Sunday, 2 November 2014

Reading The Book that so many have read.

So I've done it...

At 31 years old I've started to read the book that I've heard so much about.

With my personal library mainly consisting of books on spirituality, new age thought, life after death, psychology and eastern philosophy and religion, the book I've started to read has been quoted countless times throughout.

I found myself asking questions like...

Why has it been quoted so much?

Why have so many people read it?

Why do so many people live their lives by it?

Why do people say it's the only book you will ever have to read?

What makes the stories it contains so profound?

Why do so many people take the stories as truth?

Why have people killed in its name?

Is this book really the key to heaven and the way to escape burning for eternity in the fires of hell?

Funnily enough, despite the overwhelming seriousness of the latter, what was more important for me was why people kept on saying that my work reminds them of the book's core values, even though I've never read it, nor am I religious?

When I moved to Taiwan, I only brought with me a handful of books. One of them was this one.

The bible.

Now, it's a chunky read, so I'm going to be reading other books alongside it.

But anyhow, here I go.

(Just read the bit about circumcision... hmm... if the next time you see me I look in pain, you know why.)

Saturday, 11 October 2014

You Deserve the Best

"... I finally understand my right to choose
My preacher man told me it could always be worse
Even the three-legged dog still got three good legs to lose
So you can stop and refresh the rules
Breathe in, breathe out, let it heal all your exit wounds
Something inside said that's the move
and maybe today, I'll start fresh and new."

These are the lyrics I woke up with this morning running through my mind. They're from the 'The Day' by The Roots.

You can listen to it here:

As always, when I wake up with lyrics in my head it means that my subconscious mind is trying to tell me something. It can be a song I haven't heard for many years, yet the lyrics are present when I open my eyes. They're loud and clear as if the song had been played to me in my sleep. My subconscious mind knows that I love music and it uses it as a tool to communicate with me, knowing farewell that I'll listen.

So what do these lyrics mean for me?

They act as a reminder that my feelings are there to be trusted. They act as a reminder that they're guiding me, free of charge, if only I invest in them my trust. My subconscious mind is telling me that it's using my feelings as a way to help me move forward. They can get me out of any rut that I face - and so far they have never once failed.

This time, they relate to an area in my life that has been nagging me for a couple of weeks. Now that I've been reminded of "my right to choose" I know that I only have to be in that situation for as long as I choose to be.

And that's massively empowering, especially when I've been assuming that there's no way out.

I asked myself a simple question: If I was to die within the next two days, do I want to be feeling like this for the rest of my life?

The obvious answer was a very blunt no.

So I did something about it.

I urge you to trust that which is innate within you.

It deserves your attention and trust.

And you deserve it's guidance and assurance.

Learn to listen and distinguish the difference between your head and your heart.

Your head will tell you, with a voice soaked in fear, that something can't be done, and will even come up with reasons to back it up.

If you listen to this voice and give it time and attention, life will present you with evidence (undesirable circumstances, difficult situations) that this voice was the gospel truth.

And with conviction you will say to yourself and others, 'You see... I told you life was hard. I told you that nothing good ever happens to me.'

You might even be labelled unlucky or unfortunate by some, and there will be a part of you that kind of likes that because it proves that you were right.

And who doesn't like being right about their own life?

As long as you maintain this pattern of mental behaviour, you will see evidence for it in your life.

Yet it's all down to how you managed your attention.

The inner, that which is unseen, is reflected on the outer, which is seen... the outer being a manifested state of the inner.

Plant the seed of a rose and only a fool expects an apple tree to spring forth from the soil.

Your heart, on the other hand, will cradle your head and tell it not to worry, that everything is going to be OK. Your heart, with a soothing voice, will say, 'Trust in me. I am the way.'

If it sounds a bit like God to you, it's because it is.

It's because you are.

It is your I Am.

If that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, then change the three lettered word with a word like Life

They're two fingers pointing at the same star.

Your heart beats to the rhythm of the entire universe. 

It deserves your respect. 

Feelings of fear (not to be confused with nervousness or mild anxiety) - those that come with a certain heaviness to them - spring from your head and are due to a lack of trust and, ultimately, ignorance.

These thoughts should not be given a second one.

Feelings of warmth and hope - those that come with a certain lightness to them - those that 'feel right', come from your heart; a deeper part of yourself that knows you and knows what is best for you.

For these thoughts and feelings, there is no such thing as too much attention.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that make you feel safe and reassuring.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that put a smile on your heart - it can be sensed by others.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that help you perceive others in a loving light.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that fill you with hope and inspiration.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that help you see every moment as a reason to celebrate.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that fill you with love; first for yourself and then for others - this is not being selfish.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that give you energy, enthusiasm and a burning passion for living.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to truly exercise your free will.

You deserve the best.

You really do.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Today I saw a big pig sleeping at the side of the road

Moving on...

Whenever I thought of Chinese students I always pictured them working their arses off.

And usually not by their own doing.

I always imagined their teachers (or masters) to be super strict, standing at the front of the class with a bamboo cane, punishing below average students by making them do the horse-stance over an incense stick for an hour; with cups of hot tea resting on their head, shoulders, knees and toes.

Or maybe it was all the martial arts films I had watched having a bigger influence on me than I thought.

As my Taiwanese girlfriend bluntly said, 'It's not like that... and what's a horse-stance?'

So now I find myself being a student in Taiwan and I can say from experience that my teacher doesn't have a bamboo cane (at least, I don't think she does...) and so far I've been obedient enough not to have an incense stick blowing smoke up where the sun doesn't shine. But having said that, I can honestly say that the expectations the teachers have of their students are far greater than in the west.

For instance, I've just finished my fourth week at Uni. In total, my class have been given over 100 Chinese traditional characters to learn (that includes reading and writing them). We also have to learn the pinyin and the tones to go with the pinyin (whilst knowing which letters the tones go above).

I don't know, maybe it's just me being a weak westerner, but to my mind that's a lot of stuff to remember!

I got talking to a local the other day whilst waiting for the bin collection. As the sound of the bin truck got louder and louder (it sounds like an ice-cream man's rendition of a Beethoven's piece) the old man said something to me in Chinese, to which I replied (in Chinese) 'I'm sorry, I don't understand.'

He smiled and said, 'Oh, sorry, are you enjoying Taiwan?'

Now, this hardly ever happens! I was so shocked that I laughed.

'You speak really good English,' I said.

He smiled and said that he had studied in Edinburgh many years ago.

We got talking about this and that when I added that I was studying at Shida.

'Ah yes, a great university,' said my new friend. 'Chinese is hard to write, don't you think?'

Damn right! The fact that it was a local saying this comforted me somewhat because, let me tell you, Chinese characters are beautiful, yes, but incredibly intricate. And there's an order to the strokes too, something that you have to stick to because Taiwanese people know when you've done it the wrong way (or at least my girlfriend does...).

The other night it took me 2.5 hours to complete a set of questions on a single side of A4. And this wasn't just me... a few of my classmates said the same.

So let's get back to the workload:

- Daily class
- Up to 20 hours a month of additional study
- Homework
- Revision for 3 tests a week.

It's like having a full-time job that you take home with you.

Having grumbled all of that, I want to say that the eastern approach might be tough, but I think it could be having the desired affect.     

Yesterday, my girlfriend introduced me to a new cafe for us to study in. As we approached the cafe she pointed to the sign and asked me to read it. I felt daunted at the simple task until she said, 'You've gone through these words in class'. When I looked closer at the sign, I realised that I had indeed studied the characters, it's just that they were in a funky font. 

I felt a wave of pride come up through my chest as I read out loud 喝個咖啡吧!

And she, like a proud parent, nodded and smiled.

Bearing in mind that I was on the verge of carrying out a self-fulfilling prophecy, that I was indeed useless at languages, I have now been given a bit of faith, not only in myself but in the human race and our ability to learn.

If I can begin to read, write and speak Chinese in several weeks (very little, I might add, but little is still some) then this tells me that our ability to learn is virtually unlimited. All that's needed is an incentive to learn; that then provides the motivation and that then provides the results (mix in there time and patience and you're golden).

It could be boiled down to this: If you want to learn, you will.

If you want your mind to absorb new information, it will.

A tea drinking, bamboo wielding master isn't necessary.

Right, back to my studying... test tomorrow.


Monday, 1 September 2014

A Safety-net Underfoot

A safety-net is a wonderful thing.

It brings comfort and stability to that part of ourselves that fears putting one foot into the unknown. 

But if we look closer we see that a safety-net is actually woven with threads of fear.

Not only that, but because the net is full of huge gaping holes, it's incredibly hard to move forward. 

When we can't move forward, we hinder our growth.

And when we hinder our growth life can become insipid.

For me, that's the ultimate sin.

The reason I'm nattering on about safety nets is because many people have said that my recent move to Taiwan was courageous and I'm always genuinely amazed by the remark.

With not being a traveler, my comfort zone has been stretched more than it ever has been in 31 years, but bravery didn't enter the equation for one specific reason.

And that reason was Love.

Yes, yes, I know I've plunged into the ocean of sentimental cheesy-ness, but hear me out;

The only reason I moved to Taiwan was because I was - and am - in love with a beautiful girl. It was because of her that I didn't feel I was being brave when I decided to move, for the simple fact that I just decided to move.

That's the important bit:

I just decided to move.

I just moved.

I just did it.

I made the decision and stuck to it.

My safety-net was my previous job with it's stable income, but with that now gone I'm left to find a new balance in a new land. And this didn't bother me because I was motivated by Love.

With a sense of Love, everything seems possible.

With a sense of Love, when you step forward on your net of comfort and stability, the gaping holes are filled with an invisible force that holds you upright.

I don't mean for the word Love to be limited between two people. For me, self-love comes first and then only with that Love of yourself are you able to Love another and see how carrying Love within you can change your world. 

If you're driven by some artistic intent and every cell in your body is bursting with the desire to create, and then all of a sudden life presents you with an opportunity that will undoubtedly drag your safety-net from under your feet, you will go for it. (You would be foolish not to!) When you go for it you won't think you're being brave. You'll just do it because you're driven by Love.

A Love to create. 

A Love to follow your desire. 

Your dream. 

Your gut instinct.

Your calling.

Yes, you might feel nervous, but that's just the vibrations of your safety net being stretched.

It's normal.

Nerves tell us that were're having an experience that we sense is a threat to our being, but more often than not it's no threat whatsoever - it's just growth.

Love is the ultimate safety-net.

Step forward and see what happens - in my case, Taiwan happened.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Riddlers

All day long I’m surrounded by people speaking Mandarin and Taiwanese. It’s beautiful, but at the moment I can only pick out certain words – therefore, whole sentences remain non-existent – therefore, I haven’t got a clue what anybody’s saying. But, still, it’s beautiful. I was stood at my bedroom window with a cup of tea and could hear one of my Taiwanese flat mates on the phone to a friend. 
That’s how this poem came about.

Such a foreign tongue
For this alien to understand.
It speaks its riddles,
Then laughs!
At what?
I don’t know – but I will.
Because this foreign tongue,
With its sing-along tones,
Will not be foreign for long
For this foreigner,
Who is keen to unlock the riddles,
Will sound,
- One day -
Like them,
The Riddlers,
And, I too, will become a riddler
Who laughs at something he understands.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Krishna and Sudama (A short story)

'There's a time for everything.'

These were the words of a retired Hindu doctor when he invited me into his house to tell me a story about Krishna and his best friend Sudama.

The story starts here.

Lord Krishna and Sudama were best friends in school. Very close, they were. But, as is very common among school friends, once school was over they went their separate ways. 

Lord Krishna went back to his kingdom, whereas Sudama, being a commoner, became a very popular Brahman. He fed his wife and four children by visiting people at their homes, who were more than happy to give him the little food they had left over.

Considering his poor quality of life, Sudama was still devoted to his best friend, Lord Krishna.

As time past, he became poorer and poorer. The food he was being given just couldn't keep up with the needs of his family's (we all know how the appetites of growing children can feed an army!).

Sudama knew his family were getting desperate. He could see it in their faces, especially when they looked at him as he walked through the door and laid out the scraps of food on the table. His wife was beginning to get scared for their health.

"Sudama, my dear, I know you do a good job at being a Brahman, but please consider going to see your friend, Lord Krishna, and asking him for help."

But he wouldn't. He was content on living on very little. 

Krishna's wife, Rukmani, said to her husband, "Why don't you go and help your friend? Look at what they're going through."

Of course, Krishna already knew what was going on in Sudama's life. He knew everything. He sat and listened to his wife as she pleaded with him over and over again. 

"My dear, I can't help him," said Krishna.

"But you must - you must!" said Rukmani. Her pestering was as persistent as waves against solid cliffs.

"OK," said Krishna, "I will attempt to help him. Watch and see what happens."

Not long after that, Sudama was making his daily errands, when a family, who normally gave him poor quality scraps (that he was content with, remember), gave him a food hamper full of delicious sweet meats, bread and milk! 

Can you believe it! I can assure you that Sudama couldn't.

After he had pinched himself a dozen times (and not a pinch less), he expressed his gratitude and off home he went, his knees weakening under the enormous amount of food on his back.

Oh, how happy he was! 

He couldn't wait to get it all home so he could feed his thinning family.

Now, the reason I mentioned that his knees were weakening was because of what happened next.

As he got to the summit of a large hill, he paused and looked proudly over the distance he had covered. He bent down and washed a tatty facecloth in a murky puddle and went on to wipe his face and his neck. The cold (yet dirty) cloth felt so good against his dry, sun-burnt skin. This is a little reward for climbing the hill, he thought to himself. Even the fittest person alive would've found such a task challenging! He took a deep breath and was just about to put one foot in front of the other, when, BANG!

Somebody, and God knows who, ran into him, knocking him to his knees. 

Poor Sudama!

Whoever it was must've been running with their eyes shut, because anybody who's anybody would've seen the man on the hill with the large amount of food on his back! The rushing runner didn't even have the time to stop and apologise! Such is the attitude of those who think they have no time; they insist on doing things to prove just that.

Sudama picked himself up and what he then saw created a lump in his throat. The delicious food was now sat in the muddy puddle. Wasted. 

Ah! But what's that, just on the outside of the perimeter of the puddle?It was bits of food that hadn't been soiled! Not all was lost! 

"This will do," he said to himself. "This will definitely do. My family are used to eating scraps of food. They don't have to know about the food that has gone to waste."

And it's quite difficult to even guess what happened next to our friend Sudama. As he was picking up the last crumbs of dry food, a huge dog came and ate it all before he had a chance to do anything! 

Now he really did feel low.

Krishna and his wife, Rukmani, watched the whole episode. 

"You see, I told you," said Krishna, "due to his past deeds, his time hasn't come yet."

Rukmani remained quiet, but she knew he was right. After all, she had just witnessed the law of karma in action.

Now, Sudama's wife was really starting to worry. As Sudama was out of the house most of the time, it was she that could see her children losing weight - not to mention her own increasingly emaciated appearance. With more constant pleas (and she had every right to be nagging him!) he agreed to go and see Krishna.

"But we are so poor," he said, "that we don't have anything to give to him. And we have to give him something."

"OK, my love... give him these. They will suffice." She handed him a few grains of rice that she had cooked the previous evening. She folded them into a little cloth and fastened it to his waste.

"It's not much, but it's something."

"Thank you," said Sudama.

They embraced each other and he set off on the long journey to Krishna's kingdom. 

The all-knowing Krishna knew he was coming and met him at the door with a warm welcome. He sat Sudama down on the sofa and washed his feet - this is how close they were as friends!

As Krishna rubbed his feet, he asked Sudama what gift he had brought. 

Sudama shrank in the sofa, becoming quiet and shy.

"Lord Krishna," he said, his voice a painful whisper, "my family are poor. Really poor. Poorer than we have ever been. I have four children and my wife to feed..."

"What are trying to tell me, friend?" said Krishna, even though he knew.

"I'm afraid the only thing I've brought you are a few grains of rice that we could spare." 

Krishna smiled and gladly accepted the gift. He placed them on his tongue and began to think about his friend's living conditions and the love he had for his family. 

To Sudama's surprise, Krishna thought they were  the most sumptuous grains of rice he had ever tasted!

After a few days, Sudama headed home. He thought about how great a friend Krishna had been since they first met in school, all those years ago. "Such a wonderful friend!" he said to himself. "Such a wonderful... friend."

And then, as he turned the last corner, he saw something that forced him to freeze right there on the spot.

His house had disappeared! 

But not only had it vanished, it had been replaced with a palace, with solid gold pillars and balcony's that overlooked the village. 

You should've seen his face!

He opened the huge front door (mainly to inquire what had happened to his starving family) and he was greeted by the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. "My Sudama!" she shouted, wrapping her arms around him. "You look at me as if I am a stranger. It is I, your wife."

"You look radiant, love!" he said. "I can't believe it."

"My love, you should see your children!"

She called for them and all four came running down the giant staircase and circled their father.

Sudama had tears of joy. He had been away for quite sometime, he was so happy to see they were safe and well.

"A miracle happened when you were gone, father!" his eldest son said.

"A true miracle!" said his youngest daughter.

And it is here where the story ends.

We sat in silence for a moment. My mind slowly putting together the pieces of the story.

'You understand?' said the retired Hindu doctor.

Before I had the chance to answer, he added with excitement, 'There's a time for everything! Everything happens when it is supposed to happen! Not sooner. Not later. Individually and collectively, it's all happening perfectly.'

And it is here where this blog posts ends.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

On the Brink of Change

I've just opened my desk drawer and found a bookmark that I've had for years.

It's a Winnie the Pooh one and it shows him walking through the woods, hands behind his back. His friend Piglet is by his side, pleasantly gazing at him, and the excited Tigger is bouncing along up ahead.

At the top, there's a quote which reads, "You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes."

That quote has never been more relevant to my life than now.

I'm on the brink of change.

A chapter is ending and a new chapter is beginning. How it will all unfold, I have no idea. All I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, with the faith that the ground will continue to support me. If it doesn't, well, then my time to meet the maker has come. 

As someone told me recently, 'We spend more time dead, than we do alive.' 

The change I'm going through is taking me to Taiwan, where I'll be reunited with my girlfriend and learning Mandarin at a university in Taipei. 

I remember back towards the end of last year, I was trudging through the city of Leeds, when someone gave me a flyer. Normally, I refuse to accept one but this time I gladly took it and looked at it. And I'm so glad I did because the words printed on it had a profound affect on me.

They simply said:


The feeling I had when I read those words will forever be with me. It was like they were speaking directly to me from another place. They were the words that I needed to see/hear at exactly that moment in my life.

Has that ever happened to you? You'll know it if it has. It's like God/Life is speaking to you directly. It's giving you a key to the next stage in your development. Little clear signposts telling you where to go and what to do next.

I'm 31 and I've never had a desire to leave my hometown. I never dreamt of moving to a foreign country; I never had a reason to.

But leaving my girlfriend at the airport in January was too much.

I had to follow her. 

You know the scene in Donnie Darko when he suddenly sees the manifestation of intent coming out of his stomach, then it turns into a hand and motions for him to follow it? Remember? Well that was what it felt like for me. I felt like there was a massive hand above my girlfriend, motioning for me to go to Taiwan.

She said on a number of occasions, "I feel like I've come to take you home."

So here I am, four days until I fly with a one-way ticket. 

I've been going through the process of saying goodbye to as many friends and family members as I can. Some have been teary - some haven't. I've said goodbye to my work colleagues who I've worked with for the past decade. I was surprised that I felt sad to leave them (they're a mental bunch of lads... but I wouldn't swap any of them). 

I don't know how long I'm going to be in Taiwan for. It could be 3 weeks, 3 months, 3 years, 30 years. I honestly don't know.

But I'm going to run with it and see where it takes me.

Feelings of anxiety and the occasional flutter of nerves come to the surface when I think of what I'm doing.

I've been told it's normal.

I'm sure it is.

I'm stretching my comfort zone that's very much like an elastic band... the more you stretch it, the stronger it gets... the trick is to do it gradually so it doesn't snap.

We've all heard of those celebrities who get famous way too soon... they go crazy. Their comfort zone was pushed to the limits before they had time to adjust. It's like pulling a muscle... you've got to warm it up first to prevent such a thing from happening.

This morning, I had breakfast with a good mate of mine, the illustrator, Peter O'toole. He said, "Risk versus reward. The higher the risk, the higher the potential reward. Every time I've done something that's out of my comfort zone, something good has come out of it."

People have said I'm courageous for moving to Taiwan, but, really, what have I go to lose compared to what I've got to gain?

This opportunity has presented itself to me on my path.

I must have put it there for a reason.

And what better reason, than to stretch my comfort zone and grow.

I'm going to live at my own risk.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Fish that Leapt (A short story)

Death is fascinating.
Don't you think?
One moment you're here and the next moment there is a complete absence of that life-force we called you.
An analogy of fish in a pond always comes to mind when I consider this aspect of our existence.
I think I was introduced to it in Michio Kaku's book, Parallel Worlds. Not surprisingly, though, his version was to explain parallel universes. Below, I've tried to create a fable around this idea of fish in a pond, but in relation to death and dying. 
I hope you enjoy it.
The Fish that Leapt

The fish thought they knew everything there was to know about their pond. It was their world. Their universe. They spent their time swimming around, getting to know it as much as they could. To discover and to know was built into their very character - it stopped them from feeling lost.

Occasionally they learnt something new, only for it to be a building block for future discoveries, but still, they thought they were making progress. Anything that was unknown to them was their main source of fear - again, another reason to know as much as they could. So with this in mind, there was one thing they knew "for certain" and that was The surface is very dangerous and needs to be avoided at all cost. This came about because many fish had left via the surface and never came back, causing much grief and heartache.

There were myths and legends of monsters that hung around the wavy ceiling, ready to swallow up any fish that hung around for too long. These stories were intentionally built into them when they were young enough to understand fear.

One day, a brave fish swam close to the surface and took a deeper look. He wanted to know what all the fuss and fear was about. He was the rebellious type and therefore hung around for quite some time. He saw things shimmering and heard sounds that were far richer than he had ever heard before. His curiosity was aroused so much that he decided to risk all that he knew and take a leap of faith.

He jumped up, into the surface and glimpsed something life-changing.

He landed back into the pond with a splash, the rest of the fish having no idea of what just happened.

'This isn't all there is! I knew it!' he said. 'There is more out there, beyond the surface! I've just seen it!'

The fish that leapt told all who wanted to know and all who would listen, that the world existed far beyond the boundaries of the pond. He warned them though that if they were there for too long, he was certain that they wouldn't be able to come back to swim. He could tell by the way his breathing was affected.

This fish was obviously ridiculed by many and was considered a bit crazy... anybody who stretches perception is always treat like this by those who prefer their minds to remain narrow.

Those fish who actually listened to him, took it upon themselves to carry out their own research of and around the surface. Some looked deep into their past and saw that such experiences had been very common for millenia. One by one, their fear of the surface began to diminish.

It still left the issue of what would happen to them if they stayed beyond the veil for too long. Not a single fish had ever returned to tell their story.

Their patience was about to be rewarded.

A young fish fell ill. He was loved by all and all believed he would get better. Young fish are full of life with a future full of infinite possibilities - he had to get better. But he didn't. He went 'up there' (as the fish often said) and his mum, who was so distraught, and grieved so much, jumped through the surface on her own accord.

Can you imagine how shocked the whole community must have been? They couldn't believe she would do such a thing.

A broken heart can cause a fish to do things that even time can't fix.

It was now that something miraculous happened: To the mum's amazement, she landed in another pond!

It looked very similar to the pond she had grown accustomed to, but the water was crystal clear and the surface shimmered more beautifully than she had ever known.

It didn't take long for her to hear a familiar voice - a voice she believed would never touch her soul again.

'Mum! Mum! What are you doing here?'

And out of the depths of this new pond came her son, embracing her, telling her that he was alright.

'Mum, you have to go back,' he explained, 'it's not your time.'

Obviously she didn't want to leave him, but he showed her other fish that would look after him: friends and family that went through the surface a long time ago. She looked at them in amazement whilst holding her son. 'Mum. Dad. Nan. Grandad.You're all here...,' she said.

'You see, Mum, I'm not alone. I'm OK.'

He told her she had to jump back through the surface. At first she refused, but he begged her to go. He told her she had unfinished business to take care of and more lessons to learn.

There was something within her that knew he was right and she agreed to go back.

She gave him one last squeeze before she leapt.

She splashed back into the old pond, with the familiar sounds and the familiar faces. She was happy to see them because she brought with her news.

She told all the fish that her son was safe and that when her time came she would see him once again. In fact, she said, they all would.

'But where is he?' asked a young fish.

She looked up, smiling. 'He's right there, beyond the surface.'


Friday, 27 June 2014

A Number Two in Taiwan

It was heart-rending. The stereotypical goodbye at the airport where you both hug, kiss, hug again, say goodbye; you then both turn around at the exact same moment and wave for one last time. Then she's gone. I drove home to The Police (I mean the band... I hadn't been robbed or anything - that would've been a disaster) and whilst singing along to Roxanne and changing the name to Ross Kemp to lighten my mood,  I knew I had to follow her. I knew I had to go to Taiwan.

Now, I'm not much of a traveler. Think of me as more of a Walter Mitty, type of guy. Don't get me wrong, I don't daydream my life away, but having said that, I don't go wrestling with sharks and jumping out of helicopters either, but at the age of 30, I had left the UK once. 


...and that was 16 years ago on an all inclusive holiday to Minorca with my parents and younger sister. I drank a lot of free strawberry milkshakes, kicked some Spaniard's ass at pool and got sun-burnt. 

It was fun.

Other than that, the UK has been my humble abode. My experience of foreign cultures, especially the East, came from my love of Kung Fu films and the occasional documentary on National Geographic. Trying to find a particular place on a globe is like a cruel game of Where's Wally. The globe would be covered with thousands of Wally's and the real one wouldn't be wearing thick-rimmed glasses.

My girlfriend was aware of this. When we first met (before we were dating) I asked her where she was from.

'Taiwan,' she said.

'Where in China is that?' I replied with a legitimate frown.

'It's not in China, it's a little island between China and Japan.'

I laughed at her and accused her of making it up.

A quick word of advice for the guys reading this - don't do that. Especially when you have as much knowledge of the world as an undercooked cod. If you do say it, expect the look that says your life is about to end within the next five seconds... and I wish you all the best.

Carrying on...

I booked my plane ticket (the first one I had ever booked) and looked forward to my little Formosan adventure. I decided it would be wise to do as much research as I possibly could about the land I was heading to. I read books on Taiwan, watched Taiwanese films, joined an English/Mandarin group in my hometown and started having Mandarin lessons on Skype with my girlfriend's sister, who just so happened to be a qualified Mandarin teacher living in Spain! Hey presto!

Having done all of that, and conversing with my girlfriend everyday, not one person, nor book, nor film, mentioned to me the issue of the toilet.

That's right... The Toilet

I will explain.

All was well. It was my first full day on the island (which isn't in China) and we were at an art exhibition. The most noticeable thing out of the ordinary was me, being the only westerner in the building. Having being introduced to an authentic Taiwanese breakfast and a morning coffee, my stomach started to rumble. 

Not a problem. 

We had just walked past some toilets. 

'I'm just going to pop to the toilet, love,' I said, calmly, not aware of the challenge that lay around the corner.

The bathroom was immaculate. It were super clean. The air was perfumed and the marble floors seemed to contain a million and one stars.

I was a happy man... then I opened the cubicle door.

Oh, that feeling.

I would've been less shocked if I had walked in on Bruce Lee who had, for some reason, forgot to lock the door.

'Oh, Brucey,' I would've said. 'I'm sorry, but the fault is all yours. And, I hope I'm not being rude, but I thought you were dead.'

He would've been a bit embarrassed, but I wouldn't have rocked the boat any further just in case he said, "Over there, on that island, with meee." To which I would've apologised profusely and left him to it.   

'What the &^$(*!' I said to myself. 'What kind of toilet is that!?'

I don't want to give the impression that it was something disgusting. On the contrary, like I've said, everything was pristine.

How can I explain this? Let us just say that it was like an elongated toilet that was flush with the floor (no pun intended).

I started to panic. I started to sweat. 

'What do I do?'

I couldn't go running back to my girlfriend whilst busting for a download and ask her for instructions.

'Love, how do you use the toilet?'

'Follow me, I'll show you.'

On a planet where pride doesn't exist, this might have been an OK scenario, but there was no way I was going to ask her how to use the toilet.

I couldn't ring her either because there was no wifi and I didn't have a local sim card.

I had to do this alone and I had do it there and then.

I felt that if I succeeded (the word IF being a super dangerous word in this predicament) then it would be a pure coming-of-age victory. It would be like when the Aborigines went headhunting - if you got a head you were a man! 

But this was much worse.

I prepared myself. 

Shorts came down... underwear followed. 

I began to squat but my shorts were getting in the way.

I changed positions and ended up doing what felt like a crab over this god-damn-bucket-thing!

I finally got into a position where I felt like I could, you know... go. 

So I did.

I was proud of myself, even though my arms were straining and...

Oh, wait... where the hell's the toilet roll!

OK, now the panic really kicked in.

My head was looking around like an owl having an anxiety attack.

What if they didn't use toilet roll here? I thought. What if there's another way of doing your business in Taiwan? What if I've been to the toilet in a place where I shouldn't have gone!? 


I turned my head 180 degrees and there it was. 

My savior. 

Loo roll, I love you. 

But then I had to reach for the swine. 

My right hand supported my crab-like posture whilst my left hand reached over my right shoulder and got the goods. It was as if I had decided to have a dirty game of Twister all by myself. 

But now the finishing line was in full view.

A few minutes later I walked out of the cubicle like a new man. I was proud of myself, yet still confused as to why they would encourage such a treacherous method of going to the toilet.

I found my girlfriend innocently looking up at a painting. I stood beside her, glanced at the painting and then explained my ordeal.

Needless to say, she thought the whole thing was hilarious and couldn't wait to tell her parents who I hadn't met yet.

'I didn't think to tell you,' she said, apologetically. 'It's just normal for us.'

'But why have the toilet roll there?' I said, pointing over my shoulder.

'What?' she frowned. 

'The loo roll was behind me.'

'You were facing the wrong way!'


I found Wally. He was squatting on an island in between China and Japan.


A Quick Guide to the Art of Squatting

Later on that day, and with the ordeal still fresh in my mind, I asked my girlfriend about squatting.

'What's the best way to do it?' I asked her whilst in the tube station.

'Imagine sitting on the bottom step... or on a curb,' she said. 'It's comfortable and it's natural.'


'Show me how you squat,' she said.


'Show me how you squat.'

'You want me to pretend I'm on the toilet? Here? Now?'

She giggled. 'Why not?'

I looked around. 'For starters, there're people... everywhere.'

She looked at me with a smile that said 'so what'.

So I squatted there and then in the tube station as if I was taking a number.

Did people look at me?

Damn right they did.

Did they mutter, 'Weird westerner' under their breath?

Most likely.

But now I know how to squat: pretend you're sitting on a curb.

I did it for you. Now you don't have to go through what I went through. I'm saving you from the pain and the anguish and the mental pressure. 

So go! 

Squat away!

Monday, 5 May 2014

Living in the Face of Death

I see a new perception of death and dying arising.

Maybe 'new' isn't the correct word. Maybe what's arising is a process of retrieving what we lost some time ago.

We've become accustomed to pushing death under the carpet. We've come full circle because many of us are now tripping over it, and during our fall we see that it would've done us good to talk about it before we land six feet under.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, Death Cafes are on the rise. The one that I was fortunate to be a part of was a success. It felt great to stand back and observe strangers talking to strangers about something that is somewhat strange to talk openly about - death and dying.

I recently read an article in the Independent about the comedian Billy Connolly and how he's looking for a way to add comical value to his burial plot. He's thinking of putting touch-sensitive pads on his site, so when people stand on them it triggers a recording of his voice, saying something like, 'You're standing on my balls!'

Read the full article here.

Years ago I watched a documentary about a boy called Jon Kennedy who had a degenerative disease. It was very moving - but inspiring. He had a great attitude to death which positively affected the way he lived his life. Carved into his coffin he wanted a tin of baked beans. When asked why, he said he liked the idea of people looking at his coffin and saying, 'Why is there a tin of baked beans on the coffin?'

Spike Milligan's headstone is famous for saying the epitaph, 'I told you I was ill'.

How great is that!

Another reason why I believe that the way we perceive death and dying is adapting and evolving, is because of another article that was brought to my attention about a death doula. (A doula is another name for a midwife).

The article appeared in The Guardian. The 'death doula' is Rebecca Green from the UK. 

She was asked what she feels about her own mortality and she says wisely: "Death doesn't scare me because I don't know what it is. I suppose I'm saying that the unknown doesn't scare me. I find the idea that one day I won't be here any more strange and impossible to imagine. But it's also a fact that I haven't always been here – I only got here in 1969. Where was I in 1968, or 1945? I have no idea. It makes me smile to think of this." 

This is what the philosopher Alan Watts meant when he said that to think of where we will go when we die is like trying to think where we were before we were born. 

Ultimately, it's the same place. Life as we know it then feels like somewhat of a blip in the midst of eternity.

You can read The Guardian article about the death doula here. I highly recommend that you do.

At the weekend I was told about the work of the photographer Rankin and about his exhibition called Alive: In the Face Of Death. He presented portraits of people who were dying. It's beautiful. Unfortunately the exhibition was last year, but there's still quite a bit about it on the net that you can read; here for instance.

Also, look at the tremendous work of Felicity Warner, the founder of Soul Midwives

Look at the amazing Dying Matters

Can you see the bigger picture unfolding around us? 

Can you see that we're slowly changing our perception of death and seeing it as inseparable from life?

Can you see that this is the way we are heading?

Having a healthier view of death affects our view of life. Our way of dying affects out way of living.

He who makes an enemy out of death, is not on the best terms with his life.

One last thing:

Where were you one year before you were born?

...thought so.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

A Successful Death Cafe

I'm pleased to say that Huddersfield's first Death Cafe went really well.
I was extremely pleased by how it turned out.
There was a total of 13 people (that's including myself). It was held at the World Peace Cafe at the Vajrapani Buddhist Centre in Birkby. I don't think the discussion group could've had a better venue. A sense of calm and serenity ran throughout the cafe as people discussed death and dying - and ultimately life.
Due to the mixed response on Facebook and on the Huddersfield Examiner's website, I wasn't sure if those who had registered would even turn up. I would say that over 90% of them did (some brought their friends) - and afterwards they asked when the next one would be, which was always nice to hear.
The group started at 2:30pm and at about 2:35 a lady walked into the cafe. She went to the counter and ordered herself a coffee. I wasn't sure if she was part of the group and I didn't know how to ask her. Standing at the door holding a sign that said "DEATH & DYING" crossed my mind, but I thought it might put people off.
'I'll ask her,' a friend said.
He walked up to her and I heard him quietly say, 'Excuse me, have you come for the Death Cafe.'
The look she gave him was as if she was staring Mr G Reaper in the face. 'God, no,' she said.
My friend laugh, nervously.
This lady ended up joining the group and was one of the last three people to leave an hour after the group was supposed to finish. 
Even though it was a discussion group based on death, this was only a minute section of the vast range of topics that was covered.
95% of the people who came were meeting one another for the first time. When we talk to strangers we naturally want to share our stories - and over coffee and cake, we naturally listen. When we actively listen to someone it's not only them who benefit, but we do too. Without realising it, when we give someone our attention and our time, a feeling of worth arises within us.
We are giving of ourselves. We are contributing to the greater good.
As for myself, I had to do very little. The admin was taken care of by my good friend, Susan Dewhurst (Over The Rainbow Workshops) and beforehand, all I did was type up and print 10 questions that I thought could be used as a guide, just in case people were stuck for what to talk about next.
The questions were:
1. Do you fear death?
2. How often do you think of death and dying, and why?
3. Do you believe in an afterlife? If you do, how does this belief affect your attitude to death and dying? How does it affect your attitude to living?
(The same goes for if you don't believe in life beyond the physical world; How does this belief affect your attitude to death and dying? How does it affect your attitude to living?)
4. How do you think the Hospice movement has affected our attitude towards death and dying?
5. Do you want to be buried or cremated?
6. Why do you think people don't want to talk about death and dying? Why do you think it is known as a taboo topic?
7. Do you visit cemeteries?
8. Why do you think death is feared by the majority?
9. Have you ever read any books on death and dying?
10. Do you see death as separate from life?
If you're thinking of setting up your own Death Cafe (which is not a cafe but a discussion group based in a cafe) then I highly recommend.
Remember, talking about death is talking about life.
And life isn't that scary, is it?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Playing Catch-Up

Going through some old files on my memory stick I came across a folder called 'Playing Catch-up'. I'm not sure if it's an old blog post or not, but I thought I would share it. I found it quite interesting to read.

I wrote it in 2011.

This was the dream; 

I shut the door behind me and walk away with a mixed bag of feelings, ranging from relief, fear, sadness and guilt. Then I see my car parked on the street and notice my clothes crammed on the back seat and all my trainers and shoes in the passenger foot well. 

It was crystal clear. 

Then I woke up. 

But this time there was no waking up. 

I'm living it. 

Every moment is exactly how I perceived it when I was asleep. I knew it wasn't just a dream. I felt it, but I couldn't decipher its meaning at the time. It was too vivid to be a dream. 

Dreams are fuzzy - premonitions and visits stay with you. They're meaningful. It's almost as if the formless part of you, the part of you that is beyond the restrictions of space and time, has experienced part of your blueprint and has decided to show you a snippet of it. Then with time you gradually catch up with what you saw.

It has happened to me before when I was working in a supermarket in my late teens. I 'dreampt' I was walking down the staff corridor and began to work my way down the stairs to the shop floor. But it was the feeling and the detail that stood out. 

That's how I knew it wasn't a dream. 

I knew exactly where I was . . . I'd worked there for five years and I hated it when I dreamt of work. I felt like I was being cheated of good sleep. But this was different because I felt ecstatic. A feeling of pure joy and lightness coursed its way through my dream-self. I even woke up with a smile on my face.

At the time I couldn't figure out its meaning. 

It took me about a year to catch up to it. 

The day came when I walked my way down the staff corridor and I whispered to myself, 'This is the dream.' I worked my way down the stairs and smiled. The feeling of lightness was in every step I took. I couldn't help smiling. 

What day was this happening on? 

My last day working at the supermarket.
It was almost as if a part of me was letting me know that one day I would move on from that place and that all I needed was a little patience.

And now it has happened again with the dream about my belongings in the car. 

I've caught up to what was shown to me about a month ago and it turns out I was being shown the ending of a long-term relationship. 

I unlocked the car door, got in and took a deep breath and it dawned on me how it works. 

I'm being shown the ending of chapters in my life. Every time a chapter is coming to an end, I get shown a glimpse of it when I'm asleep. Then I go about my life and I have no idea when I'm going to catch up to it. 

All I know is that one day, I will.