The articles that fell together haphazardly here and came together in a natural composition seem to emphasise complexity; the irredeemable complexity of the human mind, the self, our world and the Universe. We struggle towards some kind of clarity through the dense fog of history, our contradictory ideas, our worried philosophising and our refusal to accept the simplicity of this moment. We like to achieve, to gain celebrity of any kind, to be clever and please ourselves by what we are doing. Our western minds seek explanation, certainty and respect through self-importances of which we are rarely aware. Reluctantly, we admit our blank stupidities, blaming others, the times, politicians, and our parents. Why are we too often such sad, conflicted, over-complicated persons?
These articles take us along many paths and struggle in various ways with these themes. Our two retreat reports reveal two very different situations. We can learn from both of them. It is so difficult for us not to be one-sided, stuck on one bank of a duality. Accepting the unacceptable often seems impossible yet that was the message of the Buddha and the Sutras. Yes – the world and we ourselves are complex yet, when we turn down our overactive left hemispherical concerns, we find a Universe immediately before us in the landscapes we see, the faces we know, the eggs boiling in the saucepan so brilliantly. Yet, thought returns to puzzle us and indeed is often necessary.
The place so difficult to reach is the third place – knowing that both sides, intellectual enquiry and spacious direct awareness, make up the whole, we need to pause there seeing both as one – not only the multiplicity in the simplicity but also the simplicity in the complex patterning of our lives: Just Now – no other time. The birds in the spring time trees sing at sunrise.
The world was deeply shocked by the terrible catastrophe in Japan. We send our condolences to all who have lost loved ones and are still suffering there at this time. When I think of a 30 foot wave striking the Somerset coast, I see the land lost to the sea all the way from Weston super Mare to the Dorset hills, lapping up the valleys below Winterhead Hill and leaving Glastonbury Tor as a lonely island surrounded by total devastation. It is almost unimaginable but that is what the Japanese are facing. The nuclear disaster is a lesson for us all. The demonstration of human blindness in placing reactors in such dangerous places arises from the extraordinary carelessness with which humanity has approached nature for over a century. Let us learn from nature not ignore it. The planet has spoken in a decisive way that we ignore at our peril. We should all consider this and express our dismay at and resistance to our carelessness.
Om mane padme hum
I must have met David Fontana at a psychological conference where several of us decided to form a small discussion group to have a look at the then growing interest in Meditation and Zen. We worked closely together to set up an international conference on “Psychology: East and West” in Cardiff and David and I edited and contributed to the book that followed “Space in Mind” (Element Press, 1990). It was a joy to work with David and we had many attitudes and questions, if not answers that had much in common.
David always saw the best in people. Indeed, he was sometimes accused of being flattering but I don’t think so. He always spoke from the heart and optimistically about others. Of course, this made him a joy to be with on a whole range of occasions.
We went together to two conferences on ‘Consciousness’ in Athens organised by the Brahmakumaris and both spoke there. Afterwards, we went on extended expeditions through fascinating regions of Greece. We flew in mid-winter, buffeted by alarming winds in a small aircraft, to the volcanic island of Santorini. There were no tourists and we had the wonderful island almost to ourselves. Another time, we drove a hired car around the Peloponnesus including a complete circulation of the extraordinary and remote Mani peninsular dining simply in remote tavernas closed for the winter but opened for us with that characteristic friendliness to foreigners that Greeks often show, especially perhaps because, having married a Greek with a mother from the Mani, my Greek was up to the job. This led us into the many fascinating encounters that can happen best outside the tourist season. We strolled around the old centre of Athens musing on ancient times and pretending to chat with Socrates.
During these journeys, David was working on the difficult Zen koan “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?” He was having a hard time and evening after evening we returned to our puzzlement. In Delphi, appropriately, I tried to persuade him that he might do better if he answered, “Who am I?” first, but he persisted. He never found Zen easy being essentially a thinker and a writer – at which he excelled in his many well-prepared books.
We also enjoyed many further weekend meetings of our little discussion group at my retreat house in mid Wales talking and walking in the hills. At this time, David had much in common with the rest of our group – an enquiring mind open to all the strange phenomena and experiences that religious and non- religious spirituality can provide. Together we investigated several sources of healing experiences. As time went on, David moved more into a direct investigation of the occult, which intrigued him greatly. He found a factory in Cardiff where poltergeists threw things about and went there in the night to examine what had been reported to him. He told me of the experiences that persuaded him there was indeed something happening. Yet, David was wary of letting others in on this investigation. It was if he suspected a subjective component that the presence of others would subvert. He refused to allow Sue Blackmore, a well-known sceptical thinker but a good psychologist, to accompany him saying that if she were there nothing would happen. Although I expressed an interest, I never got the invitation!
This led on to further investigations of which I heard little until the publication of his valued book “Is there an Afterlife? A comprehensive overview of the evidence” (O Books. 2005). It is indeed probably the best review of this subject available. Here he explores the afterlife both through personal enquiry and through an extensive search through the literature. The accounts are fascinating and his own participation intriguing but he is honest in saying at the last that, although he was personally convinced, he realised that others may not be so persuaded. As usual in such an enquiry, the evidence does not quite make the grade, extraordinary though it is and brilliantly reported.
David turned to Christianity and died in the faith. He was cremated following a simple service in the Cardiff parish church that he attended regularly in the last years of his life. I mourn the loss of a dear friend on life’s strange journey and a stimulating, deeply thoughtful companion.