Transcending the state of Hell

An essential part of the Buddhist organisation I am involved with, is the aspect of practical training in order to grow. This involves doing so-called “activities" where you try to commit yourself 100% to creating happiness for other members by taking on some responsibility at a meeting or event. That could be anything from greeting people warmly as they arrive, to giving a study presentation. No matter what obstacles you encounter along the way, you are taught to never give up regardless, unless of course it would harm you to do so. I am deeply grateful for these trainings because they've taught me that I have more empowerment potential than I sometimes believe when I'm in low spirits.

These activities are a cornerstone in accessing the world of empowerment, striving for the greater good and creating happiness as a result for yourself, too. When you set noble goals you will often be presented with seemingly insurmountable obstacles along the way. These are precisely what you need in order to learn how to win against your Demons. This type of training, therefore results in enormous strength and hope if done correctly.

Because I am a musician, I am often asked to contribute to Buddhist gatherings by playing one or 2 pieces. One such occasion was the ceremony for the receiving of a scroll by some new members, in this case a married couple. This scroll is meditated in front of as it symbolises a mirror of one's life. The ceremony is regarded as a very special occasion because the recipient is deemed as having committed themselves to the Buddhist philosophy, so it's like starting a new life of hope, happiness and growth.

I was to perform at about 11 AM, not early at all, but because of my negative and apathetic state of mind the night before I stayed out late and slept little. I hadn't taken my responsibility too seriously. I was in a foul mood the next morning and had to drag myself along to the meeting begrudgingly. I thought I would never be able to create a vibe of joy with my own attitude, so what the hell was I doing it for anyway? But the quiet voice of experience and wisdom inside me made me carry on. I sat in the audience watching the others smiling, relaxed and looking particularly Buddhist in the positive sense! They clapped enthusiastically as the new, committed couple joyfully received their scrolls, radiating love towards one another. It just made me feel even worse. How could I possibly pull this performance off in the right spirit? I had never been so resentful of having to play.

On zhe other hand my wiser self told me to do it to the letter – to strive with all my might and give it my best shot for the sake of creating happiness for others. Transformation would be round the corner. It was a mental battle literally up to the last second. As a professional performer, I am normally able to pull off a convincing act even when I am considerably tired, and most people don't notice any demons that might be whining away inside my head. So I played “well". People really appreciated it. I didn't feel joyous in the middle of the piece but that quickly changed as I recognised that I had managed to give people a great feeling. I then was filled with incredible satisfaction knowing that I had overcome the state of Hell once again and all had benefited!

What I learned from this experience yet again was the potential in the darkest times for positive transformation. Once you can recognise that you have it in you, and focus your efforts on using that power, you are again able to see that you are an amazing person.

Experience in conflict resolution

I once bought some expensive city tyres for my mountain bike. I had checked with the shop assistant first regarding their compatibility with my wheel-measurements. After getting them set up with the usual brute force required, I went for a ride. I immediately noticed a bump in the movement of the back wheel which didn't go away and I could see it would quickly become irritating. I tried letting air out and pumping it back in again to help, but with no success. So I decided to return the annoying item to the shop: I felt that either I had been given the incorrect size, or the product was defective.

When I got to the shop I spoke to the same assistant as before, informing him I wanted a refund because one of the tyres didn't fit despite his advice. He quickly became angry and stated that there were dirt marks on it. In fact I had only been down the dry street and back so it was negligible, albeit visible. I got annoyed with his reaction, retorting that I could only find out that the tyre was defective by cycling on it, so some insignificant marks or dirt were inevitable. He was fuming at me by now but he levered the tyre around for a few minutes on the rim, claiming that the bump would level out with time.

Afterwards I sceptically left the shop and hopped on my bike, only to find that the bump was still as bad as before! Furious, I saw the assistance as a demonic arsehole who didn't respect his customers. On the way home it suddenly struck me that because of my anger, I had forgotten to exchange some unused brakes I'd bought previously. I cursed because I didn't want to have to go and deal with that nasty man again but I also didn't want to make a separate trip and I was only 5 minutes away. Then several things dawned on me. 1st of all I realised that there was a chance here to make an experience of transforming the situation into something positive. I saw that it hadn't even occurred to me that he might be right about the bump disappearing – I was basically afraid that life was against me in that instance. I also recognised that the assistant was alone in the shop and had to deal with several customers almost simultaneously and was probably stressed out. Furthermore, it was likely that he often had to deal with people bringing things back in ignorance and with an attitude of arrogance (through fear of losing money etc), claiming to have facts which he knew to be completely wrong from plenty of work experience.

It was then obvious that it was up to me to reconcile. I was determined to go back to the shop, exchange the brakes and show the man respect as another human being with his own set of pressures. Upon entering, without even having uttered a word myself, he came up smiling and put his arm around my shoulder, saying, “hey, I'm really sorry, but it was stressful having to hold the shop alone with all those customers." I too, beamed at him, replying that it was no problem at all – I understood completely. We then sorted the breaks out and parted on cheerful terms!

This story may not seem very dramatic, but for me it was another milestone because I knew that only through my decision to live consciously and the resulting successes that I experienced, did I have the hope and courage to deal with all my negative vibes towards this other human being. Otherwise I would have harboured a grudge, and these things tend to repeat themselves and build up a belief system that sees little or no potential change in other people (or ourselves) in conflict with us.

Travelling responsibly: stories from the bus

As a resident in Munich, Germany, with family in Scotland, I used to take the plane 1 to 2 times in the year to get to my parents' place because it was much quicker and cheaper than other forms of transport. However, it is generally recognised that air travel produces much more carbon dioxide than by travelling the same distances by train or bus (in most instances). Incidentally – at some point it you might want to listen to my song: Cheap Flight, a sort of black-comic look at the issues of flying, escapism, taking flying for granted, waking up and finding gratitude.

At the time, I had already completed a Masters course in human ecology which was all about the (mainly) non-biological interactions between humans and their environment in the context of understanding the causes of environmental destruction and possible solutions.

The course was a life-changer for me because it made me look personally at the question: “what is a creative, fulfilling life which replaces that inner void people have, which consumerism (the greatest cause of environmental destruction) so greatly depends on to prevail.

I became significantly more aware of many issues including global warming and the relative pollution-effects of different forms of travel. Nevertheless I still couldn't bring myself to do the more expensive, uncomfortable and time-consuming option, in this case – bus. In the late 90s the cost of a return train ticket from Munich to London was prohibitively expensive. I was the mindset: “it would mean too much hardship and almost everyone takes the plane anyway. I can't change anything." This was of course partly an excuse not to get out of my comfort zone.

It wasn't until I started to practice Buddhism where I was taught to start focusing on the power of a change starting with the individual, that my behaviour was transformed. I found a deep passion and resolve growing within me to start taking 100% responsibility for my own actions. I wasn't following any rules, the feeling just awakened and resonated with the Buddhist teachings. I decided to stop flying full stop. At first I was pretty dogmatic about it and could no longer see air travel as justifiable! With time I understand completely that the reasons for travelling by air range from ignorance and selfishness to humanitarian and productive.

But I thought to myself – I can't face living like a hypocrite. The alternatives can't be as torturous as what the people in poorer nations have put up with on a daily basis. So many Africans have to walk miles just to collect water and from a position of comfort, people in rich countries take things like flying for granted. I can't complain about global warming to people and look them straight in the face right now. I am just another pawn in the pollution process.

So I booked my 1st trip with Eurolines overnight to London and there changed to rail up to Edinburgh on a cheap advance ticket. Pricewise it came to about 2 to 3 times as much as a flight and would take about a day, but I was determined to prove whether my life was heading in the direction of real poverty and suffering or not because of my new lifestyle choice.

On that 1st occasion I arrived at my parents' pretty exhausted through lack of sleep so I tried to use the power of my mind to somehow find more rest the next time. Also, I was determined to meet interesting people. During my next trip to the UK I ended up sitting next to a kindred spirit with whom I became best friends. We had reams to talk about – she was also a musician who grew up near to Munich and was living in the quite alternative, ecological town of Stroud in England. There is a lot of interest there in self-sufficiency, nonmonetary exchange of goods and services, local organic food etc. I stayed with my new friend on the return stretch to Germany and even later played some gigs with her! I also managed to get enough sleep both times and needed no recovery the next day!

On another journey I met an architect who busks in Munich (like I used to do). We also became great friends and jammed at the back of the bus, taking care not to disturb anyone. He happened to miss his return journey by a day which meant that we were “by chance" on the same bus coming back. We took advantage of a 2nd opportunity to entertain other passengers and ourselves!

The usual bus driver on the stretch from Munich to Brussels was Belgian and only spoke French to passengers. I always greeted him in his own tongue, so when there was an enforced detour due to a traffic accident on the motorway near Munich, he asked me of all people to sit at the front and do a spot of map reading to help him find his way through unknown territory! On the return journey on a different, sub-contracted bus with completely different drivers, the GPS system broke down near Brussels. I was singled out for no apparent reason and asked to help map read to get into the City!

I even made repeated trips from Munich to Grenada in southern Spain (bus or bus and train) which took over one and a half days in each direction! The most memorable experience was where I met a French Algerian who warmly introduced himself at a bus station near the border with Portugal. We got on and headed straight for the back which, in case you are wondering, is an attempt to get a lying down possibility for sleeping! Another Algerian from Holland joined us, and the 2 countrymen started chatting enthusiastically. My new friend exclaimed how they were like brothers and had been sent together by Allah!

He was quite a burly chap with tattoos and told me how hard life was in the Paris ghetto where he was based -full of drug addiction, violent crime and pseudo-friends that became traitors, backstabbers and endless money borrowers. He had run out of cash himself and was forced to travel to his family in Algeria and where he would work to keep his head above water. He was suffering from schizophrenia and as a result of his medication and the uncomfortable bus environment, he hadn't slept at all during the last 2 to 3 days and felt “highly-strung".He nonetheless showed great intelligence and mentioned that he had read a fair amount of Chinese philosophy. But then he revealed that he was a kung fu expert and made it clear of his anger towards the Moroccan bus driver, who was admittedly quite aggressive and authoritarian in his dealings with the passengers regarding small details like eating inside the bus, which he forbid. The Algerian had already shouted at him a couple of times. Now there is a history of conflict between Algeria and Morocco going back generations, and more recently to do with conflicting oil interests. So I started to get concerned when the Algerian said he wanted to kill the driver. I tried to distract him at 1st with other topics of conversation but it came to a head when we had the next break at a motorway cafe for 30 min. Because the Algerian was still in deep conversation over a coffee, he forgot about the time, and after 30 five-minute driver (understandably) can to us and retorted that we should get back on the vehicle with its waiting passengers immediately. He then hurried back himself.

My Algerian friend was now fuming and it looks serious when he repeated that he was going to kill the driver. I felt like it was one of these situations where the Algerian saw himself pressurised on all fronts, and thought he had nothing to lose by lashing out. So I said all at once, “What would Allah say? Alloa would surely tell you that if you can find the courage within you to search deeply for respect for your opponent, and perceive him as another human being with his own weaknesses and problems, you will have already won your battle." He looked at me blankly for a second, but then his stressed out expression gave way to a broad grin. “You are completely right. That is so wise". He relaxed immediately and explained his new interpretation of events to his other compatriot sitting next to him. He was now chatting cheerfully like a child with a new toy! I then went up to the bus driver and apologised that we caused a delay, saying that my friend was suffering from mental illness and lack of sleep. He, too, visibly quietened down and we continued on our journey. That was the matter closed. Relief. I felt a surge of hope fill me because I had proven to myself yet again that amazing turnarounds are possible when one maintains clarity and offers a few choice words with a positive intention, at the right moment.

I have had many more eventful trips but I am not going to tell you about them here except for one last fitting account. On most of my trips to Granada I had to change in Barcelona with several hours to spare. I would hop on a local bus to a coastal nature reserve which was a pleasant oasis, full of interesting birds, and in order to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The 2nd time I had been given €80 by a couple of Romanian girls at the bus station in Munich, to transport a large bag to a relative of theirs who would collect it at the station in Barcelona. Legally speaking, I probably shouldn't have done this, but they seemed sincerely nice and I was persuaded that they were trying to save money by not having to pay for official delivery or take it themselves. A man turned up at the other end as promised, and gave me the cash. I then proceeded to the nature reserve with my binoculars, telescope and tripod for birdwatching and unfortunately, also my guitar in a heavy hardcase, because there was no room in the lockers in town. It had been a couple of years since I had last been in the vicinity. I couldn't quite recall which bus stop to get out at because it was one of the series just off the motorway which all looked very similar. I overshot by 3 to 4 km. It was a searing hot day at the end of May and padded off with all my gear, wearing too many clothes, sweating profusely, trying to recollect the reserve entrance. On my way up the road I encountered a pimp sitting on the deck chair in the shade of a large tree next to his mountain bike, and his several prostitutes spaced out optimally along the hard shoulder. I asked all of them where the reserve might be. They all convivially gave me the wrong directions but after much tramping around and losing copious amounts of sweat, it paid off to follow my own intuition. I headed to the shade of the reserve information centre where I chatted with the warden. As I expected, the expansion of Barcelona airport right next to this important and beautiful wetland, was swallowing up areas needed for wildlife. It seemed like a slap in the face, not only because of my efforts to reduce my own carbon footprint by avoiding planes. So I donated €40 to help the conservationists fight their huge battle to preserve what little is left of healthy Spanish (Catalonian) wetlands. 5 min after leaving the hut I was rewarded by getting great views of a family of great spotted cuckoos – a delightful bird species which I have never seen before!

Wordpress Social Share Plugin powered by Ultimatelysocial