Monday, December 18, 2006

Middle English pronunciations of Britten's Ceremony of Carols

Last night I sang in a concert with the Ebor singers. The first half was mostly Benjamin Britten's well-loved Ceremony of Carols, and the second half was assorted seasonal pieces, interspersed with the Advent ("Big O") Antiphons (O sapientia et al.). It was all quite effective, and very enjoyable. My biggest contribution was working out the approximate Middle English pronunciations of the poems used in the Ceremony of Carols. Here is what I came up with. (The document is in three-column format, with the texts on the left, the glosses in the middle, and a phonetic pronunciation on the right.) Others are welcome to use it; please just drop me an e-mail to let me know if it was useful to you. I drew on my (sketchy) prior experience with Middle English, and also a Google search, which yielded several webpages of which the most concise and helpful was at .

Updated April 3 2012 with a link to a google document version of the text. Use at will, and let me know how it works out for you.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

All Souls' Day

Ad mortem festinamus
peccare desistamus
peccare desistamus.


Scribere proposui de contemptu mundano
ut degentes seculi non mulcentur in vano

mossy angel

iam est hora surgere
a sompno mortis pravo
a sompno mortis pravo.


Ad mortem festinamus
peccare desistamus
peccare desistamus.


Vita brevis breviter in brevi finietur
mors venit velociter quae neminem veretur


omnia mors perimit
et nulli miseretur
et nulli miseretur.

wife of revd


Ad mortem festinamus
peccare desistamus
peccare desistamus.



Ni conversus fueris et sicut puer factus
et vitam mutaveris in meliores actus


twin boys

intrare non poteris
regnum Dei beatus
regnum Dei beatus.


angel moss

Ad mortem festinamus
peccare desistamus
peccare desistamus.


Tuba cum sonuerit dies erit extrema
et iudex advenerit vocabit sempiterna


electos in patria
prescitos ad inferna
prescitos ad inferna.

capt moses smith


Ad mortem festinamus
peccare desistamus
peccare desistamus.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

teaching joy

So I'm teaching the university's Introduction to Astrophysics class, completely unhindered by any prior knowledge of astrophysics. (I've made up a nifty little webpage for the class, using Google's Page Creator which is sheer joy to use.) It's going well so far. I'm bribing students with chocolate (Mars and Milky Way bars, naturally) to answer questions, and they're proving to be quite responsive. (Also v. young. They're all eighteen, which means...I don't even want to think about what year they were born in.) Also keen. One of them came up to me after class today and said, "I was reading the textbook last night, and I was thinking about some stuff, and I was just wondering,..." --and I had to get him to repeat what he said next because my brain had shorted out. Students. Reading textbooks. Thinking about what they read. Asking teachers interesting questions (it turned out to be, what would happen to the orientation of the Earth if it were to stop spinning on its axis, given its current squashed shape and the pull of the Sun and the Moon?). ...I don't think I can handle this much pedagogical joy all at once.

Friday, October 13, 2006

why I love my parents, reason #329

Scene: driving in the outskirts of York, past a shop with a big sign that says "TYRES BATTERIES CLUTCHES"

me: Hey look! That shop sells ancient Mediterranean seaports.
Dad: And coastal gun emplacements.
Mom: It's a bit ambiguous, though, about whether it also sells evening purses or groups of eggs.
me: Either way, that's quite a diverse product line.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A very English day

The other day I walked from Kilnwick Percy to Bishop Wilton. Along the way I stopped to chat with several people out for countryside rambles with their dogs (being careful, of course, to address their dogs as I would their children--thank you, "Watching the English," for that heads-up) and also to cause consternation in the world of sheep by bleating back at them when they bleated at me. I paused in Bishop Wilton to have lunch at the (elegant) village pub--strong orange tea, and the standard, quintessentially English dish, to be found at all eating establishments no matter how small or remote; I refer of course to chicken curry. (I also laughed my fool head off at the print on the wall showing three gentlemen fishing in a punt, wearing top hats and sitting on straight-backed chairs.) By the time I got back home over the fields I was in a Lizzy Bennet condition--my petticoats three inches deep in mud. (For petticoat, read jeans; for mud, read cow shit.)
And then I came back to the retreat centre and attended a Wish-Fulfilling Jewel Puja.
--okay, maybe that last part wasn't so typically English.

Monday, August 14, 2006

little-known historical fact

During the later years of the Venetian city-state, it slid into corruption and decay. The city leaders became especially notorious for their greed, rapacity, and violence. It got to such a point, in fact, that some citizens put a sign up outside of town saying, "Beware of the Doge."

Sunday, August 06, 2006

home dusty home

me: Hey, wow, is this a new vacuum cleaner?
smart-ass flatmate: Well, yes.
me: Does it actually work?
s.a.f.: Well, no.
me: Why not?
s.a.f.: It's buddhist.
me: huh?
s.a.f.: No attachments.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Mondegreen Thursday, hard rock edition

I want to rock and roll all night
and part of every day.

The walls start shakin'
The earth was quakin'
My mind was achin'
And we were bacon.

Friday, June 16, 2006

designated French-speaker

So now that our native French collaborator has left, I'm the most fluent speaker of French left working on the experiment. I'm actually quite proud of how I've done so far. I've managed to get a batch of targets made, to book taxis and hotel rooms, and to have a quite lengthy and detailed conversation with the police, all in French. Nevertheless, I have come out with some gems. Earlier today I found myself telling one of the administrators that "my boyfriend Alison and I have been expecting that the packet-parcel-thingy will arrive yesterday."

The only reason my French teachers aren't all rolling in their graves is that none of them are dead.

Friday, June 09, 2006

oh France

Graffito on an overpass near the outskirts of Paris:


Even spray-paint artists here are witty.

Friday, June 02, 2006

What are we feeling that would be better expressed in German?

...was the title of an Onion sidebar, many years ago. I can't remember their specific examples, but Elisa and I came up with several candidates this weekend:

  • the chagrin of realizing that you have once again left the house wearing your underwear inside-out.
  • the half-smug, half-abashed feeling that comes when you realize that your mother would disapprove of everything that you have eaten in the past twenty-four hours.
  • gloating over your secret plans to take revenge on someone by publishing a paper that invalidates an experiment they're doing.
...none of these are entirely hypothetical, as it happens.

Anyway, does anyone have any suggestions about the German equivalents?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

conversation in a taxi

"People nowadays give ridiculous names to their children. Why can't they stick with nice, sensible, Old-Testament names?"
"Yeah--like Nebuchadnezzar."
"Or Cain."
"Or Habbakuk."
"Who on earth is Habbakuk?"
"I'm pretty sure he's, like, a prophet, or something."
"Wow, you're, like, a biblical scholar, or something."
"Come on, girls, be serious. What about Samuel?"
"That would be perfect if you had twins."
"Yeah. You could call them First Samuel and Second Samuel."
"You can't name your kids after books of the bible."
"Why not? You said you wanted Old Testament names. How much more Old Testament do you get than that?"
"Well, there's Genesis..."
"True. You could go in order. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua...actually Joshua's a nice name."
"Wait, you know the books of the bible in order?"
"I'm, like, a biblical scholar, or something, remember?"
"You girls aren't helping at all."
"Sorry, yes. Baby names. Biblical....Well, for girls there's always Jezebel."
"Or Delilah."
"Or, hey--Rachel!"
"Oh, now you're just being silly."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A memo to the gods of English weather

It is almost June. Do you think you could stop with the hail?

You'll notice that I don't ask for warm, pleasant weather. I wouldn't want anyone here to die of shock. But the hail thing--it's getting old. I suppose I should have been warned when, after a few days of pleasant weather a couple of weeks ago, people would say to me, "So, did you enjoy summer?" and I would laugh--and I would be the only one laughing.

I mean, honestly. It's nice to have a bit of foul weather, so that you have a ready-made topic of conversation and can bond with your fellow-sufferers...but enough is enough. So no more hail, okay? At least not until...July.

thanking you for your kind attention to this matter...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

He wants to pinch

[09:35] Corey: I want to pinch.
[09:35] Rachel: no, no pinching
[09:35] Corey: Maybe little pinch?
[09:35] Rachel: get away from me
[09:35] Corey: I pinch.
[09:36] Corey: *reaching for your ankle
[09:36] Rachel: I'm getting the tongs.
[09:36] Corey: !!!!!
[09:36] Corey: No pinch... no pinch...
[09:36] Rachel: you're just lucky I didn't have to tell your girlfriend
[09:36] Corey: What? That I pinch? She knows I pinch. She lets me pinch her.
[09:37] Rachel: that you pinch other people
[09:38] Corey: We have a very modern relationship. If I occasionally sink my sharp claws into someone else's ankle, she's mature enough to accept that.
[09:38] Corey: If I ever told her, that is.
[09:38] Rachel: I see.
[09:38] Corey: Don't tell her.
[09:38] Corey: Or I pinch you.
[09:38] Rachel: hey, I don't want to get pinched
[09:39] Corey: And yet I want to pinch.
[09:39] Corey: Such is life.
[09:39] Rachel: the perpetual problem:
[09:40] Rachel: how does any given pair of people (or indeed crabs) negotiate pinching frequency, given different levels of interest in pinching or being pinched?
[09:40] Corey: Basically, I don't tell you I intend to pinch. I just pinch.
[09:41] Rachel: ah. the stealth-pinch strategy
[09:41] Rachel: But then see I don't tell you I'm getting the hammer and tongs, and maybe a bit of dipping sauce.
[09:41] Corey: By that time I'm gone, pinching someone else.
[09:41] Rachel: typical.
[09:41] Corey: It's a perfect plan, really.
[09:42] Rachel: except for one thing:
[09:42] Rachel: my lightning-quick tempura skills.
[09:42] Corey: Uh oh.
[09:42] Corey: No pinch... no pinch...
[09:43] Rachel: --are you blogging this or shall I?

(watch this and then read this again. it'll make more sense.)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mondegreen Saturday

Kate Bush: I'll do it for you...I'll be Isildur or Marian for you...

She'll cut a Ring of Power off the hand of the Dark Lord for you? Aw. How romantic.

the politics of epidemiology

I'm rather anxious about my parents. See, I heard that Bush is planning to take action to prevent the spread of bird flu. Knowing him, though, that means he'll mount a preemptive strike against Turkey.

(some people say he'll hit the Canary Islands first, but this seems more plausible.)

things I never expected to hear from my boss, part N

Alison is my boss. Alison is a month older than me. Alison first met me when we were roommates at a conference, and a senior professor got us all drunk as skunks and I told her my entire life story. Alison has no illusions about me. Alison hired me anyway (go figure).

We were going to go out with another colleague yesterday evening, and since I still hadn't dried off after my wetting and I didn't have time to go all the way home to change, we stopped off at her place so she could lend me some dry clothes. We were walking down the street afterwards and she said, "You look better in my clothes than I do."

The list of things I never expected to hear from a boss just gets longer and longer.

voodoo umbrella

It's raining today and it's all my fault. See, I have this umbrella, and it's small enough that it's easy to carry around in my backpack, but also small enough that it isn't much use for actually, you know, keeping off the rain. It's more a symbolic umbrella--an umbrella security blanket, if you will: it gives me the feeling that I'm Doing Something about the rain, which is comforting even if the thing I'm doing isn't keeping me dry. Anyway, the weather this week has been stunning, so finally on Thursday night I took the umbrella out of my backpack, figuring I'd free up some space for essentials like Hob-Nobs.


What else did I expect, really? But it was truly amazing: on Friday the thunder-and-hail storm lasted only about half an hour, but it coincided exactly with the only half-hour of the day when I actually had to be outside. (It was kind of fun. I very quickly realized that there was no way to avoid getting drenched--no evasive ducking-under-awnings moves I could make, no speedy sprints that would save me a wetting--and so there was no point in resisting it. I ended up feeling like a kid splashing in mud puddles.) And then this morning it started chucking down again right when I started walking to the bus stop (again sans umbrella) .

I must e-mail my friend who wanted to have a barbecue this afternoon and give him my sincere apologies.

Monday, May 08, 2006


This might be the best bit of the cultural anthropology book I've been reading, Watching the English:

English protest march slogan:

What do we want? Incremental change!
When do we want it? In due course!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Mondegreen Thursday

Song heard in the car just now:
I could never make you oh so lewdly happy...

Eventually I figured out that it was actually absolutely happy. Ah well.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I screw for a living

So the past couple of days have been busy days at work. We're setting up an experiment, which means I've been running up and down ladders carrying equipment that is some combination of heavy, awkward, expensive, so fragile that it can be broken if you breathe on it, laboriously handmade, or irreplaceable. Oh, or radioactive. (It's somewhat less nerve-wracking carrying these things myself than watching other people carry them.) We've had to make a lot of changes to the set-up, which means I've been putting in and taking out the same twenty or thirty screws over and over again. All of a sudden, in the middle of one of these tasks this afternoon, it hit me: I screw for a living.

...although not perhaps in the way my mother feared I would end up doing back when I was eight and showing a marked preference for barbies and dress-up over trucks and lego.

Friday, April 14, 2006

blogging JOY!!

I've just started a work blog. Like, a blog to help me keep track of my work, and to share my results with my colleagues. Whe I told Corey about it, he said that the only thing that could make it geekier, or less generally comprehensible, is if it were written in Elvish. I know that publishing the link is just going to get me more snide comments, but anyway, it's here.

The name comes from an Eddie Izzard sketch, about how he doesn't have techno-fear, he has technoJOY!!! and will recklessly install computer hardware without ever cracking open the manual. Similarly, I've got simulation JOY and will simulate breakfast cereal, given half a chance.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


How lazy does one have to be before buying new pants seems like a better idea than doing laundry?

Because however lazy that is, that's how lazy I am.

Monday, April 03, 2006

weekend quiz

So I spent this weekend in London with my dear friend Elisa and her S.O. Alex. We hung out on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon with three of their friends. Among the six of us, we have at least eight advanced degrees (it might be more, not sure) in subjects as diverse as mediaeval french, physics, philosphy, and law, are natives of six different countries, speak six languages (not counting Latin), and have lived in at least two countries besides our native countries. What do you think the chief activity was, while we were eating sushi, drinking wine at an obscure-but-excellent wine bar, and watching the Cambridge-Oxford rowing race?
(a) Discussing current events and our own personal theories of politics, economics, and literature.
(b) Recounting stories of our many and diverse travels.
(c) Making animal noises.

While watching the boat race, the right sort of picnic is
(a) Kir and brie.
(b) Diet coke and Doritos.
(c) Kir and Doritos.
(I think that last option must be an example of what Annene-of-Orkut calls Dada food.)

And a personal question: I like to wear my hair in braids
(a) for the convenience of having it out of my face.
(b) for the alternative-skater-Lolita effect.
(c) so that I can hold the ends above my head and pretend to have antennae, or in front of my face and pretend to have a moustache.

The answers should be obvious.

It was a good weekend.

Friday, March 31, 2006


Okay, so there's A Situation at the centre where I'm living. I've gotten a biased third-hand account of it, so the only thing I'm sure of is that I don't know the whole story. I don't think there's any point in going through the details here, but I'd like to know, those of you who have experience in living and working in spiritual communities (Mom and Shugetsu, this means you)--how do you preserve the authority of teachers without giving them a licence for emotional abuse? The situation here involves someone being told by someone in a position of power that telling her side of the situation would be divisive speech, which the Buddha prohibits. That strikes me as manipulative bullshit. So I ask: how do you balance authority with accountability, faith with mutual respect? How do healthy communities work?

too good not to share

a comic strip on a friend's wall...forget the name, unfortunately

Dog: Dog food! Again! They know what I like! I feel so loved! I dance now! Joy joy joy joy joy!
Cat: Cat food. Again. They hate me.

--methinks there's a teaching in there on contentment and how our lives create the world, but I mostly just liked the way the dog was zipping around in the background all full of glee while the cat was glaring sulkily at the food.

Friday, March 10, 2006


So tomorrow morning I set out on my travels again--Austria for a week (workshop at a ski resort, woo!), then Germany for a weekend with my dear friend Kate and her fiance, then to Gaia House for a ten-day personal retreat, then "home" for a couple of days, to re-pack for my next trip: I'm spending April in Vancouver. After that it looks like I may have as much as five weeks here before I'm off to Paris for a couple of weeks. if you don't hear much from me for a while, that's why.
Question: How silly is it that I'm leaving my home at a retreat centre to go on retreat?
Answer: Very. Which is typical.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Q: What's a zombie's favourite breakfast cereal?

...give up?

...okay, I'll tell you.

A: Brain Flakes.

Honestly. I slay myself.

Friday, March 03, 2006

cheeky monks

This evening's class was led by one of the monks, instead of the resident teacher. (He himself is one of the reasons I wanted to live here. The first time I visited the centre, I wanted to make a phone call and was baffled by the incoming-calls-only hall phone. This monk was walking by, so I stopped him and asked for advice. He was so helpful and patient and present that I figured that any place where people like that hang out is a place I want to spend time too.) At one point he was saying something about how on a spiritual path we learn entirely different ways of thinking about the world, and how we don't want to change our habitual ways of thinking, and so we struggle and argue every step of the way. Immediately, at the same moment, two monks on opposite sides of the room piped up and said, "No we don't".

Getting ordained doesn't mean you stop being a smart-ass, apparently.

Monday, February 27, 2006

culturally specific advertising

There's a cereal here in the UK that's advertised as being "ludicrously tasty". Two things occur to me every time I see it in the supermarket: they would NEVER get away with that as a tag line in the States; and I can't help but mentally pronounce it "ludricious" even yet.

double structured procrastination

So a while ago I read an article about "structured procrastination"--a technique that helps self-identified procrastinators become hugely productive. See, what you do is, you get some task that's large and daunting and amorphous and indefinitely postponable, and you're so turned off by it that you'll do pretty much anything else in order to avoid it. Your guilt makes you choose productive activities instead of surfing the internet, and so while you're avoiding the task you "should" be doing, you're actually getting a lot of useful stuff done. The down side is that eventually you may have to actually do the "motivator" task, in which case it won't be hanging over your head anymore--but there's always another task to fill its place.
A shorter-term technique that I've accidentally found is to tell myself that first thing in the morning I'm going to go to the bank/gym/whatever, but first I'll just do this one little thing. What inevitably happens is that I get so interested in what I'm doing that I end up working in a quite focussed and productive manner for hours, all the while saying to myself, "just five minutes more and I'll leave."
Right now I'm doing both of these things. I'm supposed to be working on data analysis for an experiment we did last summer, but there's a couple of interesting simulation problems that need my attention too, so I'm working on those instead, AND I meant to leave to go to the bank an hour and a half ago but I just can't tear myself away. There has to be a name for this, and it has to be less awkward-sounding than "double structured procrastination". Any thoughts?

Monday, February 20, 2006

walking meditation soundtrack

... k.d. lang singing about faith, persistence, and contentment, in Bruce Cockburn's beautiful song "One day I walk":

One day I walk in flowers
One day I walk on stones
Today I walk for hours
One day I shall be home.


For my birthday last autumn, my lovely brother gave me a set of pencil-toppers shaped like fat happy Buddhas. I've got them on all my pens now (particularly the ones I use for marking students' papers, to keep me in a compassionate frame of mind). Just now I caught myself chewing on one absent-mindedly, and that made me wonder: What is the karmic consequence of chewing on a Buddha's head? I hope it isn't that I get reborn in a hell realm where demons chew on my head.

Then again, I was doing the chewing without really meaning to, so the consequences probably won't be too severe. The question I really should be asking is: what is the karmic consequence of shoving a pen up the Buddha's butt?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

EEG experiment and aftermath


I've changed my mind again, and now I think I will actually post some of my experiences from the autumn retreat at IMS. Let's start at the beginning...
Before the retreat I got an e-mail asking if I'd participate in an experiment designed to measure the physical and mental effects of intensive meditation practice. I do like being a guinea pig--so much more relaxing than analysing the experiments oneself--so of course I said yes.
The experiment is actually a bunch of parts: saliva tests to measure stress levels before, during, and after the retreat--see the physical effect of the practice, and how long it persists in "everyday life"; blood tests before and at 3 and 9 months after, to measure telomere shortening, a measure of aging: since stress hormones increase the rate of telomere shortening, thereby hastening cell death, meditation might decrease the rate and extend the body's lifespan (might--there's no evidence yet, as far as I know, but it does seem reasonable); and EEG experiments to measure the brain's ability to concentrate for long periods of time on boring, repetitive, and even annoying tasks. The EEG part was done at the beginning and end of the retreat; the picture is from the first session, with me looking pale and stressed-out. (I think it's really neat that EEG equipment is compact enough now that it's possible to pack it up in a briefcase and set up an experiment wherever.)
The blood tests ended up being quite entertaining: apparently my veins are small and floppy or easily torn (or something like that) and it's hard to get a needle in securely to get blood out; and when they were taking the needles out the blood level in them would actually go down: my veins were sucking the blood back into my body. "No! My blood! You can't have it!" Greedy veins. They clearly haven't listened to the teachings on generosity, or on non-self for that matter.
The EEG tests were fascinating. One of the tasks involved listening to tones (mostly 500 and 1000 Hz, with the occasional "different" one: 475 or 1050 Hz) and pressing a button whenever one of the "different" ones came along. At the beginning of the retreat, this task was extremely frustrating for me, because 475 and 1050 Hz are almost but not quite semitones away from 500 and 1000 Hz, and also the tones came at almost but not quite rhythmic intervals. By the end of an hour and a half of this my brain was having a temper tantrum. "Don't these people know that's NOT RIGHT?" I came out of the experiment madder than a wet hen. Doing the exact same thing at the end of the retreat was downright enjoyable. I'd just spent 3 months listening to sounds as sounds, and getting into intensely pleasurable altered states of consciousness listening to the rattle of the radiator, so I was able to hear the tones as tones, instead of as musical sounds that weren't correctly musical. Plus, the mind likes to concentrate, and here was a concentration exercise, oh joy! So instead of the test being a boring, taxing, ordeal, it was quite a pleasant interlude.
The experiments are overseen by Dr. Richard "Richie" Davidson, from the University of Wisconsin. He has been meditating himself since the 70s, and when he was just starting out in psychology research wanted to find a way to measure the effects of meditation on the brain; but at that point the tools available were just too primitive. Since the advent of fMRI, however, a lot more has become possible. Several years ago, he received a personal invitation from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to come to Dharamsala to start doing research on Tibetan monks who were experienced meditators. The first trip was only partially successful. They brought over all their equipment, but although all the monks were very gracious about talking about their practice, none of them would consent to participate in experiments. It became clear that this refusal was just because the monks didn't know anything about science. When His Holiness heard about this, his response was to start a program called Science for Monks-- a yearly seminar for Tibetan monks, taught by Western scientists. Richie told us about this program during the talk he gave on one of the last nights of the retreat. When I first heard about it, I started hyperventilating. I had just that day been wondering how to combine my training in physics with something that is of actual benefit to humanity, and presto! here it is. I've sent out some e-mails asking for more information and am still waiting to hear back, but who knows? Maybe in December I'll be in India teaching monks how to do physics.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Prisoner #1: Isn't it awful being stuck here in this dank, dark prison?
Prisoner #2: Yeah. I wish there were some way to escape.
Prisoner #1: Well, that's a stupid thing to wish for. We're chained to the wall hand and foot, there are bars on the window--there's no escape.
Prisoner #2: Yeah, there are bars on the window, alright--but hey, check it out: there's sunshine coming through the window...and a breeze too! There must be another opening somewhere. (looks around) Would you look at that! Not only is the door not locked--there IS no door. There just HAS to be a way out of here.
Prisoner #1: You're living in a fool's paradise. Look at these chains!
Prisoner #2: Yeah, they're pretty heavy...I wish I could be rid of them. (looks down) Wow! The shackles on our ankles--those chains don't lead anywhere: the other ends are just hanging loose.
Prisoner #1: Fat lot of good that does us if our hands are still chained to the wall.
Prisoner #2: ...but they're not, really. The chains wrapped around our wrists? We're holding them there. We can just let them go, see? (drops his chains, stretches his stiff fingers)
Prisoner #1: You're never going to get anywhere with this kind of thinking.
Prisoner #2: (isn't listening, but instead is walking towards the doorway, trailing the chains of his supposed captivity behind him)
Prisoner #1: ESCAPIST!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Moving day

Here is a picture of my new home:

Madhyamaka centre

This is a picture I took last week, the first time I saw the place. (Note the flawless blue sky, most unusual for Yorkshire.) My room is hidden by the trees on the left. It's in one of the old stables, overlooking a cobblestone courtyard.
I'm still settling in. I've met most of my flatmates. They're from all over, and among them is a Chinese monk. How cool is that?
This is a very different Buddhist tradition than I'm used to, and I feel rather like a Lutheran in a Russian Orthodox church. The chanting sessions in particular will take me a while to get used to. Nevertheless, whee! This is exactly where I want to be.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Story time

There was a great story (apparently true) told at my retreat, about a Zen teacher from China who moved to Tennessee. He bought a little old house with a big old oak tree on the front lawn. His neighbours told him, "That tree's gonna blow down. You gotta chop it down."

He nodded, in his inscrutable Chinese way, and said, "Good. I chop."

The next morning he went to the local hardware store and bought a hatchet. One of his neighbours came by and saw him chopping away at the biiiiig tree with the little weeny hatchet, and said, "Don't do it that way. It'll take ages. I'll go get my chainsaw and have the tree down in half an hour."

But the old man shook his head and said, "I chop."

His neighbour rolled his eyes, but left him alone, figuring that after a few hours of this futile chopping, the old man would have had enough and would come asking to borrow his chainsaw.

Instead, every morning at 9 am, for exactly an hour, the whole neighbourhood would hear a steady chop chop chop from the old man's front yard. It got so that if he missed a morning they'd come over to see if he was okay. He went from being "that crazy Chinaman" to being part of the community.

Eventually he explained to some of his new friends that this is how he taught meditation: every day you chop away just a little more, and sooner or later a great tree falls.

Well, after months of this it became clear that the great tree was due to fall. On the last morning the neighbours all gathered around to witness the last few hatchet chops. (I visualize a neighbourhood jamboree, with the womenfolk bringing sandwiches and jello molds, and the menfolk leaning on the fences and offering advice, but that's pure invention.) At last, with a mighty creak and splintering noise, the tree crashed to the ground.

After the cheering died down, someone asked the teacher what he would do now.

"Make firewood" was his reply.

Monday, January 16, 2006


(a collection of quotations illustrating the traditional list of the Pāramis, assembled by Steve Armstrong and other teachers)

Dāna (Generosity)

If beings knew, as I know, the benefit of generosity, they would not let an opportunity go by without sharing.



Virtue has non-remorse as its benefit and reward.
Non-remorse has gladness as its benefit and reward.
Gladness has joy as its benefit and reward.
Joy has serenity as its benefit and reward.
Serenity has happiness as its benefit and reward.
Happiness has concentration as its benefit and reward.
Concentration has insightful understanding as its benefit and reward.
Insightful understanding has non-attachment as its benefit and reward.
Non-attachment has liberation as its benefit and reward.
In this way, virtue leads step by step to the highest.



True renunciation is not giving up the things of this world, but in knowing they go away.

-Suzuki Roshi

Paňňā (Wisdom)

All conditioned things arise and pass away. Understanding this deeply brings the greatest happiness, which is peace.


Viriya (Energy)

No-one succeeds without effort. Mind at peace is not your birthright. Those who succeed owe their liberation to perseverance.

-Ramana Maharshi.


Patience is the supreme virtue.



Better than a thousand useless words is one simple word that brings peace.


Aditthāna (Resolution)

Let only my skin, sinews, and bones remain and let the flesh and blood in my body dry up; but not until I attain Supreme Enlightenment will I give up this meditation seat.”


Metta (Lovingkindness)

Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone. This is the eternal law.


Upekkhā (Equanimity)

The mind is like space. There is room in it for everything or nothing. We always have a perspective once we know that space of the mind, its emptiness. Armies can come into the mind and leave, butterflies, rain-clouds—or nothing. All things can come and go through without us being caught in reaction or resistance.

-Ajahn Sumedho

Monday, January 02, 2006

Can't talk. Crocheting.

I'd love to give all y'all an update on the past 3-plus months. Unfortunately, I can't seem to put down the crochet hook for more than five minutes at a time. (I'm making a baby blanket for a new young friend who is due to enter the world in a few weeks, and I'm discovering that crocheting is more addictive even than Sudoku.) You can get the broad outline from my Flickr page, which is linked in the sidebar. I'm too lazy to link to it again.

Making progress
Originally uploaded by MomLes.