At the top of the steps was a radiant light which she was walking towards. During and following this the minister seemed to become quite a bit more animated in his delivery - and the energy of the place definitely seemed to shift and get lighter compared to how it had been at the beginning of the service..
My next experience is from 2018 - the evening I saw the 'ghost' - I was awoken at about three in the morning by a rasping throat and a slight difficulty in breathing. I could hear my mother coughing in her bedroom next door also. I awoke and as I looked up I distinctly saw a dark grey siluette coming through the doorway (and the closed door) to turn at the foot of my bed and turn to look at me. I gave the shocked response 'bloody hell !' and raised one of my legs to push the figure away - at which 'she' vanished. At first I had thought it was my mother coming into the room but on realising it wasn't I was shocked and somewhat angered. In response to this after putting on the light I said 'I'm sorry love - you can't do this - I can't put up with this with my insomnia !' I then went downstairs to bring up some lighted insence in a holder to 'purify' the room - and eventually managed to get back to sleep. In the morning I could see the stub of the incense stick in the holder from the previous night - prooving it had happened - it was not a dream !
My final notable experience is an extended one over the course of decorating my bedsitting room over about 8 months last year. As I did this - the activity having been dedicated by me to the benefit of all each day - it was as if the activity - and in particular overcoming difficulties of which there were several ! - seemed to be a teaching in itself - fascinating !.....
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