Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Oh My God - Its Chronic Fatigue!

I have been struggling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for a while, both in terms of managing the symptoms which vary considerably and in the simpler fact of accepting that I have this condition, that this is my life. I've also been reluctant to acknowledge or discuss it's impact on my life, because I haven't wanted to be seen as a person with a syndrome, I wanted to own my space in the world - not be defined by or known to others as a subject of my health condition. Nevertheless, I felt it was time to share a few words about Chronic Fatigue and its challenges.

Without wanting to make a fuss, it is difficult to help other people understand the challenges that CFS or M.E. brings to life on daily basis. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is an illness which is still mostly not understood, either by the medical community or by the population in general. The illness is also known as “myalgic encephalomyelitis,” which means “painful inflammation of the brain and spinal cord,” and many people now refer to it as ME/CFS. As the symptoms vary considerably, the suferer, who is probably only seen when out and about and likely to be appearing relatively well, often experiences a lack of understanding, resentment and even rejection from family or friends for their consistent absence from participation in a wider life.
Yet for some sufferers, most of the time they are housebound and in chronic pain.
''I could not think straight. I had days where I couldn't spell my name. And such complete exhaustion - you can't describe it, like you just ran a marathon, are hungover, and have flu all at once'' says former attorney Jeannette Burmeister.

To share a little insight into my own experience with CFS, at it's worst I can barely lift my head from a pillow or sofa, drinking a cup of tea is like holding a sack of potatoes at arms length, all of my limbs descend into a leaden weighty numbness. To follow a conversation or tv plot is unmanageable, at such times to formulate and vocalise a response to even simple questions such as 'are you hungry' is impossible, reading a book becomes pointless as I either read the same line again and again (a bit like groundhog day) or drop the book as I sink into a fitfull unconsious doze until the constant aches and pains - ranging from mild to madenning, jolt me into wakefullness again. At which point the perscribed painkillers are taken yet again, despite my reservations of over use and concerns about how such long term painkillers may develop at the least - a dependancy, at the most - other health complications, but the doctors assure me I should take them and in the absence of any other way to ammeliorate the symptoms, I do.

A recent report published by Action for ME, a UK non-profit organization, revealed that 51% of survey respondents have felt suicidal as a result of their illness (here) and whilst I can sympathise with the wish for release, this is not the way. ''Combine the physical problems with the mental ones, plus society’s blaming you for your own disease and you have a perfect storm of hopelessness. Sometimes I think of Chronic Fatigue as nature’s form of water torture. Anyone can endure a little while of it; a day, a week, but as it drags into months and years… it can become unbearable.'' says one Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sufferer.

To feel so betrayed by ones own body is remarkable, I am regularly flabberghasted as I confront this reality with dismay for the umpteenth time.
''The reality is that we’re constantly being crushed under the burden of our tiredness. There is no escape from it. There is no respite. You are just bone-weary, soul-breakingly exhausted every day. Every day. Every day.'' says another CFS sufferer.
Seemingly normal tasks regularly result in massive exhaustion and muscle pain that can last for days or weeks and the much sought for rest and recovery is not provided by my disenchanted sleep which serves only to deliver fresh pain, replenished exhaustion and a varying tinnitus - from a gentle elven ringing to a deafening orcish invasion. With such obstacles before me, it can be difficult to keep a positive outlook in life.

Fortunately the medical specialists have in more recent years acknowledged that this is indeed a real condition and not some imaginary malaise. But no fix-all is yet on the horizon, cross fingers, make a wish under the full moon and hopefully hopefully maybe soon....

Being restricted as I regretfully acknowledge that I am, has led me to keep mind and spirit hopeful and alive, by exploring the virtual world of Second Life, where I was fortunate enough to meet my wonderful wife without whom my life would be much bleaker. Initially as a venue to get out and about, to meet friends and partake in a social life when I've been unable to do anything in the physical world, I've also explored the diverse skills of 'machinima film making' in Second Life - from story planning, scene arranging, eventual filming and editing - all of these tasks managed from my home computer in variable to terrible states of health, which has helped me to keep my faculties together, to have a sense of presence and participation in the world. I would recommend to any similar CFS sufferers that they do try to develop a hobby of some sort and if there's something they could do online with others, perhaps a chess club or etc etc, so much the better.

My experience with this unexpected disease has led me to become much more understanding of and sympathetic to people with all sorts of diseases and disabilities, as well as to appreciate and value the wonderful gift of life and consciousness with which we are blessed. I try remember that everyone I meet in life may have some challenge, if not personally then through family or friends and I try to be mindful that we all have needs and that some of us may be less able to express them than others. We may not necessarily be 'our brothers keeper' but personally I do contribute my time to help others when I am able. I believe in a community minded society in which we may all help each other, for a society of egocentric solipscists would in my view be a very selfish one, bereft of the nobler sentiments of empathy and compassion, resultingly sad and ultimately pointless.

I couldn’t have written this note at my worst, I couldn't even read it at such times. But if it helps any reader to understand the CFS Survivor the better, I am grateful for that.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Milarepa The Yogi


The Life of Milarepa is the most beloved story of the Tibetan people, a true folk tale from a culture now in crisis. It traces the path of a great sinner who became a great saint. But it is also a powerful folk tale, full of magic, disaster, feuds, deceptions, and humor.

Born in 1052 in the village of Kya Ngatsa, western Tibet, to a prosperous family, he was named Mila Thöpaga (Thos-pa-dga'), which means "A joy to hear." When his father, Mila-Dorje-Senge, grew very ill and he realized he was dying, he called his extended family to his deathbed and asked that his estate be cared for by his brother and sister until Milarepa came of age and married. But Milarepa's Aunt and Uncle betrayed their brother's trsut. They divided the property between them and dispossessed Milarepa, his mother and sister, of everything.

Now outcasts, the little family lived in servant's quarters. They were given little food or clothing and made to work in the fields. The children were malnourished, dirty and ragged, and covered with lice, and the people who once spoiled them as the darlings of the village now ridiculed them.

When Milarepa reached his 15th birthday, his mother tried to restore his inheritance. With great effort she scraped together all of her meager resources to prepare a feast for her extended family and former friends. When the guests had gathered and eaten, she stood up to speak;
Holding her head high, she recalled exactly what Mila-Dorje-Senge had said on his deathbed, and she demanded that Milarepa be given the inheritance his father had intended for him. But the greedy Aunt and Uncle lied, and said the estate actually had never belonged to Mila-Dorje-Senge, and so Milarepa had no inheritance. Then they forced the mother and children out of the servants' quarters and into the streets. The little family resorted to begging and transient work to stay alive.

The mother had gambled and lost. Now she seethed with hatred of her husband's family, and she urged Milarepa to study sorcery.   
I will kill myself before your eyes, she told him, if you do not get vengeance....

So Milarepa found a man who had mastered the black arts and became his apprentice. For a time the sorcerer taught only ineffectual charms. But when he learned Milarepa's story, he gave his apprentice powerful secret teachings and rituals. Milarepa spent a fortnight in an underground cell, practicing the black spells and dark rituals. When he emerged, he learned that a house had collapsed on the family while they were gathered at the wedding of their son, crushing all but two, the greedy Aunt and Uncle, to death. Milarepa thought it right that they survive the disaster so they would witness the suffering their greed had caused.

His mother was filled with delight. She took all the red cloths she had, tied them to the end of a stick, and waving it like a victory banner at the top of the house, she communicated in a loud voice to the whole village: "The son born to Sherab Gyaltsen and myself has come of age and He has given an answer to our enemies and conquered them. My mind is finally satisfied. I am happy. Now if there are others in this village who wish to harm us, please come forth."  With such proclamations, she went around the village. On learning of his involvement in the tragedy, the villagers were enraged and set off to look for Milarepa to kill him, but his mother got word to him, so he sent a hailstorm to destroy their crops and harvest and then fled. 

Realising that his revenge was wrong, Milarepa (at this time known by his boyhood name 'Fortuitous') set out to find a lama to teach him to atone for his evil karma (the taking of life is a terrible wickedness with consequences stretching throughout many lives) and was led to Marpa the Translator. Marpa proved a hard taskmaster. Before Marpa would teach Milarepa he had him build and then demolish three great towers in turn.
When Marpa still refused to teach Milarepa, he went to Marpa's wife, who took pity on him. She forged a letter of introduction to another teacher, Lama Ngogdun Chudor, under whose tutelage he practiced meditation. However when he was making no progress, he confessed the forgery and Ngogdun Chudor said that it was vain to hope for spiritual growth without the guru Marpa's approval. Milarepa returned to Marpa, and was finally shown the spiritual teachings.

Milarepa then left on his own and after protracted diligence for 12 years he attained the state ofenlightenment. Milarepa's long lost sister Peta had heard tales from hunters that had stumbled across Milarepa's camp. They informed her that her brother was there, skinny and green like a caterpillar and looked to e on the verge of death from starvation. She was amazed to hear even that he was alive and took the news to Zesay, who had been betrothed to Milarepa in childhood. Between the two they agreed that the sister should first go to see him and find out if the rumors were true

Approaching the cave, Peta was horrified to see the emaciated, green body of her brother, with protruding bones and eyes sunk in his skull. At first she took it to be some strange being or ghost but recognizing her brother's voice, she ran to him crying and bewailing their fate. She expressed to him that they two were the most luckless people in the whole world. At this Milarepa explained that rather he was the most fortunate person in the world because he had attained to transcendent knowledge and Bodhi mind (the internal vision of a Buddha).

 Milarepa now removed to Lapchi-Kang (Everest) and continued his meditation in caves amidst the snows and isolation there. It is said that besides his many human converts he also brought to enlightenment to some non-embodied beings, including the Goddess Tseringma (one of the twelve guardian deities of Tibet who reside at Mt. Kailas) who came to tempt him with her powers during his meditations but was instead herself liberated.

During his travels over the 84 years of his life he met many disciples that were destined to come under his tutelage, including Dvagpo Rimpoche (Gambopa) and Rechung who entreated him to tell the story of his life, which was recorded for the benefit of all beings. For a fuller account of Milarepa's life and journey please look here *~

Because Milarepa traveled about singing songs to facilitate understanding in the people, he became known as the Singing Yogi.

His songs are characterized by an amazing love of life and joy for everything that he encounters. He had no money or home but he was happy. He often commented that he didn’t want money or things because then he would spend too much time worrying about maintaining or protecting them. Instead he opted for a cave in the mountains, sunshine on his face and wind in his hair....

His name, 'Milarepa' also shows his devotion to good deeds and simplicity, as 'Mila' is Tibetan for; 'great man', and 'repa' means; 'cotton clad one.' At the age of 45, he started to practice at Drakar Taso (White Rock Horse Tooth) cave – now known as 'Milarepa's Cave', where, he subsisted on nettle tea, leading his skin to turn green, hence the greenish color he is often depicted as having, in paintings and sculpture .

Milarepa the yogi and poet, is a captivatingly human figure who developed from an avenging black magician to become a supremely powerful and compassionate yogi.

Buddhism in Tibet developed a unique tradition of its own,
a technology of enlightenment, that has no parallel in Indian Buddhism but does trace its ancestry back to the yogic traditions of India. This is the tradition of crazy wisdom. A similar transformation happened to Indian Buddhism in China. Influenced by its native Taoist traditions, Chinese Buddhism gave birth to Ch'an (Zen); the wandering, iconoclastic figure of the Zen monk dominated the golden age of Buddhism in T' ang China.
As Surya Das, the author of The Snow Lion's Turquoise Mane points out in his preface,
. . . the gnostic tradition in Tibet originated with the enlightened yogic adepts and 'divine madmen' of ancient India. These inspired upholders of 'crazy wisdom' were holy fools who disdained speculative metaphysics and institutionalized religious forms. Carefree iconoclastic yogis called siddhas . . . expressed the unconditional freedom of enlightenment through divinely inspired foolishness. They vastly preferred to celebrate the inherent freedom and sacredness of authentic being rather than cling to external religious forms and moral systems. Through their playful eccentricity, these rambunctious spiritual tricksters served to free others from delusion, social inhibitions, specious morality, and complacence-in short, from all variety of mindforged manacles.
The crazy wisdom of the Tibetan siddhas finds resonance in the mystical Zen and Sufi traditions which likewise rejected institutionalized religious forms in favor of an authenticity of enlightened experience. ( more here ) Perhaps they are not so crazy after all....

 ''Accustomed, as I've been, to contemplating both nirvana and samsara as inherent in myself,
I have forgotten to think of hope and fear.''

Milarepa avoided the scholarly institutions and academic debates of his time, wandering from village to village, teaching enlightenment and the path to Buddhahood through his spontaneously composed songs. Wherever he went, crowds of people gathered to hear his sweet sounding voice 'singing the Dharma.' Tibetans accord The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa a classic status comparable to that of the Mahabharata and the Bible, and revere its author as an exemplar of spiritual life. 

Most of all I think that Mliarepa demonstrates in his life and his teachings the importance of action over words...
''Accustomed long to knowing the meaning of the Wordless,
I have forgotten the way to trace the roots of verbs, 
And the sources of words and phrases.
You, 0 learned one, may trace out these things in your books
[if you wish].''


Perhaps we dont all have to sell our homes, retreat into the woods and live on nettles to be as happy as Milarepa. But we do need to start enjoying the simple things in life. It is extremely important to realize that you don’t NEED anything to be happy other than a roof over your head, a meal to eat and a place to sleep. The rest is a bonus. If you want to be the happiest person you know start getting back to life’s simple pleasures. Make it simple, but make it happen - at least once a week find a way to reflect and enjoy the beauty of this life, this world, your family and your friends.

~ ''May I be far removed from contending creeds and dogmas'' ~
~* Milarepa *~


Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Pagan Reclamation of St. George's Day

The tale of George slaying the Dragon and saving the maiden encompasses many folklore motifs, and creates a wonderful medieval ideal of the dashing hero overcoming insurmountable odds.
However, St George seems a strange patron saint for England as he was not born and never even set foot in England. Most sources suggest that he was born in Cappadocia, Turkey sometime in the 3rd Century, was brought up as a Christian and joined the Roman army in Palestine, eventually attaining the rank of Tribune.
When the Christian faith came under one of its many Roman purges under the Emperor Diocletian, George is reputed to have torn up the persecution order from the Emperor. For this act of treason George was imprisoned, tortured and eventually beheaded after refusing to deny his faith. He was created as a Saint around 4 CE by the Catholic Church, who created many saints around this time. The legend involving the Dragon and his heroic exploits was a later addition developed by the English Kings which they popularised during the crusades in the East. 

The Dragon, sometimes employed symbolicaly as an emblem of winter with its dark, fierce cold, in spring did battle with summer. This conflict at first sight would seem to be between two gods of opposing forces, but actually winter and spring are twin aspects of the one circle of the sacred year. This battle has been enacted by various characters in different areas, but the significant aspect is that in defeating winter, the lord of spring frees the fertile forces of nature and the farming season ensues with many festivities and celebrations to mark the ocassion.

The Christian Church has appropriated quite a few Pagan festivals and activities over its history in Europe, as in this case where it took over the traditional symbols of the Season but realligned them to new ends. The Dragon was subsequently borne in the Rogationtide processions which took place in the middle of spring to intercede for fine weather for ploughing. At the spring equinox, March 21st, the sun completed its victory over winter. The reason that St George became so strongly associated with the Dragon may be because his feast fell in the middle of Rogationtide, the season of prayer for the crops. His victory over religious evil was taken as a sign that his intercession would also be effective against natural misfortune. ( more here )

Fraser in his 'The Golden Bough' suggests that St George’s Day replaced the pagan festival of Parilia, and many of the customs still practiced abroad are related to welcoming the spring and ceremonies to fertilise the fields for the coming harvest. In ancient Roman religion, the Parilia is a festival of rural character performed annually on April 21, aimed at cleansing both sheep and shepherd. It is carried out in acknowledgment to the Roman deity Pales, who was a patron of shepherds and sheep. (source)

As a Saint, St. George was created in the 4th century CE, as were most other Catholic saints, from a Pagan origin. Estonian folklorist Mall Hiiemäe has written of St. George;
“Perhaps the richness of the tradition accumulated on St. George’s Day should rather be viewed in the light of the fact that the Greek form Georgius means a ploughman, a cultivator of land. And when trying to divine the ancient predecessor of the holiday, one should better consider such tradition that is connected with spring-time vegetation as well as the concentration of special customs on certain pre-Christian dates to mark the awakening of nature and the arrival of spring.”

St. George’s Day has been celebrated all over Europe and Britain and has figured prominently in the various rituals of spring.
Strangely, St. George has also been called Green George, the Spirit of Spring. Barbara Walker directly links St. George as Green George, to the Green Man. She says, “his image was common in old church carvings, a human head surrounded by leaves or looking out of a tree trunk.” ( see here).

Lichfield Cathedral north choir capital Green Man
The ancient and pre christian origin of the Day is indicated by the many Estonian customs associated with it. According to Hiiemäe, “more than one tenth of the reports concerning St. George’s Day customs in Estonia, have something to do with snakes. One would think that the image of George slaying the dragon would render snakes as the counterpart of evil. However, it is to the contrary in Estonian lore. The snakes, according to Hiiemäe, are “used in repelling and preventive magic to help the cattle thrive and people fare well and also to cure people’s diseases…” It would appear that snakes are not indicative of evil but of good—as long as the snake used in ritual was killed before St. George’s Day.

The St. George's flag, a red cross on a white field, was adopted by England in 1190.
Various other traditional rituals of Estonia and Eastern Europe have played some part in the creation of St. George’s Day. Hiiemäe notes, “interesting reports come from North-East Estonia where the cattle-magic practiced on St. George’s Day has merged with some traits of a woman’s holiday dating back to the tribal era”.  Other pagan holidays/festivals that have merged with St. George’s Day include Ploughing Day and the Shedding of Yellow Leaves.

Copper dragon for Rogation days (religious processions during sowing), Italy, 18th century

Even though St. George continues to be an important folk-hero, appearing throughout the Old World in various festivals to mark important dates, the Church began to refer to him as “the imaginary saint” because he “was so shamelessly involved in fertility rites.” (source Gary R Varner )

Perhaps not quite who we had thought then, but for all that - George's Day seems all the more of and for the people, and the symbolic slaying of the Dragon can now be seen as less of a Christian subjegation of nature and her forces but rather a Pagan celebration marking the changing times of the year.

May the Dragon of dark Wintertide pass away with grace then, and the joyful abundance of a fertile Summertide now flow ~

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Flying Mystics of Tibet & The Art Of Flying

The urge to fly has transfixed human imagination with an irresistible charm for millennia.
In Buddhist thought, flight is within our potential as human beings, with advanced spiritual development come supernatural powers such as flying, levitation, or the ability to walk through the sky as some walk on a mountain path. Traditional Tibetan literature tells of many Buddhist mystics who have taken off in joyful flight.

Origin of Language by Alex Gray

Witches Flying to Sabbath, by Bernard Zuber

By contrast, both Shamanic and Witches flight is traditionally, although by no means always, facilitated by use of diverse herbs, ointments or potions, to bring about a trance-gateway with access into other psycho-spiritual realms for discourse with deities or archeiving control of some aspect as its objective.

The key differentiating factor between these modes of meditative and magical flying would appear to be the intentional use of mind in the magical to acheive the stated aims of mind, whilst target of mind is absent from the meditational because the participant has moved outside the dualities of cause and effect, of being and becoming, there is no objective.

Flying is a metaphor for being grounded in the present and not occluded behind layers of obfuscation and mental distractions; freedom is just another word ~

We hope you enjoy your flight with Celestial Elf Skyways ~