Do what you’re doing when you’re doing it

Large scale natural (and man-made) disasters, like the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, often drive people to come up with ‘explanations’ for why these events happen. Like the response to the tsunami disaster that struck the countries in the Indian Ocean in 2004, I’ve come across a few claims that the ’cause’ of the suffering in Japan today is the ‘result’ of a collective national karma for its past. Depending on which you read, accounts range from their misdeeds during WWII, to their failure to take care of the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki! All of which I personally find pretty outrageous, and the reason why I’m not linking to them — in the age of the Internet, they’re easy enough to find if you’re inclined to look.

I don’t claim to know whether or not it is a collective karma at work. It may well be so, I can’t say. What I’m more intrigued by is the audacity of any one person to claim to know such a thing. I don’t feel particularly well versed in any of the theologies that support the concept of karma, but from my own fledgling and intermittent Buddhist studies, I’ve picked up a sense that the notion of karma, at least in the Buddhist tradition, is far more complex, layered and ineffable to be so crudely applied.

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Healing Pluto problems: Obsidian order, Walnut way

If you are currently experiencing the Pluto station at a sensitive point on your chart — it is currently square my natal Pluto, and opposite my natal Venus — it’s likely you’re feeling just a bit taut, like waiting for a shoe to fall, but not knowing if it’s going to be made of soft leather or hard concrete.

Detail of Pluto and Proserpina (1621-22)

Detail of Pluto and Proserpina (It's stone!)

Pluto issues are deep and transformative (cellular, as I once put it) and healing them requires a genuine and concerted effort at looking inwards, and the courage to square with yourself, your desires and your fears, warts and all. Plutonians who choose to look away often end up projecting their shadow sides onto others, hurting themselves and loved ones in the process. I know a Plutonian (still) undergoing a tough Pluto transit who once asked me what the point of therapy was. He said, ‘What’s wrong with just getting on with life? Won’t therapy just raise things that are better hidden?’ My answer was: ‘Sure, you can just do that and time will pass and you will get older and die. But who do you hurt in the meantime? Do you want to live life awake or asleep?’ My questions were not meant to be rhetorical but he never answered them. As far as I can tell, he’s still sleepwalking.

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Hades Moon III: When our darknesses meet

Part I, II.

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One of the characteristics of natives with the Hades Moon, Judy Hall notes, is the karmic link to other people with Hades Moons. She provides numerous examples in her book, which point to individual and familial karma.

After I put the book down, I logged in to my astrology software and looked at the charts of my family and close friends, including those with whom the closeness was only short-lived. Should I be surprised that every single one has a Hades Moon? Either with Moon in Scorpio, or with Pluto in (Ptolemic) aspect to the Moon. I didn’t look up the more minor aspects because I didn’t need to. Everyone who is, or was at one time, important to me had a Hades Moon. Given that the moon changes signs every two and a half days or so, this doesn’t feel like simply a series of random coincidences.

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Time to practise what I preach

758221_baby__goats Reassessing what I value must include extending those values to others.

If there is anything Mercury in Gemini values, it is the power of words.

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Bearing someone else’s karma

I read this excerpt from a selection of talks, called The Transformed Mind: Reflections on Truth, Love and Happiness, given by HH the 14th Dalai Lama.

Is it possible to bear somebody else’s karma for them?

Generally speaking, according to Buddhist teaching, you will not encounter the results of an action that you have not committed, and once you have committed the action, the result will never get lost, and you have to experience it. Here I think it’s quite important to make a distinction. When you suffer, you not only feel pain or discomfort at that moment, but also a kind of helplessness and discouragement. You are completely enshrouded in that suffering and there is a kind of darkness.

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Yod in, yod out

In my last post about yods, I mentioned the yod’s effect as being hard to quantify as the energies of the planets are channelled through incompatible elements and modalities. People with yods in their charts tend to find it challenging to integrate these conflicting energies, if, in the first place, they are aware of it. One of the characteristics of natives with yods is that they may not identify with any of the placement of the yod planets at all… Joan Kellog writes in her book, The Yod: Its Esoteric Meaning, that the yod is a karmic configuration, and that in the realm of esoteric astrology, such configurations may remain hidden to the natives until such a time the soul is ready to deal with its energies.

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Taking the bait

‘Can we resist taking the bait?’ was a question posed in a discussion group on Zen practice that I participate in. How many times do we take the bait when we can see not just the worm but the hook, line and angler? In my case, sometimes my mind gets in the way, and it starts thinking, ‘Maybe the worm isn’t a worm and it isn’t attached to a hook. I’m just imagining things.’ That’s when the trouble starts.

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2006 — my year of karmic clearances

I’d been thinking about how to recount some personal changes over the latter half of 2006, when it occurred to me that a new year’s reflection on the past year will be as good an opportunity as any.

2006 will be remembered by me as the year of karmic clearances. Possibly helped along by the last two years of meditation, I’d been thinking a lot about karma over the past months, about what one did to generate positive or negative karma, whether in this life or the next. I’m not all that concerned about being reborn a toad or a cockroach in my next life as with what I might do to reduce suffering — mine and others’ — in this life while I still had it. Buddhism in a nutshell is about the reduction of suffering, or rather the reduction of the pain in suffering. (I am constantly reminded by a story told by Rev. Kusala Bhiksu in his Urban Dharma podcast: that the difference between pain and suffering is that suffering happens when we don’t want the pain.)

With that sensibility brewing in my unconscious most of the year, and prompted by an old school friend to make peace with another school friend whom I hadn’t spoken to in eight years, I embarked on a personal journey I was later to refer to as the ‘repaying of my karmic debts’.

I sent an email to my friend apologising for my anger eight years ago. It took me nearly all of eight years to realise that there is a big difference between being right and needing to be right. The former didn’t really matter either way if the latter wasn’t constantly being justified. The very gracious reply I received, that bygones were bygones, encouraged me to make a list of people I’d severed ties with, shouted at, or generally behaved badly to (10 in all!), mainly between the years of 1999 to 2003, the years I often refer to as my ‘madwoman years’. Out of the list of ten, eight responded, including an old boyfriend with whom the split ended pretty acrimoniously. Eight out of ten is a pretty good rate of return, if you ask me.

I am encouraged and heartened by the propensity for generosity and kindness in human nature, though for me, it was not a matter of forgiveness as a matter of closure on my part, a matter of me acknowledging the part of myself I tend to try and suppress, the part that is easily hurt, angered and had the capacity for such violence in anger. I’ve never understood my anger; I don’t get angry often but when I did, I never just got angry, I had to crush those around me with the force of my anger; it was a force I always felt guilty about later, even if I felt justified in my actions, even if, in some instances, I was the one that was wronged. Another friend of mine whom I told this story to was rather indignant (bless him!), insisting that if his memory served him correctly, I wasn’t always in the wrong in some of the cases. It’s true in a way I still don’t fully understand — if I had the moral highground, why I continued to feel guilty for pushing back. Perhaps the answer lies in the curious epiphany I had (I forget the exact moment now) that being right and needing to be right weren’t the same thing at all. Yes, I had been hurt by some people in some cases, but I didn’t need to continue to be defined by that hurt and by that event.

I don’t quite know how to explain it adequately and I’m not sure it amounts to the same thing as seeking forgiveness, in the sense that I wasn’t looking for forgiveness for a particular historical event but a sense of reconciliation within myself for how I reacted. I’m trying to take responsiblity for my reactions, that’s it. So it doesn’t really matter that the two on my list didn’t respond. They have their own reasons that aren’t necessarily to do with me.

As a result, I feel freer, freer to enter a new year and a new phase in my life. Moulting is always an apt metaphor for personal change on this level (Pluto transiting through the first house!), but there are probably still bits of old skin stuck to my shoe as I try to shake them off, though even those will no doubt fall off with time.

Here’s to growing a new skin in 2007.

Scrub

This has been such a whirlwind few months. I keep trying to find a window to blog and make sense of it but can never find, not so much the time, but the right moment. It seems that whenever I try and make sense of something one moment, something else happens and I’m thrown off-kilter once again.

But the stories of the past months can wait for a while longer. Something much more immediate, much more visceral happened today that I want to try and capture before the moment passes.

My 11-year-old car has been forcibly retired and I am in the process of looking for another one. This means that, for the moment, I am taking the bus, come wind, rain, sleet, or shine. This evening, on the way back from my regular weekend shift at Oxfam, I was waiting at the bus stop with a couple of bags of groceries, when I was accosted by an elderly man, who looked well into his seventies. Like many locals I encounter in this town, many of whom stop and chat and ask where I come from, was I studying at the university and how long I plan to stay, this man did the same.

Only, it wasn’t long before the questions crossed the barriers of social decency quicker than the Germans crossed the Maginot line. There were many other people at the bus stop, though I was too taken aback by the kissy noises he started making to notice if anyone could hear us. The presence of a crowd certainly didn’t stop him from asking if I was getting enough sex, amongst other rude things.

It is curious how throughout the five-minute or so encounter, even though at no time did I feel in danger physically, I could still feel mentally violated and intimidated. Sexual harrassment is pretty icky, even if the perpetrator is possibly senile. It also made me wonder if the sexual intimidation was possibly a racial intimidation tactic, as there were plenty of white girls around, and I seemed to have been singled out by him as a non-white female, a foreigner.

I felt off-kilter the entire evening, and tried to see if I could do a loving kindness meditation. I ended up just meditating and not “trying” to achieve anything in particular. Finally, I was not physically harmed and there was no real accomplishment in trying to work out his motivations. He may well have been senile and not in control of his wits, or he may well have racist inclinations, or he may have just been a truly tragic individual.

Nevertheless, as I sat, I found that the questions that surfaced were not of the man’s motivations, but mine. I found myself wondering why I continued to suppress my better instincts as I listened to him and allowed him to carry on instead of saying something in order to put a stop to it or even walking away. It was as if I felt like I couldn’t be rude! I’ve read sociological accounts of women internalising the need to suppress their individuality in favour of social harmony, but this seemed a bit extreme, and it made me wonder if, had the circumstances been different, whether I might not have been in some real danger? Was I intimidated because I let myself be? And then I am reminded of all the stories of self-loathing one reads about how rape and harrassment victims sometimes feel, and think, no, the guy was a creep, senile or not, and may his karma catch up with him.

The only thing left to do is to stop attaching all these narratives to the incident and sit with my sense of being off-kilter for a while more. And of course, to get a new car as soon as possible. Whoever said materialism didn’t solve problems?

A foray into Buddhist purgatory

I was faced earlier today with a spiritual dilemma — to go for my regular weekly meditation meeting or to stay home and watch the Champions League final? :)

Football won out, I’m almost ashamed to say, and as I joked with a friend, luckily Buddhism doesn’t have the concept of burning in hell. Then recessed memories started to kick in. Hang on a minute. Doctrinal Buddhism may not conceive of hell in a similar sense to the Christian notion of eternal damnation, but it does speak of the six realms in Samsara, or the perpetual cycle of existence/suffering, which when taken metaphorically, can offer an almost liberating sense of the afterlife. I am myself rather intrigued by the possibility of having many lives, rather than just one, make it, or break it.

Taken literally, however, the six realms is a testimony to the richness of human expression and imagination. Cultural Buddhism, in this form, is replete with images of the unimaginable tortures awaiting the ‘unskilful’ (what a wonderfully non-judgemental designation) among us. I am reminded of the picture Soen Joon Sunim posted of Avici, the ‘Hell of hells’. I am also reminded of a childhood visit to Singapore’s Tiger Balm Gardens (Haw Par Villa), to its Ten Courts of Hell depicting untold human suffering of the most gruesome kind. These days the garden has been turned into a theme park, with an entry fee that deters all but the most trigger-happy tourists. Before its refurbishment in 1985, the park was open to the public, having once been the site of the mansion (or villa) of the famous Aw Brothers, who developed the Tiger Balm as a Chinese cure-all for aches and pains. (The balm contains no tiger in it, only minty oils that leave a cooling sensation on the skin).

What is really interesting now, as I plumb the depths of my memory, was that the hellish exhibits were out in the open, amongst pavilions and shady trees, and many a happy local family could be found picnicking among them. Just to confirm I’m not indulging a false memory, here’s someone else’s recollection. What the effects may have had on a child and his unconscious associations with wrongdoing and punishment, I shall leave to the psychology and psychotherapy experts amongst you, but my own experience, was not a fear of hell in the afterlife, but pain in the present one. I remember a slight twinge in a corresponding part of my anatomy as I looked upon each head that was chopped off, each torso speared, and each limb engulfed in flames. Even now the memory triggers a small shudder through my body that the more recent pictures I linked to above do not. The latter are of the ‘new’ exhibits, and seem more camp than the ones I remember.

Who would have thought a random thought about skipping meditation for football was going to bring all this up? The game had better be worth it. Otherwise, according to populist notions of karma, I may return in the next life as Wayne Rooney’s metatarsal (or whoever else may be the star at the time). Ouch.

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