Sunday, 31 January 2010

Snowy Sunday

It's been snowing for a few days and pretty rough weather at times, schools are closed again and feeling the need to get out I decided to go to Muckle Roe to check out how accessible a great beach we'd seen would be with Beren. Snow drifts across the road to Muckle Roe stopped me even getting to the island though, so I went up to Mavis Grind instead.

The Grind is a narrow belt of land that seperates the North Sea from the Atlantic Ocean and connects North Mainland (Northmavine) to the Shetland Mainland. In the past this was a short cut across Shetland for boats which would be dragged the 35 yards from one side to the other to save them going all the way round the top.

Here's one that didn't quite make it and won't be going anywhere soon

The weather was a bit rough at times but there was plenty of shelter...

...and the solitude and views were worth it


I even managed to find a chambered cairn half buried in the snow...

...and the remains of a homestead which is now a sheep shelter


I've never used trekking poles before, but I'm a convert now, especially in the snow with no paths, they're grrreat! I just need to get two matching ones. Then it was home to dinner, a snooze and a bit of snow fun with Beren in the garden.

Here's a quick sweep from near Mavis Grind to the Minn where the atlantic enters the Voe and out to sea. You'll see a few seals that were there all the time and in a few of the photos.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

A tale of 2 arrows

The book I'm reading just now 'Living Well with pain and illness' early on talks about a parable of The Buddha, The Arrow or in reality 2 arrows...

The Blessed One said, "When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows; in the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental.
There is the pain or suffering itself (the first arrow) which we may not be able to avoid and then the suffering we allow ourselves to experience due to our actions (the second arrow).

In my own case the first arrow may be painful hips and knees which is some thing present at that moment. I can rest up and take medication to try to ease that, which may or may help.

The second arrow though is my relationship to that pain and how I choose to react to it. This can possibly cause more suffering than the original pain itself, even  if the original pain is eased by rest or medication.

It's different for each of us, but in me it might trigger a reaction like 'oh no, not again I'm not going to be able to take the dog out, looking after Beren is going to be a night mare and there's no way I'll sleep with the pain in my hip tonight'. Now as well as the pain, I'm living in fear and worry of what might be rather than how it is at that time. This can then lead on to more physical and mental stress with diversionary activities, though we may try to deny them for what they are.

The Second arrow is our suffering due to resistance of reality. Some one once told me it was like a maths equation:

suffering = resistance x pain

Well in maths if you mutilply anything by zero the answer is zero. So if you remove the resistance (i.e. have acceptance) there is no suffering or pain, there is just life as it is in each passing moment. Conversely, if you increase the resistance, well you'll increase the suffering...

In Buddhism we have the four noble truths to guide us with this:

  1. Life is sufferingfrom cradle to grave there are trials of life both physical and mental

  2. There is a cause for this suffering our cravings and desires for what could be

  3. There is a way to end suffering we can realise that our attachments are the root

  4. This is  the Eight Fold Path amongst others it includes mindfulness and meditation
But even if you're not a Buddhist you can practise mindfulness, you can be aware of what is happening right now. My hip might hurt but, does all of me? Can I sit in the company of friends and enjoy a conversation or a meal? Who's to say they're in perfect health? Do I need to worry about how it'll be later or tomorrow, or can I enjoy the now? If I can learn to be mindful each moment I can experience life fully awake, not held back by unrealistic cravings of fantastic health, worries about what is expected of me or fears of what might be.

I once went to a 'here and now group' where you could only speak if you had something to say about that very moment. It was amazing to see us all trying to speak of 'the now' rather than as we usually do, talking about what we've been doing or are going to do. Being mindful of the present and your thoughts in that way can be quite an eye opener.

Meditation along with trying to be mindful is core to my practise of Buddhism. When we sit zazen (see 'Sitting Buddha' free e-book) we sit in the present, aware of our surroundings but not attaching ourselves to things that might or might not be happening, externally or internally. If thoughts come we let them float by like a cloud, we don't jump on and go for a ride like Monkey, we might acknowledge the rain hitting the window but not think 'oh gosh that means...'

Also on a physiological level, as our mind settles our body settles too. Worry of what was or might be causes stress hormones to whizz round which restrict our breathing, stopping good digestion, limitting blood to the brain and tensing our muscles ready to react to danger. To sit in the moment in zazen helps to stop the fight or flight response that is almost permanently turned on in some of us and allow the body to heal.

I have suffered with ME/CFS and many of the symptoms, fatigue, aches, IBS, brain fog are exacerbated or even caused by a constant fight or flight response being turned which happens if there is a real or even imaginary threat (on going stress for instance). In this respect it's 'the second arrow' or more likely one of a flight of arrows that is pinning us down!

The first arrow might have been an illness or long running situation of sorts which has lead us into a downward spiral fuelled by lack of professional understanding, confusion over what has happened to our lives' and when will it end.

Of course if we could all eb mindful and sit all th time it would be easy, but often those arrows just keep on flying,  on automatic, but with daily practise there can be the odd pause,  a day off and eventually, I hope, even a cease fire!

Friday, 29 January 2010

Freezing Friday

Snow, snow and more snow today with more of those 'fresh' winds.

Schools are closed, shops are running low and the police are advising no one to travel at all. Well I don't think it's that bad, so despite a heavy cold we nipped out front for a bit of fun and adventure...

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

A Wet Wednesdays Walk

Today is a public holiday in Shetland, with a nightful of partying for many and more to come tonight it must have seemed the sensible thing to have one. But with a two year old we weren't partying even if we wanted to, so we decided to stride out into the 'periodic showers and fresh NW winds' and go to see some nearby tombolos which link Fora Ness to the mainland leaving a hoob or lagoon between Swinister Voe and Dales Voe.

The furthest tombolo is North Ayre and the nearest, a double tombolo is unsurprisingly South Ayre. Fora Ness is the island on the right.

Below is South Ayre, a double tombolo, but all that water connecting Dales Voe and Swinister Voe has to get through somewhere, so an unexpected hop skip and a splodge were needed in parts.

The 'periodic showers and fresh winds' that stung our bodies through waterproofs lead to some great atmospheric views though.

And even a threatening mythical creature...

The wind on the top on the way back to the car was unbelievable.We struggled just to keep both ourselves and the pushchair upright, but we did! Time to get home, get warm and for me have a some pain killers and a snooze!

Up Helly Aa!!

Wow, my faith in a community spirit has been restored.

Last night was Up Helly Aa in Lerwick. 956 Guisers with 880 6ft long flaming torches processed through the town towing a Viking galley before buring it to accompanying fireworks. The Guiser Jarl, Rae Simpson and his squad of 44 Vikings have been planning this for the last 4 years or so, designing and making costumes, the galley, torches and other necessaries, seeking local finacial support and using their own money for a project that can cost towards £100k!

Not only that, but the Jarl Squad process round the schools, old peoples home and the like, present awards and attend charity fundraisers too. It's a real privilege for one to be invited in to the Jarl squad in particular and to be The Guiser Jarl is a real dream for some as you need to be on the committee for 15 years to even get a shot, and getting on the committe is no piece of cake.

Other squads of Guisers dress up usually along a theme that takes the mick out of some one or some event, often as women, hence the other name for the day as Transvestite Tuesday. They have acts to entertain people as they tour the local halls through the early hours.

With 880 torches going past, we lined the roads with no barriers, limited  and un-interferring police prescence, people from babies to pensioners and no anti-social behaviour of any kind where we were. No burger vans, hawkers selling flags, t-shirts or the like; just families having a good time and trusting each other to be sensible.

The night really gets going after the procession as the squads tour various halls doing their acts, drinking and having fun until around 7am the following morning. It's not all over then though, after a brief recovery period they've got the Hop (dance) this evening. Only those with serious stamina, commitment and an ability to drink need apply!

And here's one squad practising their act to give you a flavour of the silliness...

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Retreat into the present

Last night I went along to the local Buddhist meeting, this time kindly held at a members house in a little village called Quarff. Here's a picture someone else took on a stormy day. It was dark, I never got this view!

After the meditation session, eating cake and drinking tea, as all good Buddhists do; the talk got round to the subject of retreats. And talk of retreats being made up largely of sitting, working meditation, reading and generally being mindful.

But, do you really have 'to travel to other dusty countries, forsaking your own seat' to do this? Can't you just do this at home, isn't this what real practise is? There is obviously merit in setting yourself aside from work,family commitments etc. for a time to practise intensely in a retreat setting but the on going practise is in our day to day lives'.

Then this morning I read the following in Rev. Master Mugo's blog Jade Mountain

The following is from The Denkoroku - The Record of the Transmission of the Light. Chapter 1. Shakyamuni Buddha. Copyright, Shasta Abbey Press 1993.

Shakyamuni Buddha, The Awakened One. Upon seeing the morning star,Gautama       became Shakyamuni Buddha when He was, is and will be awakened to His TRUE SELF and said, says and will say, "I was, am and will be enlightened,together with the whole of the great earth and all its sentient beings,simultaneously.

I hope it goes without saying that while Awakening is now and ever present it does require of us to wake up! Not only that, there is getting out of bed and then getting on with ones day, awake! It is a common practice to sleep walk through the day. In effect to live in fairyland - where one is not. Or as I put it, getting ahead of oneself or behind oneself. This why it is so very important to not only RiseUp (wake up) and Walk on (through the day) but also to forget.

It reminded me of some of the conversation last night and that when we say we are going on retreat we often think of it as stepping back from the 'daily grind'.

But in reality we are retreating into the present, not looking back and not thinking a head; being present now and not dreaming or reminiscing our days away.

This we can do when ever and where ever we choose to.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Muckles, Ayres and Taings

This weekend we ventured out with some friends to our first community winter lunch of tattie soup, reestit mutton, bannocks and for me some yummy apple pie with custard. Usually in the summer, the local halls put on high teas for people to get together drink tea, eat cake and raise some money for the community halls. All very civilised and a great idea! This was a winter version and very popular.

And it was well needed by us as despite the occasional shower and biting winds we've been out and about. Down to our local small beach at the top of Firth's Voe a short walk away...

... and at Muckle Ayre beach on the island of Muckle Roe

The headland is called Burki Taing, a taing being a rocky spur, and is made up of the local red granite. Some of which had a hardy little white flower surviving on it, possibly freeze dried! Unfortunately I don't know what it is, yet...

Looking across from the taing is Crue Geo (a collapsed sea cave), just visible as a dark crevice. The coast is scattered with geo's big and small and some lead to subterranean passages that open out into collapsed caves inland, amazing. But the main object of this picture is what I fancifully think of as a bead from a giants necklace. I assume it is really and quite mundanely a trawl net float!

Mill Burn runs down from the hills to the beach...

... as does Beren!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Wind and wave

Before moving to Shetland I was well aware of a lot of controversy surrounding the plans for Viking Energy to create a 150 turbine windfarm on Shetland, there are already 5 much smaller turbines at Burradale just outside Lerwick. Viking Energy have their own information bank of FAQ's In theory it will provide the majority of the energy needs for Shetland plus be a massive boost to the economy and through it's presence and sale of excess power to the national grid.

A few of the Burradale turbines

There are also plans for a massive wave farm too from Pelalis Wave Power. One square mile of sea covered with 180m long energy generating snakes.

A very scenic looking artists impression...

...and something a little more realistic.

Both of these projects rely on the laying of 5 gigantic inter-connector cables with a 25m wide corridor to take power to 'Sooth' for them to be financially viable, i.e. for the investors to make enough money. And then when they hit land fall the whole grid system in the top end of Scotland will need upgrading to handle the new environmentally friendly power...

So to have sustainable energy for Shetland we need to feed the mainland. We cover the hills with 150 turbines, the sea with a square mile of sea snakes, build untold miles of permanent and temporary roads, dig up important peat bog habitats and carbon sinks, lay cable corridors at least 25m wide on land and in the sea, build power plants to store and convert power to the right type, place new lines of super-pylons across north Scotland and have untold traffic and construction disruption in the process.

And it doesn't stop there, things need maintaining, replacing and I'm sure the upgrading of services with roll further 'sooth'

But, there'll be jobs a plenty, support for crofters involved, money in the economy and an 'environmentally friendly ' energy supply. We'll probably tick a great selection of bureaucratic boxes too to fulfill some agreement or other.

Well, I actually like the look of windfarms. I think they're graceful and possible beautiful things. But, I've never seen 150 of them or the massive impact that they and the sea snakes are going to have on the environment both on Shetland, in the sea and North Scotland. Surely this can't be environmentally friendly? Sustainable Shetland have a few things to say about it.

Anyway we all know that nuclear power is the actually new environmentally friendly!

The government are wanting to build more nuclear power stations as the best 'clean' and reliable source of power.

We can't even get rid of various levels of nuclear waste we have now from a range of sources, or do anything with the decommissioned powerstations.

But don't worry, because the other night one the radio I hear of remote areas of Scotland being investigated for 'storing' intermediate nuclear waste. And as the presenter's stuff that is only hazardous for thousands of years not hundreds of thousands of years!

That's OK then, eh?!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A brave new world

Being a bloke, and a competitive one at that, I don't like to give in or be seen to be defeated. But times they have a changed and I've been trying to live in a brave new world now for some time, where admitting that I can't manage something and not being a competitor reap greater rewards.

Managing life with ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, as it is now usually known, along with my Buddhist Practise leaves me a times floundering in a world of lost identity. Always going on, but with a leash behind me that likes to yank me back into old habits when I least expect it or feel afraid to face the present.

So with a determination to do what is right I travelled to Lerwick last night to what I think is the islands only Buddhist meeting. I met a lovely group of people largely following Friends of the Western Buddhist Order practises, not Soto Zen, above the Peerie Cafe in Lerwick. Thinking of being a spiritual adult, my new world of doing what is right for me now and knowing that there was no way I was going to be able to sit for 40 minutes at the moment. I lay down to sit. The rest were sitting on their benches, foam blocks and zafus. I lay in the 'corridor' at the top of the stairs. Was I chuffed with myself, you bet I was!

Before meditation the leader for the night read a few excerpts from a book 'Living Well with pain and illness: the mindful way to free yourself from suffering'

I can't remember all what he read, but it struck a chord with me, enough for me to go and order it online.

The gist of it was that pain is often an invisible thing, even if we can see evidence of it in, or on some one, we really don't know how it affects them; it's a very intimate sensation. We often assume that everyone else is OK, just like we often think other people's lives are better than our own in some way. The first 2 Noble Truths spring to mind here.

One exercise in the book (as far as I remember) is to sit with a few people and each spend a minute saying what their pains are right now, physical or emotional. Realising that each of us have suffering. This is followed by a minute each saying what is 'good' just now.

Sometimes one needs hitting with the stick several times to drive a point home. I seem to have a thick skull because it stuck me, yet again, that for all the problems I have due to my current health state I do have a great deal to celebrate. It is so easy to filter our lives' to only see the pain or lack of something. However, it is so much more rewarding to filter our lives' to see the abundance that is there.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Geological Past

Today the gales had eased off so we took a trip to a beautiful little beach called Back Sands near Ollaberry. I wanted to go there as I knew as well as being lovely the end of the beach was formed by a big fault face called the Walls Boundary Fault which is probably part of the Great Glen Fault system that Loch Ness lies within in the Highlands.

19 years ago I left Kingston on Thames Polytechnic with a Degree in Geology, so it was interesting to see just how much I'd forgotten! Here's Back Sands with the fault face in the background...

A seal or 'ball-heed' kept popping up from time to time to see what we were up to but as ever it evaded the camera.

Below are some micro folds in some of the schists and meta-quartzites on the beach, one of which is obviously keeping an eye on any goings on...

Here's a link to some of the other varied and amazing geological sites of Shetland.

Geology there may be loads of, but unfortunately trees there are few and far between, a bit different to back 'home' in East Cleveland. Anyway, I found this little grove on the beach...

And finally, heading back to the car the sun was just staring to fall over Ollaberry Bay, not that it has far to go at this time of year!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Still standing

To paraphrase Elton John 'It's still standing after all these years'

Oh My God, it's not the curry we had last night but typical Shetland weather. The gusting gales last night have had our bedroom creaking, bed shaking, wall vibrating and hand on heart, we even saw the light bulb sway!!!

It felt like we were on a plane going down the runway all night.

And it's forecast to get stronger LOL!

It puts into perspective the terrors that people in Haiti are going through. We've got a bit of shaking and it's fairly amusing as we're obviously safe, but I hear on the radio this morning that things are no better in Haiti with the aid situation, dumps of aid still left on the runways. Still, Hilary Clinton is on her way there now though so all will be fine...

Spare a thought for all those there, their families and friends else where, may be even a few quid?

Friday, 15 January 2010

First January Gales

The snow has practically all gone except for on the very tops and the gales are arriving. Ferries are cancelled, it's currently gusting to over 30mph, but due to get up to 60-70mph gusts by the morning. A light breeze then for a Shetland winter, Beren's already nearly taken off today!

On the way to Lerwick today I had to stop and film these wisps and plumes of water being whipped up and blown down Dales Voe, are these njugles? You can't see it, but there were rainbows in each one, an amazing site. The scories weren't fairing too well, but the yowes, well they were just being yowes ...

Oh yeh, it's raining too (goes without saying really)

Time flies ...

... by when you're the driver of a train, riding on the foot plate there and back again.

Ermm... where did that come from, that's not what I wanted to say! Isn't it funny how a word, smell, single note of music can send you flying back to times in your life, usually 'good' or 'bad' but rarely in between the extremes.

It seems to follow into the habits of our life. A noise triggers us jumping tot the road side, a story has us weeping in sympathy, be it sadness or joy. I have a lot of triggers which whizz me back to both 'good' and 'bad' times (argg... a song comes to mind to divert me even more!). I guess we can't escape that, it seems to happen before we realise it, but we can choose how we react to it, let it fly by rather than engage with it. We do have the choice. But sometimes we also choose not to take it...

Any way back to my original post:

"Time flies quicker than an arrow and life passes with greater transience than the dew. However skillful you may be how can you ever recall a single day of the past. Should you live for a hundred years just wasting your time, every day and month will be filled with sorrow; should you live as a slave to your sense for a hundred years and yet live truely for only so much as a single day, you will, in that one day, not only live a hundred years of life but also save a hundred years of your future life." From the Shushogi

This came to mind yesterday as I decided to live in the past for a while. May be I was wasting my time, it doesn't feel so. I can't truely remember a single day of then, not even each moment of the video, but my 'wasted time' brought me and some others I know joy...

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

I was wondering where it had gone...

... the Shetland winter weather that is. Forget those alluring photos of snow and ice, wonderland trips on the Voe's. When I got up this morning that was all gone.

White caps running up the Voe, clouds screaming over the tops, rain, cold and horizontal. Bench blown over in the garden. Grey pebble dash, grey sky, grey waters, grey. I am in Shetland in January after all!

Returning from nursery drookled and waiting for a dachin to take the dog furt I caught myself thinking that the change is good. The gritters can have their Christmas, the animals can get their fodder and we don't have the joys of de-icing cars in a blizzard or getting stuck.

I've not been too great the last week in particular with my ME symptoms building up after the move here along with non-stop sight seeing. The icing on the cake will be ending this week with a hoop jumping session with the local Pathways To Work Advisor, oh that I could jump hoops...

But the seasonal weather reminded me of the words from a song 'it can't rain all the time, the sky won't fall forever' and as I look out my window I see the sheep seemingly doing what they do, day in day out; wind, rain or snow. Chopping wood, fetching water so to speak.
Like the sheep, we only live now, in each moment, not waiting for the dachin even if we feel drookled.

Do the sheep worry about explaining their life to a stranger on friday? Do they worry about being some one's dinner one day? I don't really know, but it does seem that the sheep are being sheep and sometimes instead of me being me I'm being what was or what might be...

Monday, 11 January 2010

Mind-fullness and the guitar

I'm thinking of starting a sitting group up here and as a result I've recently watched a Zen Mediation DVD featuring Rev. Master Daishin and other of monks of Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey which gives instructions for sitting and putting practise in to your daily life. Gassho to Rev. Mugo for that, amongst other things.

I've been sitting for a few years now and have read a book or two in that time but when watching this video I was struck by the difference between mindfulness and mind-fullness. This difference isn't something new to me but today it wanted to be recognised.

I'm currently trying to learn to play guitar, some thing that started when I was about 8, I think, when was given one as a birthday present along with a teach yourself book. Along the way I some how became pretty good at playing the didgeridoo instead and never got anywhere with the guitar. But when I moved up here I resolved to get another teach yourself guitar book...

But as I'm nearly the big 4-0 , not 8, and like a challenge I thought I'd choose a non-standard tuning DADGAD and finger style. Yeah, I'm daft like that.

Now, when I am learning to play the guitar, using different fingers of each hand on different strings and different places and reading the tab and score I am very much in the moment of each note and each finger but I'm totally unaware of anything else. I'm being very much mind-full but not the least mindful of the moment!

May be one day I'll be able to play mindfully and in response to the moment but for now I'm spinning plates in my own little world of self-induced suffering...

Why then does it feel so comfortable?

First winter

Wow! What an introduction to Shetland eh?
Worst winter in how long, but the best winter I can remember...

Pretty much out of the blue my wife got a job on Shetland working for the council and we had 2 months notice in which to re-order our lives, move our lives and leave the area I'd called home for pretty much my whole life, not to mention leaving our family and friends.
So why call this rambling of mine 'moder-dye'? Well, I might as well answer it now before anyone asks (there may be some one)... well the Shetland Dictionary on shetlopedia says "a movement of the sea always running towards land, formerly used to get home in fog " and it seemed a very appropriate term for this here sooth-moother. The last few years have been a bit of a fog in some ways but I'm finding a flow that's leading me home.

It seems that I've suddenly gone camera mad since moving up here. I usually either forget the camera when I go some where or take it and forget to use it but it's now the poor blighter is so over used it's literally falling apart! Instead of boring you with the hundreds of photo's I've already bored friends with I'll just post a select few and a little video of an amazing day out to a couple of island with new friends.

Clare and Beren sledging...

...and on West Sandwick beach, Yell

Remains of a Broch on Houlland Loch, Eshaness

View from Brae Marina and a trip from it...

We're trying to get to grips with the places, language and some new foods such as reestit mutton broth and Aunty Mary's bannocks, both I'm proud to say I've made with my own fair hands and tasted delicious! Check out Shetlopedia for some more mouth watering and stomach turning recipes, as well as more local phrases and places.

Oh, and to answer those who have been wondering what we're going to do in those horrible dark Shetland winters, as well as the above I'll be telling you of the angst growing nails to for learning to play guitar in DADGAD tuning, whether the folk of Shetland are ready for didgeridoo lessons, whether a Shaun the Sheep airfix model can destroy my zen-like calm...