Tirelessness (2)

Being tirelessly flexible is difficult. Imagine never allowing yourself the luxury of digging your heels in and calling a stop to a situation you can no longer endure—a marriage, or a lousy job, or a delayed lunch break.

From what I can gather, merely to make a judgement about something or someone is the opposite of being flexible. Certainly, I’ve noticed that when I make a decision about something—that someone is beautiful, perhaps—it’s as if I’ve dropped a concrete breeze block into my mind. And I manufacture these conceptual bricks at an astonishing rate. They pile up like a vast restraining wall that relentlessly forces my flow of consciousness into an ugly, sharp-edged monolith. Then if I practise (a rare and uncomfortable event these days) I can almost feel the cold, unforgiving thickness of the bugger! I squirm and wriggle under the force it exerts on my world view, crushing it into a dense, narrow, distainfully cool and distinctly unpleasant prison of givens. The few times Rinpoche has had the gall to set a wrecking ball to it, it’s hurt like hell at first. What to do? Being tirelessly inflexible is a painful business. But after the initial shock, the tiny hole in the breeze blocks he’s shifted feels like a window into heaven.

Rinpoche himself operates quite differently, as you know, and I’m sure you could all tell a story to illustrate just how tirelessly flexible he can be.

I remember Jamyang Chödrön telling me about her experiences of working on Travellers and Magicians a few years ago. Making films is an expensive business, which is why film producers work so hard to schedule time and resources as economically as possible (theoretically, of course). So when all the cameras broke at a crucial point in the shoot in a remote part of Bhutan, and had to sent to Delhi for repair, leaving an entire crew expensively idle for several days, any ordinary director would have manifest some sign of irritation—thrown a wobbly, got drunk, screamed at some lacky, something. Not Rinpoche. The cameras were broken, there was nothing he or anyone else could do about it, and the only option was to wait. So he did. He just relaxed into the enforced break. Jamyang said everyone was amazed by his attitude. I couldn’t have relaxed in such a situation, could you? But then, I can’t relax in any situation…

One thing about Rinpoche, though, is that he never wastes a moment. His schedule in Bir, for example, appears to me, to be unnecessarily punishing. But I must say, he seems to thrive on it. A couple of hours for practice, twenty minutes for breakfast during which he gave his attendants their instructions, half an hour for a meeting with a lama here, ten minutes for a meeting with his sculptor there, fifty minutes writing his book, half an hour to work on his script… and so on. Everyone involved is stationed in separate rooms and Rinpoche then swoops in, does his business, and swoops out again at a rate of knots.

One day, a gaggle of monks and perhaps even a khenpo or two turned up for some kind of transmission. Rinpoche’s secretary, Elise, thought it would take about twenty minutes, then he’d dictate the next bit of his book for quarter of an hour, and still have ten minutes to see students before lunch. Rinpoche sat on his throne and began to do whatever it was for the room full of monks. Then his phone rang. He answered it. and I expected him to ring off immediately so he could get on, but he didn’t. Neither did he speak much, he just listened. And listened. And listened. For ten minutes, twenty, thirty… Lunch was late, the book was unwritten, western students with questions had gathered like a swarm of ants in the courtyard, and even Elise, who generally keeps a very efficient finger on the pulse of Rinpoche activities, had no clue what was going on.

After more than a hour, Rinpoche put the phone down, finished the whatever it was, and finally emerged into the sunlight. We were, naturally, agog to find out what had happened.

“My father called,” said Rinpoche, smiling. “He wanted to teach me, so he did.” And that was it. Thinley Norbu Rinpoche had phoned and Khyentse Rinpoche’s schedule was shot. But Rinpoche showed no sign of irritation or impatience or anything. Actually, he looked quite radiant, and just rescheduled the assembled hoards and carried on. How I wish I could be like that…

Enough! Time for breakfast. And your reward for getting through all the above is one of Emily Crow’s pictures of Rinpoche from a year or so ago when he was location scouting in South India for Vara.

Tirelessness (1)

We were at a wedding a few weeks ago. Andreas’ cousin Christian married his lady love, Daggie, who wore a beautiful empire line lace wedding dress with a moss green velvet ribbon tied in a bow at the back. I’m not a big wedding fan, but that dress was a work of art. Lovely!

I, on the other hand, was tired. We sat at the back of the church for the ceremony (contrary to tradition, because we still had our suitcase with us after a 6 hour train ride from Berlin to leafy, rich Heidelberg) and I found, tucked away under the stairs, a lovely painted wooden sculpture of an angel offering a goblet to a kneeling man, whose three companions remained soundly asleep. It’s a famous story, I’m sure, but I can’t, at this moment, place it.

Why do I bring it up at all? Well, I realized the moment I gazed on the three sleeping companions that, had I been around at the time, I would have been one of those men. OK, my beard isn’t as well-established as theirs, I am a woman after all. I’m not quite bald, not yet at least. And I would have had to have been incarnated as a man even to be in such a situation at such a time. But my propensity for exhaustion and uncanny ability for nodding off at the most crucial moment would have drawn me there like an Irishman to a pub.

I wonder if that’s the fundamental difference between truly spiritual beings and those who play around with the romantic ideal of being on a ‘spiritual quest’, like me?

I remember one retreat I attended when found myself in a kind of overflow room because the main shrine room was jam-packed. It was a relief, actually, to watch the proceedings on the TV—I’m not at my best when I have to share space with more than one person—and I was thoroughly enjoying the teaching. In fact, the Rinpoche concerned was on such a roll that there was no sign of him stopping for lunch. One o’clock came and went, and the other person watching TV with me was getting irritated. Quarter past one, half past one, quarter to two, and the Rinpoche kept talking (nature of mind was his subject, as you’ve probably already guessed). He was clearly building up to something.

Suddenly, my companion snorted loudly, announced she was hungry and had to eat, then stalked out. Within three minutes the Rinpoche had reached the apex of his subject and, even through the television screen, managed to shatter, albeit momentarily, the ordinary minds of every one of his audience. It was quite something. But my original companion missed it because she couldn’t tirelessly endure a lack of food.

I felt for her, actually, because I’d been in her position a million times before and knew what it felt like. At the time, I was also grateful to her, because that was the moment I began to think about what ‘tireless’ really means. We know it’s not about filling our time with activity—any international banker, or ambitious politician, or socialite can do that. From what I can tell, it seems to be more about being willing, continuously, to be flexible.

But more of this tomorrow. It’s breakfast time and I’m hungry. I guess it’s obvious that the snaps I’ve included are of Daggie and Christian (a bit blurry because they were a long way away) and the wooden sculpture in the church.


My poor husband hasn’t slept this week as a result of unremitting pain from a pinched nerve in his back—goddamn sciatica. Among the many other thoughts and emotions that have crowded my mind during his agonies, blotting out most of the rest of the world it must be said, is the memory of a song I used to sing thirty years with words by John Fletcher. Wonderful, somewhat poignant words in Andreas’ current situation, and indeed for all those who suffer from insomnia. I’ve also attached a lovely but not particularly well recorded version of the Gurney song itself, Sleep, here sung by Ian Bostridge, not me (I wouldn’t do that to you!)

Come, sleep, and with thy sweet deceiving
Lock me in delight awhile;
Let some pleasing dream beguile
All my fancies;
That from thence I may feel an influence
All my powers of care bereaving

Though but a shadow, but a sliding,
Let me know some little joy!
We that suffer long annoy
Are contented with a thought
Through an idle fancy wrought:
O let my joys have some abiding.