Lama Godi by Penelope

In Bir yesterday we bumped into Lama Godi who was sitting in the coat, shoe and blanket shop by the taxi rank. I say, ‘taxi rank’, but the reality bears no resemblance whatsoever to the European equivalent. Unfortunately, a precise vocabulary for describing the scrap yard of rather high-smelling, unhappily-parked vehicles and pack of forlorn, yet jackal-like Indian drivers squatting on the concrete steps as they lie in wait for an Inji fare, simply doesn’t exist in my world. So unless we go for something like ‘crouching taxi, hidden driver,’ (did I really write that? has a demon entered my keyboard?) ‘taxi rank’ will have to do.

My companion, Ang from Malaysia, has been coming to Bir since the late 80s and knows Lama Godi quite well. So he made an offering to Lama, and I smiled and bowed with my body, as my mind fled back to my computer and a photo Penelope had sent me.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time, even with Khyentse Rinpoche, who we see so rarely these days. Too often when I am with him, my mind skedaddles off, at great speed, to check through lists of questions and difficulties, instead of allowing itself to enjoy basking in his presence, or look at its own maneuverings, or do anything remotely beneficial spiritually-speaking. Ach ja. Twenty-five years of so-called Buddhist practice, and I’m worse off than a beginner.

It reminds me of a story I heard some twenty years ago. Sogyal Rinpoche had been teaching about how older students (I counted myself as a beginner in those days, and was horribly smug about it…) who have heard the same teachings many times over can become so jaded that however applicable a teaching might be to their state of mind, it doesn’t even occur to them to apply it to themselves. The words simply slide off their slippery minds and they become like a block of wood.

One of the people Rinpoche was directing this teaching at was a man called Francois. He came from a very good French family, had been educated to within an inch of his life, was witty, generous, charming… well, you can imagine. And knowing that the teaching was aimed at him, for the next session he left a large log of rotting wood in the place he usually sat… not something anyone is likely to dare to do today.

Back to business, though…  I love this photo. Penelope went to see Lama Godi at 7am in his room (there really is a room there, underneath all that stuff) and not only came away with untold blessings, but this marvellous portrait which she has very generously offered to ORM. Thank you again, Penelope.

Lama Godi

Penelope’s Birthday

I’m afraid all my words are currently being swallowed up by a project I’m engaged in, so I think it’s best I just post a few snaps of last night’s party rather than embarrass myself by failing to describe the fun we had. There is one mystery that I can’t expalin, though. How did Jamyang Dorjee manage to find his way into so many pictures when it was, in fact, Penelope’s birthday and not his…P1060881P1060877P1060864P1060918P1060898

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Munish’s Chat Corner

Here’s a photo Penelope conceived and took of me and Tara standing by a fast food stand on the main drag of Bir colony. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that weren’t actually ‘chatting.’ The dead give-away is that our lips aren’t moving. And Tara doesn’t wave her hands around like that unless she’s intoxicated (!)  But I love this photo! Thank you Penelope.

Finding Manjushri

In Bir a couple of years ago, Dolma and Al made a twenty-minute movie based on a story Khyentse Rinpoche has often told during teachings about a monk who longed to meet Manjushri. I haven’t yet seen the finished film yet, but I just found the official website and my appetite has been thoroughly whetted. Ha ha! The whole thing was done with next to no funding, so there’s an opportunity on the official website (see my blogroll) to pre-order the dvd and for sponsoring dvd copies as a way of helping the project move forward. Sadly the pig (below) didn’t make it into the film because she proved to be a spectacularly uncooperative diva, but is so beautiful that I simply had to steal her image from the website for this post—will you forgive me, dear Dolma?

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.

The Unmissable Miriam Margoyles

Miriam was a guest on Graham Norton’s BBC show again this week, thank all that is good. The English press seem determined to misunderstand her—she doesn’t conform to their banal stereotypes I suppose—and have made rather feeble attempts at derision by affixing all kinds of negative epithets to her glorious being, but I’m sure none of you will be swayed by their hoary platitudes. Instead, feast your eyes and ears on this clip, the middle 15 minutes of the show (the other two parts are already on youtube and equally delicious, but Andreas advised I shouldn’t overdo it by posting all three—especially as I’ve been so silent this June) and pray that this exquisite being remains in world for a very, very long time. By the way, Will.i.am didn’t do too badly either…

Too Lazy…

… to write anything, but here are a few completely unrelated snaps, the memories of which dropped into my mind from nowhere just now, as I thought of something else entirely. 

The Luck of the Irish

Imagine you were checking in for an international flight and the nice lady at the desk told you that your passport had expired. What would happen next? If it happened to me, nothing would happen next. I’d simply have to accept that the only place I’d be going that day was home.

Now imagine my husband, Andreas, bouncing up to the check-in counter, as he did on Wednesday, and presenting his German ID card to the same nice lady. (Germans don’t need passports on flights within the EU, just their IDs—the kind the English refuse to carry.)

It’s true, he looked shocked for a whole thirty seconds after she told him the ID had expired, but his confusion was over almost as soon as it began. He smiled at the nice lady and asked, politely, if there was anything he could do to resolve the situation. She smiled back and explained, with admirable clarity, about the office in the other building where a nice policeman was waiting to help hapless German-ID-expiry-date-forgetters, and that he should trot over there straight away. There was time, she said, before the almost empty flight to Dublin would close.

So we trotted over. Well, Andreas trotted, I stormed. Again, if this had been me in a similar situation in England, I would have had to walk for half an hour simply to reach the office. Then, even if I found it, the nice policeman would definitely not be nice and anyway, he, or she, would be on a break.

Cut back to Andreas, in Germany, at the old Schönefeld airport, which looks a bit like an IKEA but much smaller. Firstly, the office was precisely where they lady said it would be and it took us five minutes to get there. Secondly, there were two nice policeman ready and willing, nay eager to help. And thirdly… well, thirdly, this is Germany, and everything works.

Andreas isn’t blood Irish, he’s German, but during his many visits to the Emerald Isle has clearly hoovered up a fair amount of her legendary luck, because fifteen minutes and 8 Euros after the initial discovery that the ID had expired, he was back at the check-in counter with a boarding pass in his large hairy paw. He even had time for a couple of cigarettes before going through security. Which is why I want to be Andreas next lifetime.

Anyway, here’s a silly snap of some more art from the streets of Berlin. I think kids painted these knobs, but god knows what they were doing there in the first place.

Sunny Days and Sweetness

An old, old friend whom I recently reconnected with on Facebook (we shared a flat together when we were at college in London) posted this photo yesterday. Delicious colours, don’t you think? And this little row of beings create such a marvellous shape.

Another old friend, Dorothy Ianonne, opened a show of her paintings in Berlin yesterday—about a dozen big pieces all sitting together in a small gallery on the Grosser Hamburger Strasse in Mitte. Her palette isn’t exactly the same as the birds’ colouring, but it has the same effect on my mind as it’s bright and joyful and never fails to raise the spirits.

Dorothy is also unfailingly kind and patient, and even though I am a confirmed misanthrope, she still invites me to these splendid occasions when they take place in Berlin. And I must say, it was marvellous to see the pictures and to almost hear her Singing Box. Most of Dorothy’s art celebrates her lifelong pursuit of the highest form of union and is both wildly explicit and tenderly innocent, but never takes itself too seriously. You should see the show if you’re in Berlin. There’s a webpage about Dorothy and the gallery showing her work, but I can’t seem to add the link… so I’m afraid you’ll have to type it in yourself. Go to http://www.peresprojects.com.

But I am such a dead loss when it comes to socializing that I couldn’t quite manage to get to the dinner afterwards. Sorry Dorothy, I’m far better suited to a tête-à-tête and a cup of tea.

Unexpected Beauty

The things we do for our friends! Heinz, for example. It was his 50th birthday last month, and last night he held a spectacular party to celebrate. Inevitably, there were oceans of champagne (the really good stuff), plus delicious cocktails (not that my liver would allow me to sample them, damn it!), and yummy food (cheese mousse served as finger food!), elegant 1950s coaches to ship 200 drop-dead gorgeous friends from the atmospheric old factory where we gathered to the mysterious party palace that turned out to be Cookie’s place (Cookie is a Berlin institution, but he’s also English…) on the Fredrichstrasse (recently renovated and much improved) where a muscly acrobat performed daring feats with a large hoola hoop and Patti Smith serenaded Heinz until midnight.

Patti was a gift from Heinz’s wife, Julia, for his 50th birthday. Heinz has always had wonderfully good taste, which he demonstrated early on by falling in love with Patti at the age of sixteen. (In stark contrast to myself, whose taste is at best, questionable, and who, at the same age, fell in love with Eric Clapton. Ach ja…)

Anyway, Julia, with a little help from well-connected friends, flew Patti and two musicians from her band over to Berlin, met her three times to plan the gig (heart-fluttering stuff for fans of the lady), managed to keep it all a secret (would you have managed it?) and at around 11pm last night, the curtain rose on nearly an hour of musical ecstasy. What a marvellous thing to do for someone you love, don’t you think?

I’ve never seen Patti live before and I don’t think I ever really got her until last night. Cameras really aren’t her friends and don’t even begin to capture her vital, tender beauty. None of the films I’d seen even hinted at the her radiant charisma and the pure joy with which she fills a room.

Heinz was in seventh heaven, as you might image. And it truly was a joy to be there with him. One of the many things I love about Heinz is that his friends are people he loves, not people who are or could be useful to him. He is genuinely humble about his many achievements and so very appreciative of everyone and everything he encounters in life. For someone as successful and comfortable as he is even to recognize the value of the Buddha’s teachings, especially these days, is itself something of a miracle. As Wim Wenders said last night, he is the sweetest of men.

Happy Birthday Heinz. Thank you for being you! And don’t forget, the best is yet to come…