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People are landscapes, Beautiful and Complex

“A Raindrop falls Will it feed a river, flower perhaps or creature perhaps? A thought trickles through the mind Will it feed fear, anger or compassion? Karma is born We are a landscape” This article was inspired by an experience a couple of years ago now, on Holy Isle, the Tibetan Buddhist Island, just off Arran. I was running a Tai Chi and meditation retreat there and taking some time out to rest. There is a lovely mountain in the middle of the island and one morning I took a run up it. I enjoy trail running. It keeps me fit and sometimes the concentration required is, to me, another form of meditation. The view from the top is gorgeous. I was standing on top and watching the rain sweep across the distant hills on Arran. You can see Goat Fell from there and it was looking very dark and moody across there that morning, although my hill top was in sunlight. Watching the rain and the landscape from a distance like this, it made me realise that I was watching dependent arising in action. For the benefit of non-Buddhists reading this, dependent arising, or pratītyasamutpāda, is the understanding that nothing exists in and of its own right. Everything is the result of some cause and effect. If fact, in Buddhism, each and every moment has this in its very nature. Even WE are the result of dependent arising, each and every moment of our lives. There is no single thing called ‘me’, just a set of interdependent events, actions and thoughts that create the perception of this thing called ‘Andy Spragg’. I could spin off into a reverie about Karma at this point, but I’ll try to resist the urge and stick to the point. I realised that studying this landscape in front of me was a little like studying a person. Just as complex, just as intangible. A single droplet of rain falls from the sky. Who can predict which way it will go? It may land on hard ground, flow into other flows of water and together form a stream, a river and cut down into the landscape in a very obvious but slow manner. The droplet may land on soil or a plant. Becoming absorbed as the plant sends its roots down. The plant itself, becoming part of this rich landscape. The roots subtly changing the soil below. Lichen may be nourished by the water and change the colour of the stone it is growing on. An animal may drink from a pond that the droplet has landed in. Who knows the way that animal may contribute to that landscape. I started to see all these things within the landscape and the view before me was suddenly more complex and beautiful. But also fragile. I suddenly felt the very nature of change in this landscape at a very deep level. It was at this point, while

studying this gorgeous vista in front of me that I started to think about people and the similarities with these thoughts. When a person stands before me, I perceive what I believe is their character from what is displayed by their appearance and by the limited set of actions that I have witnessed since I have known them. Just like with the landscape, I am mislead by my perceptions. I don’t see the equivalent of the drop of water. The Buddha gave us this view of our minds, our thoughts, and how they build our character. The thought manifests as the word; the word manifests as the deed; the deed develops into habit; and habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care; and let it spring out of love born out of concern for all beings. As a Buddhist I believe that my body (yes, body!) and my mind at this point in time is literally the composition of all my previous thoughts and actions. There are clearly external influences that happen and the Buddha describes how these influences affect us too. But here the message is clear. Each single thought we have goes in to our makeup. This is just like the raindrops in our landscape. Every thought is like a raindrop and we can never really predict what affect it’s going to have on our character. So when I study a person, I can’t see these previous influences and I certainly am never going to be able to grasp the rich history that has created this person. Of course the person concerned, being studied by me, believes they understand their own character. They will have a much richer view than I do. They may even have some knowledge of the ‘droplets of water’ that have taken them to where they are now. (This, if you meditate on it, on your own ‘droplets of water’, makes you realise how little you know about yourself and about your own landscape. With practise, you start to dissolve. This is key experience if you are making progress with Buddhism I believe. It may sound a little frightening, but the experience is actually rather liberating). So, just like my perceptions of the landscape, my understanding and knowledge of the person before me is severely limited. How can I truly know and connect with this person when I view them from a distance like this. To truly connect with a landscape, we have to walk within it. We can choose not too of course. But if we really want to understand it, to experience it in its fullest extent, we have to choose to step into it. However, when we do this, we do of course have to take the experience exactly as it is. When we walk up the steep hill, it makes no sense to shout at the hill and say ‘you are too steep for me, you are making me tired’ The hill will not change. When our boots get wet from the wet grass, we cannot actually do anything about this if we wish to cross the field. We simply have to accept it. After all, if the hill wasn’t steep or the grass wasn’t

quite so lush and wet, the landscape would not be the same from that distant view. We must accept it as it is and simply view it and experience it. Also, and most importantly, if we choose not to enter in, to see things from our distant, limited viewpoint, we may well miss the greatest beauty. There is a gorge in Crete called the Sumaria Gorge.

From the top of the gorge is a beautiful view. But the real gem of this gorge can only be seen when you step down into it. When you ‘connect’ with the landscape. In order to do this, you have to put your boots on and trek along a 9 mile, dusty, rocky path. Crete is a hot place so this is no easy task. The truly spectacular part of the walk is almost at the end. Here the gorge narrows to just a couple of metres wide and the river squeezes through this narrow place. The sheer height of the cliffs and the dramatic nature takes your breath away (if you’ve got any left after the hike!) But, if you hadn’t connected with the landscape and entered in, taking everything as it is, you would never see this stunning scene and truly appreciate the beauty of Sumaria Gorge. You would miss the real beauty. I believe that connecting with people is a little like this. We must be prepared to connect. But in order to do this we have to take them exactly as they are. There will be hills to climb and hot, dusty pathways. But we must just notice them, see them, every aspect of their character. This way, we find their most beautiful aspects and we will be surprised and delighted by the rich connection we then have with them. There is no need to understand how each individual raindrop has shaped the landscape. We simply open all our senses and connect. Step in. These days there seems to be so much analysis done on people. We are categorised and analysed. There are so many therapists out there figuring out why we are the way we are. Why do we need to know this to connect with each other? I don’t believe we do for a minute. There is nothing to fear with connecting with people. We should celebrate our complexity and our individual nature. Simply connect. There is nothing else to be done.

Andy Spragg,