The Dharma of Jessica Fletcher

Murder She Wrote the Dharma of Jessica Fletcher, Buddhism, Compassion

‘Murder She Wrote’ needs no introduction, but just to recap for anyone who’s been meditating in a cave for the last thirty years: it was a smash hit ‘whodunnit’ TV show that ran for 12 years through the 80s and 90s; 12 series and 264 episodes, syndicated all over the world, making a Angela Lansbury a household name.

Its popularity is easy to reason: an instant classic upbeat theme tune, a simple, neat formula repeated every week of: set up/murder/solution; a regular supporting cast and the familiarity/homeliness of the small town, Cabot Cove and its residents; the classy, clever, friendly, female lead in the sleuthing mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher, and a lighthearted, wholesome script and gentle humour the whole family could enjoy, despite the main theme being of course, murder.

Jsssica Fletcher Murder she wrote Dharma Buddhism

The show’s short lived showing on Netflix a few years ago brought a swathe of younger viewers, either revisiting their childhood family favourite, or introduced to it for the first time, bringing the show a second-wave of popularity among millennials, thanks to the now kitsch 80s fashion and styling. Angela Lansbury’s wonderful expressionistic ‘meme-worthy’ face also endeared itself to the social media savvy generation.

The episodes are packed with now-famous stars in cameo appearances, which makes it a fun watch. Look out for the likes of a young George Clooney, Billy Zane, Courtney Cox, Bill Mayer (x2), Megan Mullally, Bryan Cranston, that kid from ‘Big’, and that other guy from that thing x 200.

There’s a fair bit of unintentional humour to the show now it’s 30+ years old – my personal favourite: the use of location shots with obvious JB Fletcher body doubles – which all adds to the naive charm and the nostalgia factor, making it the perfect duvet-day viewing. It’s the anthesis and antidote to the kind of hyper-real, brutally violent TV shows that are now the norm, which have seemingly desensitised viewers to escalating violence on TV for the past 10 years or so. It’s nice to have a reminder of these more innocent times.

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I’ve been a fan of the show from its first outing on British TV all those years ago and watching reruns is just a pleasure, not even a guilty one, but what’s all this got to do with Buddhism?

Well, I’m currently studying Lama Shenpen Hookham’s Living the Awakened Heart training within the Awakened Heart Sangha. Due to my studies and practice I’ve been reading more about Bodhisattvas ahead of taking the Bodhisattva Vow myself with Lama Shenpen later this year, when it occurred to me whilst watching an episode of the show: Jessica Fletcher is a Bodhisattva!

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Happy New Year

Welcome 2018. We saw in the New Year by watching fireworks at home from our second floor vantage point, and then in the morning walked up the local hills at 8am to watch the sun rise on the first day of the new year. Shame the sun wasn’t actually visible behind the clouds, it just got a lighter shade of grey then rained rather heavily on us. Freezing cold auspicious rain! It was actually a refreshing and invigorating start to the year.

I’ve lots of things I’d like to do this year: lots more study, more vow taking, practise and retreats with the Awakened Heart Sangha (plus more walking, reading, gardening and growing things) but I’m currently in a bardo-esque limbo. I’m still waiting for my next operation date, which could come at any time. It should’ve happened in October and I should be healing nicely by now, but now I have to wait indefinitely while the NHS appears to unravel.

The uncertainty has been good to practise with. Kshanti – patience and forebearance comes up a lot, as well as meditative exercises comprising of letting it all be and allow it to unfold.

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Understanding ‘Chitta’ The Heart-Mind

In the short 3 minute video below, Lama Shenpen explains the meaning of ‘chitta’ – the ‘heart-mind’ – a integral term that also means the ‘essence of our being’. ‘Bodhicitta’ literally means our awakened heart-mind.

In Lama Shenpen’s distance learning course Discovering the Heart of Buddhism the course begins by discovering our experience of ‘heart’ and ‘mind’, the different connotations these words have and our subtle concepts and prejudices. In Buddhism, the heart-mind is one, but in the West there is a gulf between the two. We have to really work at connecting them together to understand the full meaning of chitta and Bodhichitta.

Lama Shenpen explains how important this is, because if chitta is translated as ‘mind’ it might give the impression that Buddhism is not about feelings or ‘matters of the heart’, and can attract people only looking for a philosophy to follow. If it is only translated as ‘heart’ then we might assume it has nothing to do with the mind and only concerns our feelings and emotions. Yet the term chitta compasses all this and more!

To find our more about Lama Shenpen’s experiential courses in meditation and Buddhism visit www.ahs.org.uk/training

Awakening Dialogue

A few weeks ago I took part in a four week intensive course called Awakening Dialogue with the Awakened Heart Sangha. It’s another of the modules of study required for the ‘Mahayanagana’ training. The Mahayanagana is a group of committed students, who have stepped forward to take a more active role in supporting the activities of Lama Shenpen and the sangha.

The course introduced us to Nonviolent Communication and how the NVC process links into the Discovering the Heart of Buddhism course and other training within the sangha.

The course involved working with a partner to explore the NVC process which is a tool for learning to listen to yourself and others and also for expressing yourself, with more openness, clarity and sensitivity.

It teaches us how to listen to the needs, values and qualities behind our feelings, conversations and conflicts with others. It helps us to get to the heart of issues, rather than reacting to them in our usual, old, habitual ways, which often cause more conflict.

For instance, hearing the needs and values being expressed behind a criticism, rather just reacting negatively to the face value of the criticism. What an amazingly powerful and transformative tool to have!

I found the course so valuable, and can see how the NVC tools for communication are so important for those of us on the Buddhist path, as well as for everyone, everywhere! I really enjoyed seeing the similarities between the NVC approach and what we’re taught in the DHB. It fits in so perfectly with our training, teaching us techniques for listening and responding both to ourselves and others.

The ‘NVC speak’ might seem clunky and unnatural at first, but the more you practice it, the more it can start to become the way you listen and respond to situations, without necessarily expressing it directly or overtly in NVC terms. It reminds me of this quote from Lama Shenpen about expanding the Chitta:

“As we align ourselves with our heart at the centre of our being and allow it to expand into the natural spaciousness of the mind, mental functions start to serve the heart, and the mandala of our being is brought into harmony”.

So we’re practicing with the NVC mental functions and discernment process, in order to increase our understanding and compassion for others, to ultimately ‘serve the heart’ and as Buddhists, align with our ‘Heart Wish’, our goal to Awaken for the benefit of beings.

I’d like to carry on with more NVC training at some point, which is encouraged within the sangha, perhaps when I’ve finished my MYG training and have more time and space for some additional study,

New Hermitage Website

I worked on a new website for The Hermitage of the Awakened Heart – the Tibetan Buddhist retreat centre in Ynys, near Criccieth in North Wales.

www.buddhisthermitage.wales has lots of information about the home of the Awakened Heart Sangha and our teacher Lama Shenpen Hookham.

The new site also has information about the regular events that take place there, such as the daily meditation sessions broadcast online, as well as the weekly events which include guided mindfulness sessions, as well as the after school ‘Kids Club’ – mindfulness activities for primary school children and parents.

If you’re local to Criccieth and the surrounding area, find out more about visiting, or about joining the sangha for meditation sessions, feasts, retreats and more!

Another Pilgrimage

Last month I took part in another weeklong retreat at The Hermitage Tibetan Buddhist retreat centre in North Wales.

The retreat was a weeklong study retreat on Sensitivity and Mandala Principle – two core theme’s in Lama Shenpen‘s Discovering the Heart of Buddhism, the experiential distance learning course in meditation and Buddhism. It was an incredible week of teachings and study, meditation, silence and discussion. As well as an opportunity to meet new sangha members and reconnect with Dharma friends.

The retreats always end with a pilgrimage to a nearby sacred site, and this time we visited Cwm Pennant in Snowdonia. It’s a very special valley that H.H. Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche divined as sacred too.

I wrote about the pilgrimage and took more photos which can be viewed at www.sacredsiteswales.co.uk

How to Meditate

I helped put together a new website for the Awakened Heart Sangha.

www.howtomeditate.org.uk  is the new site and it’s an introduction to meditation. It gives instructions on how to meditate and the type of Formless Meditation we do as part of the Living the Awakened Heart Training, the experiential, home study course in meditation and Buddhism.

The website contains an introduction to meditation and free, audio guided mindfulness meditations, as well as videos explaining the why, how and what of meditation. There is also a video of Lama Shenpen explaining the need for teachers and mentors and the importance of the lineage when learning meditation.

Visit www.howtomeditate.org.uk to benefit from this new fantastic resource!