V is for Volition

In the fifth of the five mindfulness trainings ‘Nourishment and Healing’ I read:

‘Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness.’


OK, I understand consuming edible foods, I can begin to see what might be meant by consuming sense impressions (especially in the light of training number 2 and not running after sensual pleasures) but volition? What is meant by volition, and how on earth do I consume it?

So what is meant by volition?

Dictionary.com gives:

noun 1. the act of willing, choosing, or resolving; exercise of willing: She left of her own volition. 2. a choice or decision made by the will. 3. the power of willing; will.

Number 1 there is the usage I have come across most often (though not very often) ‘of her own volition’ ie of her own free choice.

I read this, and thought about it, and still struggled to see quite how I ‘consumed’ my volition, my own free will, my own choice. But over time, it has gradually become a bit clearer. I guess I’ve been ‘looking deeply’, or at least a bit more deeply than I did at first.

Consuming volition is exercising my own will, acting from my ego, doing things my way, being bossy, even enforcing my will on others. I recognise something of myself in that. And I am not being asked to stop consuming (clearly to stop consuming edible foods would be a stupid thing to do) just to practice mindful consumption and to look deeply into how I consume, to be aware of what I am doing and of the wider effects that my actions have, on myself, on others, on the world at large. Sometimes it is appropriate to act from my own will, but it may be better to freely align my will with the purpose of that which I call God, to act from Love not from short-term self-interest. Even without looking for deeply spiritual meaningful stuff, it is good to let others exercise their will, their volition, rather than me trying to be in charge of things.

My musings bring me back to a favourite, much quoted, Quaker passage, written by Isaac Pennington in 1661:

‘Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of Life, which is its portion.’ Quaker Faith & Practice 26.70

If I let go of my volition, look deep inside myself for the good seeds and cultivate them and let them act through me, I will be happy and free from suffering. As so often, my Buddhist learning feeds my Quaker understanding, enhances my Buddhist practice, …

So I shall sit on my cushion, or walk, or go to Meeting,

and breathe in, and breathe out,

and give over my own willing, consume less of my own volition,

and give the good seeds a chance to grow.


U is for Understanding

I’ve been reading ‘Cultivating the Mind of Love’ by Thich Nhat Hanh recently. It’s taken some time because it’s given me much to think about. In the early chapters Thay talks about his experience of falling in love as a young monk and asks his reader to recall their own first love. I took a few weeks over that exercise and I think it was helpful to do so.


More recently I’ve read the chapter about the Avatamsaka Sutra which I found difficult to follow, to understand, until I got to the last paragraph. Let me quote:

‘Don’t worry if you don’t understand. You don’t have to understand anything. Just enjoy the words of this beautiful sutra. If they make you feel lighter, that is enough. It is not necessary to feel a heavy weight on your shoulders. Someday, with no effort at all, you will understand. You only have to allow yourself to be there, to touch deeply each thing you encounter, to walk mindfully, and to help others with the whole of your being. This is the practice of non-practice.’

I recognise that need not to try too hard. For years I couldn’t catch a ball. My teachers told me to ‘watch the ball’. I watched, I missed. I tried harder, I still missed. Eventually I found out that with one very short-sighted eye, the ball wasn’t where I saw it. I stopped trying. Quite often I catch the ball. My young son was diagnosed with severe speech dyspraxia. The speech therapist explained that the harder he tried to talk, the more he couldn’t do it. We played lots of games that encouraged him to make speech sounds, but without any pressure. He has grown into a young man who talks clearly (often at length) and is not intimidated by public speaking.

If I try hard to still my monkey mind and be in the present moment, I just end up with more thoughts, including thoughts about not thinking. If I just acknowledge the thoughts and then let them go, my intellectual mind is much calmer, and a deeper understanding can, occasionally, find a way through.

So I’ll let go (not try to let go, just let go) of worrying about understanding and just enjoy the sutra (no matter now that if isn’t in English), or let the words of the dharma talk fall on me like rain (the rain I’ve learnt to accept and welcome), or just immerse myself in the freeing waters of silence. Then I’ll observe how much of that I carry out of the meditation hall with me.

quiet room

U is for Ubiquity

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean
we launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.

It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins;
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
such ubiquity by remaining still?

R S Thomas

remain still

This poem speaks to me on a deep level. Silence, listening, deep, never arriving. Presence, ubiquity, remaining still. Regular readers of this blog will recognise where I’m coming from.

But I did have to go and look up ‘ubiquity’ in the dictionary. The Concise Oxford gives me ‘ubiquitious: present, appearing, or found everywhere’ and ‘ubiquitarian: a person who believes that Christ is present everywhere at all times’.

In my Quaker understanding, that which I call G-d can found everywhere at all times – if I am aware. More easily, if I am inwardly still. In my Buddhist understanding, everything is everywhere at all times, there is no separation – no G-d, no not-G-d, no me, no not-me. It is easier to touch that knowledge if I am silent within. In my experience, Christ Jesus is there too, along with all the Bodhisattvas, with everyone, but if I forget to be still, I lose contact with that Presence.


T is for Transformation

Roger Seal in a letter to the Friend (p8 17 October 2014)  notes that “Ben Pink Dandelion in his Swarthmore Lecture spoke of ‘(our) experience of encounter (that is with the Divine) transforms our sense of the world around us’ and ‘we are transformed.’ “ and asks about Friends experiences of this.

My experience is that transformation may be gradual, one step at a time, more like a tadpole becoming a frog than a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

Reviewing my experience of Yearly Meeting Gathering at Bath in August (which I’ve been doing for feedback sessions in my Area and Local meetings this month) I notice one area in which my view of the world was transformed in the course of Yearly Meeting Gathering.

I went to Yearly Meeting Gathering with a sense of distress, hopelessness and inadequacy about several situations of conflict in the world that were currently, or recently, prominent in the media – Ukraine, Gaza and Iraq in particular.

I have noted in my journal on 5/8/14 while sitting in the Big Top in the opening worship part of the morning session ‘dying is not wrong, it may be, and usually is, sad, but it is not wrong. Killing is wrong, it damages our spirits’.

On the Thursday evening (7/8/14) I attended the extra meeting for worship where we held the world’s conflict areas in the Light and wrote in my journal: ‘Very moving and worthwhile and good to be able to acknowledge and respond to current needs when our formal agenda can’t. We can at least channel love’.

I was very appreciative of the statement about the situation in Gaza that we were offered the next day, and which was issued, after further checking, shortly after Yearly Meeting Gathering. I realize that it is very difficult to agree statements on these issues and that some Friends are still uneasy with this one.

I, personally, individually, note two transformations in me, arising from this experience:

I am now regularly holding in the Light those involved in areas of conflict in the world – especially those who are doing the killing and destruction and those who are giving the orders for it.

I find myself empowered to engage in correspondence with my MP about the situation and to ask for his support regarding the requests made in the Britain Yearly Meeting statement (beginning with the recognition of Palestine as a nation state).

So a transformation in the way I see the world and in myself. Neither is huge, but both are definite changes.

Do they come from within or without? (As Roger Seal also asks.) Yes.


T is for Thanks

Following on from my preceding post about teachers and working with this month’s writing group topic (I’d like to thank …), I’ve been thinking about those who from whom I have learnt many small lessons on my spiritual journey so far. Some have also taught me other lessons (including big ones) but I’ve concentrated on very specific instances (otherwise this would be a very long piece of writing).


I’d like to thank ….


Laura Duncan for demonstrating true forgiveness, wholeheartedly welcoming Sandra back to the house after an incident involving the two of them, a carving knife and a locked room.


Elsie Armitage for recognising the Quaker in me and encouraging me. We only met for a couple of hours but it made a big difference to me.


Claude Liddle, one time clerk of Loughborough meeting, for reading the notices in such a way that it was clear that the activities of the meeting arose from the worship of the meeting.


Sheila Wimbush for sharing short, appropriate, thought provoking readings with us young guides at camp.


Francis Savage for taking me to mass on Iona and sharing something of how much it mattered to him.


Stephen Cox for coming and sitting beside me as I prepared to lead epilogue and showing me how much difference someone’s supportive presence could make.


Alistair for standing on the stage at York behind Sean and demonstrating that their relationship was essentially the same as my marriage.


Thich Nhat Hanh for wiping the whiteboard mindfully during the retreat at Nottingham in 2010.


Rosamund and Ian Robertson for opening their home to me and sharing their way of life that arose from their faith.


Mark Turner for inspiring and making possible a pilgrimage to Iona for a somewhat motley band of people associated with Loughborough University.


Kate Hatton for pointing out to me how I had demonstrated Christ’s love for her.


Christine, Stephen, Jane and John for taking me to Sunday School with them when I was visiting Drayton as a child.


Jane Sams for agreeing so enthusiastically to be a ‘guinea pig’ for the ‘Becoming Friends’ trials.


The sea scout leader at Lochearnhead Scout Station for leading short, simple, meaningful, heartfelt prayers at flagbreak each morning.


Jim Pym for being the channel that answered questions I hadn’t even put into words.


Jim Grant for encouraging me to apply for membership of the Religious Society of Friends.


The Woodbrooke tutor who demonstrated the Woodbrooke ethos by listening to and valuing the views of everyone in the seminar group.


Dave Day for providing the motivation that actually got me to a Heart of London Sangha meeting.


Ginny Wall for recruiting me to the online companions team of ‘Becoming Friends’.


Nick Bagnell for teaching me the importance of smiling at our fellow circle dancers.


T is for Teacher

Some years ago I was told by a Quaker (at a Yearly Meeting special interest group with the New Foundation Fellowship) that it was not possible to be both a Quaker and a Buddhist because a Buddhist had to become the follower of a specific teacher.

I was unable to pursue the point at the time due to an important commitment to be elsewhere (microphone stewarding for the next YM session), but the comment has stayed with me.

At the time I already knew of people who were combining the two, Jim Pym being one of them, one who has published books on both traditions (which I have found very helpful). I have met others since.


My Buddhist journey so far has not required me to sign up with a specific teacher. In formally receiving the five mindfulness trainings I did so within a specific tradition, transmitted by a specific teacher. But Thich Nhat Hanh was very clear that dual membership was perfectly acceptable and even encouraged. We were undertaking to live according to the mindfulness trainings, to follow the tradition rather than the teacher, and not to give up a tradition to which we already belonged. He is very clear that Christianity is totally compatible with Buddhism. (See ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ’.)

I think what the Friend in the New Foundation Fellowship had in mind probably included ‘You must call no one on earth your father, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ.’ Matthew 23: -10 and George Fox’s claim ‘that Christ was come to teach people Himself, by His power and Spirit in their hearts, and to bring people off from all the world’s ways and teachers, to His own free teaching, …’ Journal of George Fox

Woodbrooke bench

In my own experience some spiritual lessons I have learned by inward listening, by taking heed of the promptings of love and truth in my heart, or have come to know by sitting quietly and attentively. Other lessons have been mediated through people, people who may be recognised by others as teachers, but equally people who are not recognised, who would make no claim to be teachers, and who may be unaware that they are serving in that role.


Who have your teachers, on your journey, been?

More specific answers from me in my next post …