Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Are you seeing the whole picture? - Day 42

Day 42 (Thursday 11th January 2018)
42 years ago, on Sunday 11th January 1976, Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen topped
the UK Charts - it managed 9 weeks at Number 1, before being knocked off by ABBA with
Mamma Mia. Bohemian topped the charts again 16 years later, following the death
of Freddie Mercury. Mercury wrote the song whilst in bed (he had a piano as his headboard)
and it was originally called "The Cowboy Song". It is the 3rd highest selling single of all time in the UK.
Today's blog is a first for the Advent Blog series - a jointly composed piece by Helen Amery and Mark Gilroy. Both are executive coaches with their own businesses and (as you may have guessed) good friends. Mark is the Managing Director of TMS International Limited, where he has worked since September 2003. Mark studied (Psychology) at york and still lives in the City. He has a passion for people, technology, photography (I love this phrase from him: “Life is like a camera. Focus on what’s important, capture the best bits, develop from the negatives, and if things don’t turn out, take another shot."), networking and social media - you can link up with him on Twitter, his handle is @thatmarkgilroy. He writes a good blog,

Helen is a seasoned Advent Blogs blogger. She is married and has two of the most adorable children. She (and her business) are based in Leicester in the East Midlands. After obtaining a degree in Chemistry from Edinburgh, Helen commenced training as an accountant with PwC but then realised that she was better suited to HR. She then took a postgraduate diploma in Personnel Management at Nottingham, before joining Boots (initially within employee relations).  Helen succumbed to her entrepreneurial spirit and now actually is involved in two businesses - her own, Wild Fig Solutions, and she also has co-founded Aligning Teams with fellow Business coach Zoe Jepson. You can follow Helen on Twitter (her handle is @WildFigSolns) and read her people-centred blogs on her business site.

Both Mark and Helen are on personal journeys of development and are learning about Buddhism - their post was inspired by some shared reading and ensuing conversations.


A little while back I mentioned in this post that I’ve started to learn about Buddhism and that I might write about it soon.  Then when the topic for this year’s Advent Blogs appeared in the Twittersphere this felt like it might be the right time to put pen to paper.  So here’s a joint blog from Mark Gilroy and me, the result of both reading the same book, a fabulously exploratory conversation and co-created content.  We’re beginners in this Buddhism world so would love to hear your thoughts and perspectives.

Darkness and Dawn.

The suggestion of polar opposites.  The absence of one means the presence of the other.  

Dawn kissing Night - Eos and Hypnos Painting by Phyllis Mahon

And herein lies one of our sources of duhkha (doo-ka) - our desire for things to stay the same.  Our desire to nail constantly-moving things down.  Which of course is impossible and so the illusion of permanence doesn’t last for long and dissatisfaction returns.  

[Duhkha is one of the four Truths of Buddhism.  It’s experienced like a wheel being out of kilter, something isn’t right, we develop discomfort which grows over time.  The arising of Duhkha is because of a thirst, craving or wanting.  The back-and-forth shift we experience between longing and loathing.  Hence, the desire to keep things still is a source of Duhkha because we long for things to be still, and when they aren’t we loathe them. They aren’t doing what they “should”.]

And so when we long for the dawn and loathe the night, we experience duhkha because, of course, the dawn and daylight don’t stay forever.  In this place we’re not seeing dawn and darkness for what they really are.  When we step back to see the whole, to see Reality, we see the interconnections.  We see the dynamic flow and flux.  

We see the Reality that daylight here, means darkness elsewhere – both are present at the same time.  And even at night, the sun is seen in reflection on the moon.  It’s never completely gone.  Neither darkness nor dawn are absolutes.  They are part of an interconnected whole both of which are essential for the wellbeing of all that lives on our planet.
When we see things as they really are, we drop the concepts that we humans place on everything around us.  These concepts make our lives simpler, faster, easier to categorise.  We like that.  It meets our (deluded) belief that things can go in boxes and won’t change.

Darkness is a concept.  It’s a made up “box” for that period in the 24 hour cycle when the sun is not visible.  The instant we separate a concept from the whole it sits in contrast to an “other” of some kind or other.  We deny the reality. Because what’s really happening is that every moment of the night is different from the one that went before, and different from the one coming next, because the light levels will have shifted marginally in one direction or another. The concept of darkness as a solid single thing is (we think) comforting.  It’s a controlled box or label for an ever-changing phenomenon.  And yet concepts like this only lead to suffering.

Especially when we layer beliefs onto the concepts we create, attaching meaning to the concepts that wasn’t there when we were first born.  I don’t like the dark, that’s when spiders come out.  I don’t like the dark, my sister used to jump out at me from behind the bedroom door.  I don’t like the dark, that’s when I think of my lost loved one.  Or maybe, I love the dark, that means it’s time for a party and seeing friends.

Whatever we make the concept mean, it hooks us back into the arising of duhkha – longing or loathing based on our life experiences in relation to that concept.  Wanting it more or pushing it away.  Trying to make it go away faster or stay longer, depending on our beliefs.

Step back again.  See the situation for what it really is.  See that the sun has gone too far to be seen directly, but it is still there, still shining on earth, still bringing life to the plants and people on another part of the planet.  See that the darkness is an important time for people to recuperate, for plants’ photosynthesis to pause, for night-dwelling creatures to seek their food before daylight returns.  Knowing that in this world of constant flux, the sun will again return to our part of the earth and rise with a new dawn.

The same is true of us as people.  Our notions of “personality” or “self” try to capture fluid, ever-changing phenomena with frozen concepts, immediately positioning you as “other” to me, separate and “out there”.  In Reality, we don’t exist alone but in relation to others, and to everything around us.  By attaching our ego to a “self” we see ourselves as corks floating in the stream of time,

whereas in truth, we are the stream.  

There is only stream.  As the stream ebbs and flows, so do we.  In this place there is no duhkha.  We are in flow.

So when you find yourself in a place of longing or loathing ask –
  • What am I making this mean?  
  • What are the beliefs you’re ascribing to the situation?
  • What are the “should’s” you’re telling yourself?  
  • What's really going on; which of these beliefs or should’s are man-made, box-like concepts which deny the reality of the whole?

If you step back, what is the “whole” that you’ve not been seeing until now?


  1. Lovely post. Thank you for sharing. As a Zen guy, I'm with you all the way. One thing to invite in any situation -- a bit like a Zen koan -- is "What is there before [all] thinking?". Blessings, Julian

  2. Really nice post. Once you get into the Buddha's ideas, and often having to see your way through centuries of overlaid dogma, they are really practical and useful. I love it that more and more people are discovering this stuff through the current fad for mindfulness. The more people who understand what is going on in their lives in these basic terms the less we will all keep getting in such a twist!

    1. Thanks Euan. What would you recommend for continued learning?

  3. Thanks Julian. That questions for me thinking! Helen