Reggie Ray said a striking thing in one of his Dharma Ocean talks (highly recommended btw) about the Tibetan Buddhist practice of totally opening up to what is happening to you:

The heart overcomes suffering by becoming bigger than it. Not by getting rid of it.

This is the final thought that I garnered from Ajahn Sucitto’s talk in Lisbon at the end of last month.

And I’ve had to have a few weeks to really understand the significance of this - for me.

Teaching mindfulness over many years I have circled around the idea a lot. Rather than ‘getting rid’ of emotions or painful memories, I have trained myself (and encouraged others) to open up to them and sit with them; to create a safe space in our meditation practice where it’s ok to feel strong emotion and also clock the fact that strong emotion passes.

When we try and hurry experience along out of our life too quickly then it has a habit of returning and returning.

And yet, I have also been conscious of very subtle (and not so subtle) levels of ‘getting rid of’ going on in my psyche.

There is a Nibbana element.

This was a completely new idea to me. The Buddhist worldview is that there is a World made up of the four elements - water, fire, earth, and air. And that our bodies are a temporary constellation of these consituent elements that return to these base materials after death. A Western scientific notion might be that we are all atoms, temporarally constellated, only to dissolve back into carbon, oxygen etc. once we die.

The idea that Nibbana is part of the mix was not an idea I had heard up till that point.

The fifth thought that I recall from Ajahn Sucitto’s talk touches on how time creates suffering:

Nibbana is the abolition of the future.

This arose in reply to that meditator who had been struggling with the sense of ‘so what?’ in his practice. Sucitto was talking about the very subtle levels of stress that occur as soon as we ‘intend’ something. As soon as the mind constructs a future with our intentions unfolding out into it then we are away from the present source of happiness. We believe ardently (but foolishly from a Buddhist point of view) that thinking and planning and policing our future will makes us happy. Infact, counter-intuitively, it’s the thing that is making us unhappy.

I am keenly aware of this.

One of the challenges of meditation is the dance we do with “the Path”.

On the one hand we are told to rest, uncontrived in the present moment. And then we are simultaneously exhorted to aim towards Nibbana and practice assiduously to that aspiration.

Stay still. Get somewhere.

Accept how you are. Become something better.


Today I spent the whole day talking to teenagers about Buddhism and meditation. I had been kindly invited months ago by a mindfulness student of mine, Lindsey, who works at Steyning Grammar School in West Sussex. Her unflagging enthusiasm for her job and her students had really impressed me and I wanted to see what the school was doing - so I came in for the day talking to four or five groups of 16-18 year olds who were studying RE, ethics and/or philosophy for GCSE, A Leve and international baccalaureate.

It always does my heart good to hang out with teenagers. Even on buses I love to hear their bubbling enthusiasm for things and I am reminded of my own groping for awkward meaning at that age. To be honest, the smart, well-informed young men and women I met at Steyning were light-years ahead of the rather browbeaten underinspired boys at my Catholic Boys School, but I was happy to see such progress in the much-maligned education system. That stage of life is always so pregnant with potential. And the students I met were thoughtful and inquiring and keen to know what Buddhism offered. Which was handy, since that was my patch of knowledge.

The second thing I took from the Ajahn’s talk was: the most important actions are mental
This is is a crucial concept to get our head around when we’re pondering on why we’re always making ourselves unhappy.

Buddhism has a very central idea, which is that of karma. This is not the old Kismet idea of fixed destiny or payback. It’s a quite rational idea that things (and by things, the Buddha means bodies, moods, mind-states, as well as objects) come into being because of previously arising conditions. So, for example, my hangover is not a punishment sent from above. It is a consequence of drinking too much beer at the firework party last night. And those extra beers were, in turn, drunk because I was in a strange and alarming place on my own and needed some Dutch courage. And there we have it: a chain of karma.

Last Monday I was flying off to Lisbon to complete my last week of filming for the BBC and as I approached the departure gate at Gatwick, I was bemused to see one of my old teachers from Chithurst Monastery, Ajahn Sucitto, standing at the head of the queue, resplendent and tall in his ochre robes.

My time at Chithurst was right at the beginning of my Buddhist journey and in the interim I had rather drifted away from that school of Buddhism and the monastery - though, oddly, during a retreat up on Holy Island I found myself listening to hours and hours of Theravadan teachers, amongst them also Ajahn S.

So it was a good opening gambit to approach him and make the anjali gesture, address him as Ajahn, and tell him that only 24 hours earlier I’d been listening to him on my ipod. He seemed pleased.

During the journey and waiting for our luggage I gleaned that he was over in the Portuguese capital to speak to a new monastic group there and to give a lecture at the Uniao Budista in the City, the following day. So, once I had finished my first day’s filming, I wandered off from the team, into the night, climbed numerous flights of stairs and found myself in a top-floor apartment with about thirty others, sitting cross-legged on the floor listening to Sucitto talk.

My short-term memory is quite astute (all those years of learning ‘pieces-to-cameras’) and I managed to recall 7 significant points that he mentioned in his hour-long dhamma talk and Q&A and since they impact so precisely on a lot of the themes that arose out of our Holy Island retreat I thought I would post some thoughts on each on in turn.

The first was: The buddhist path is balancing inner and outer.

Next weekend, Saturday 26th October, the LoveSpirit team are organising another wonderful day-long jamboree of LGBT workshops exploring the world of spirituality, sexuality and heterogeneity.

If we open our eyes, if we open our minds, if we open our hearts , we will find that this world is a magical place.