The songs I listened to most in 2016

Time has come for me to reveal the inner aural workings of my mind. If you saw me on the train or walking through Cabramatta with my headphones on, chances are I was listening to one of these tunes. Does it make you think differently of me?



1. We've Got the Right by Boy George - For some reason I got all late 80s gay radical this year and spent a lot of time (well, 80 times to be exact) listening to Boy George's little-known paean to gay love from 1986. It is a lovely song, don't you think?



2. Restart by Sam Smith - More Queer longing. I have whittled the Sam Smith album down to just this song, and that's cos it's filled with all kinds of 1980s dance-ey fabulousness.



3. All Around the World by Lisa Stansfield - Every moment is the right moment for this late 80s classic. It might be hard to believe now, but I used to once rock the Lisa Stansfield look myself, with geisha-white face (are you allowed to say that anymore?), black lipstick and some spit curls. I was adorable. I remember lying on my loungeroom floor in Willoughby watching this song on Video Hits and when the gorgeous men from all over the world flashed up on the screen I would vote on their hotness. My friend Steph looked at me and said: "You are so immature." And nothing's changed, Steph, nothing's changed :-). Years ago I was at a soccer match and two 11 year olds were making fun of this song when it came on the radio being broadcast at the kiosk. That's when I knew I was old.



4. Theft and Wandering Around Lost by The Cocteau Twins - There is a Cocteau Twins song on my list every year. They just get better. And I have less of a need for words I can understand.



5. Jealous Heart by GO101 - I was just thinking today about GO101 and how much Australian pop music from the 80s and 90s just seems to have disappeared. GO101 were my favourites, and the lead singer was so gorgeous. Does anyone out there know someone who was in GO101? I wanna write a story about them.



6. Love Has Come Around by Donald Byrd - Super-camp disco fabulousness, I really know nothing about this song. I am surprised by how many times I listened to it :-)



7. Chenrezi by Choying Drolma and Steve Tibbetts - Glad there was something spiritual on my Top 8 :-)



8. Heatstroke by Man Parrish - Some more High NRG 80s gay loveliness to make me re-live an era I actually just missed. This was all happening while I was a high school student in North Queensland.

My favourite books of 2016

You k now I am not really a devotee of the new. So as always, my favourite books of teh year will probably be all oldies, or several years after the fact at the very least. It takes me a while to work through my piles of "books to read next." I read a lot this year - I taught and spoke a lot, and it always involved huge reading lists. So I feel as though in 2016 I really extended my knowledge - something I feel happy about.

Anyway, here are the books that delighted me the most this year:



1. Lucia in London by E. F. Benson - this year I taught a course called 'The English Comic Novel in the 20th Century' and one week was E. F. Benson. It was, of course, tremendous fun to prepare, and I think I managed to infect a few people with the Benson mania. But once again Lucia in London stood out as the best of all the Lucia books. It's never boring, for even a moment, and it is splendid in how it makes you love and despise the main character in turns. I think if I just read this book over and over I would be perfectly amused for the rest of my life.




2. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym - four people get old and die. Doesn't sound like a laugh riot, but what an exquisitely formed and totally unique novel. This is the one that was nominated for the Booker Prize just before Miss Pym died, and really, it should have won. I can't wait to read it again.




3. My Hearts are Your Hearts by Carmel Bird - this year Carmel Bird won the Patrick White Award, and very deservedly so. She is a remarkable writer, and this odd and at times unsettling collection of short stories really shows a writer at the very top of her craft.




4. Proust's Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini - ever since I read Edmund White's delightful little biography of Proust some years ago I have become obsessed with the man. I have read the Remembrance...and many books of biography and literary theory. This unexpected little book is perfect for the Proust fan. detailing just how many people are obsessed with the man and have let him run their lives, long after his death. This is an entertaining and completely engrossing literary curiosity that would turn even the most hardened into a Proust enthusiast.




5. Astrology: Secrets of the Moon by Patsy Bennett - I am not really much of an astrologer, but this intriguing book opened up a whole new world to me and helped deepen my understanding of the possibilities of astrology to explain personalities and life paths. Patsy encourages readers to be more reflective about the night skies and to perhaps allow for the possibility of celestial influences. This is probably only one for those with a keen interest in astrology, though.  




6. Triumph of Joy by Pauline Robinson - unlike some of my writing friends, I am reasonably optimistic about the future of indie publishing and is possibilities. This incredibly moving memoir is an excellent example of how someone with a burning desire to tell their story can do just that and bring it to the world, no matter what publishers might say. Pauline lived through an extremely traumatic marriage which ended in the suicide of her husband, and in this beautiful book she carefully and meditatively looks at the lessons she has learned in the course of a difficult life. Engaging and ultimately inspiring, this is a collection of messages from the natural world that have come to Pauline and encouraged her to share her journey.




7. Strawberry Hills Forever by Vanessa Berry - another memoir (I do love the form), this was Vanessa Berry's first book, which must have been written when she was terribly young (she still is) but which has all of the hallmarks of maturity, sophistication and a strong literary voice. If you don't know Vanessa's work you really should become acquainted - she is one of the most fascinating people currently writing. This accomplished book deserves to be better known - completely engaging from beginning to end. Talcum powder, 80s horror movies and op-shopping - every part of the Berryesque oddness is already here. She really is my guru.




8. Dreams by Rose Inserra - I have been obsessed with dream books ever since I was a child, and my Aunty Audrey kept by her bed a battered old 1940s pamphlet dream dictionary. I have read all kinds of books about dreams over the years, and it remains a subject that absorbs me completely. Australian author Rose Inserra's exploration of dreams and dreaming is excellent and all-encompassing. It is a book I have read and re-read over the year, dipping into it occasionally when I have had a particularly vivid night of dreaming. It made me alive again to the divine messages of the dream world, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Meeting Mrs. Mindfulness

Mrs. Mindfulness - Melli O'Brien



One of the great joys of working for the Festival of Dreams each year (I MC the remarkably varied and energetic Open Stage) is the amazing people I get to meet and work with. It is because of the Festival that I have managed to see first hand the beauty and wonder of such great teachers and artists as Alana Fairchild, Lia Scallon and Lou Van Stone. And this year is no different because I got to spend a fascinating evening with Mrs. Mindfulness herself, Melli O'Brien.

Melli is an Australian mindfulness teacher of some renown. She started her teaching career at the Mangrove Mountain yoga ashram near Sydney, but these days she is based in Byron Bay and her platform is the World. Melli has taken her mindfulness teaching virtual, and she has made many people enter into a renewed relationship with themselves and their awareness through her online courses and events. Her Mindfulness Summit has been a triumph, and Melli continues doing her valuable work in spreading the message of attention and inward journeying.

I had organised to meet Melli at a ridiculously busy place, and several times I had walked right by her, wondering: "Hmmm, is that her...?" There was something about the gentle face and placid eyes that made me think so. But it wasn't till my seventh lap around that I knew for certain. She had sat down at a table amidst all of the craziness and was journaling. "That's gotta be her..." I thought.

And it was.

Melli is one of those people with whom you feel an instant rapport, and soon we were chattering away like crazy about matters spiritual. We had people joining us soon, so I just had a few precious moments alone wit her and I was determined to ask her all I could before the conversation inevitably shifted.

I had to ask her about the journaling. I am a keen journaler myself, and I wanted to know if this was an intrinsic part of her own mindfulness practise:

"Of course," she answered, "it just keeps me so centered and so concentrated on the moment. If there is any craziness in my life I know I can just pull out my journal and I will soon be transported to a particular type of careful attention. The act of journaling itself is an exercise in mindfulness. It can't be otherwise."

Carefully closing the beautiful journal she had open, she continued: "Journaling always connects me to my mindfulness practise. It is also an excellent - and safe- space that helps me to vent my frustrations and get all the stuff down, all the junk it may not be valuable for me to give voice to."

"I've been keeping journals since I was 15. I find it therapeutic and creative." 

So what lead you to become, I asked her, a mindfulness teacher? It is not exactly the kind of thing you get pamphlets for at a career fair in high school. "Well I was teaching for a long time before I established a blog and moved into the online space," Melli answered. "Most of my training was at the Satyananda ashram in Mangrove Mountain. I was always giving my mindfulness teaching but through a specifically yoga context.   I went through my teacher training there and it was a beautiful atmosphere. I always placed a strong emphasis on mindfulness. I was given a lot of opportunities through my involvement with that community. I started teaching retreats, and I took every single opportunity I could get."

Mangrove Yoga, Mangrove Mountain, NSW


"I was so happy to at last find a way of expressing something I had always known to be true," she said. "I had felt alone in my spirituality since I was a young teenager. I just wanted people to be happy by experiencing what I was experiencing."

"I think when you put so much energy and love into something it just grows more and more. I have been offered so many opportunities to teach something that I believe is valuable. But it wasn't till 2014 that I realised I had to start standing on my own two feet and really establishing myself and making this journey a permanent and sustainable one."

"My passion is immersion retreats, multi-day retreats, mainly because that is how I have had so many amazing experiences in my own life. It's a creative expression, and each retreat is a microcosm, it's own self-established community. It's all about the sense of journey."


Melli O'Brien and Walter Mason talking happiness and mindfulness


Check out the Mrs. Mindfulness website and see Melli's upcoming events.
 

The 1924 Club




I really should be preparing my lesson on Barbara Pym for tomorrow, but it's mostly done and I wanted to take a brief moment out to tell you that I will be participating in Stuck-In-A-Book's 1924 Club.

This is a marvellous virtual read-in which takes place over a week or so in October.



I have decided to catch up on E. F. Benson and read David of King's.



I will also do Michael Arlen's The Green Hat, because it's a great excuse to finally read a book I constantly see referred to and which I own a copy of (I know it's somewhere in the house).



If I have spare time? I will go to Poirot Investigates, because the last time I read an Agatha Christie novel was 1986, and I'd like to see how I react to her as an adult.

See you in 1924!

Lecture on Cecil Beaton at Ashfield Library, Saturday September 3, 11 AM

Oh the glamour!

I am giving an illustrated lecture on one of my great idols, Cecil Beaton, next month at Ashfield Library:

Saturday September 3 11am at the Local Studies Room Level 2 Ashfield Civic Centre - Ashfield Library

Walter Mason will give an illustrated lecture on Cecil Beaton, beauty and My Fair Lady - a look at the life of the world's most glamorous photographer.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the Death of Dickens at Ashfield Library, Thursday 4th of August





The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the Death of Charles Dickens

        An illustrated lecture by Walter Mason

Ashfield Library, 11AM, Thursday the 4th of August



Charles Dickens’ final novel was never finished.

What did the world make of a half-finished book by the most famous author in the world?
He died on the 9th of June, 1870.
Who made his famous death sketch, and why did Dickens’ daughters hate it?
He had a premonition that he would never finish this novel.
How did he change his publishing contract in an uncharacteristic manner?
After he died an American Spiritualist began to channel his spirit and completed the novel.
Come and learn about the whole fascinating story.

Weekly Reading Report

Forgive me for missing last week. I was so bust reading and taking notes that I forgot to actually report on my literary activity. On a vaguely literary front, I went to see the Whit Stillman movie Love and Friendship (based on Jane Austen's novella Lady Susan) and it was superb. One of the best movies I have seen in a long time. I am planning on going a second time, and I recommend you rush out and see it now.
Now as for books:




I just finished Debbie Malone's Awaken Your Psychic Ability.  I have worked with Debbie a few times over the years, and she is one of the sweetest and kindest beings on the planet. This book was fantastic, very practical and filled with information, meditations and tidbits about the angels. I actually plan on reviewing it properly elsewhere, so keep your eyes out for that. In the meantime, if you have ever had an unusual encounter or seen something before it happened, grab a copy of this book.




I have picked up again Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. I have just started teaching a creative writing course at Sydney WEA, and they are a beautiful little group of people. Natalie's words and her methods always inspire me, and I probably read through this wonderful collection of essays and reflections on writing a couple of times a year.



Have finally finished Doreen Virtue's The Courage to be Creative, and was constantly thrilled by it. This book is all things to all creatives, and I absolutely destroyed it by turning over corners, marking passages and filling the book with notes. Loved it from beginning to end, and it has energised me tremendously. I would recommend it to all writers, but I know that many writers are terribly cynical and would never allow themselves to be so excited by Doreen's eccentric vision of creativity. She does, after all, discuss the creative power of unicorns.



I loved The Courage to be Creative so much that I picked up another Doreen Virtue book: The Miracles of Archangel Michael. Actually, I have had this one since the beginning of the year, but it has languished on my "Must Read" pile till now. A very dear friend and advisor (alright, it's the divine Maggie Hamilton) told me that I should turn to Archangel Michael in facing a personal and professional block I faced. I am still facing that block (many of you know what it is) but maybe reading this book will be just what I need to shake my anxieties free.

Weekly Reading Report

Further research for my upcoming course on the English Comic Novel in the 20th Century has caused me to pick up a book from my shelves that I had never quite gotten around to: The Life of E. F. Benson by Brian Masters. And I am pleased to say that it's excellent - a beautifully written, constantly fascinating biography that tells me heaps of things I didn't know. An absolute must-read for Benson fans, I should think.



The same research has had me dipping in and out of Laura Thompson's Life in a Cold Climate, a truly excellent biography of Nancy Mitford which has been issued a couple of times, I think - I discovered that I had the original edition and the new edition from Head of Zeus. Jolly good, though and light and funny just like its subject. Would please any Mitford fan.



Finally, I've been getting all poetic with Aden Rolfe's Fake Nostalgia. Rolfe is a very young Sydney poet whose work I first heard rather than read. He invited me to a "listening" to a podcast he had written, and it was simply superb. Also made me think that people should do that kind of thing more often - 100 or so people sitting in a cocktail lounge intently listening to the wireless. Anyway, False Nostalgia is more brilliance from this youthful pen, and I wonder how anyone could be so clever at that age. Makes me wish I hadn't wasted my entire youth on drugs and sex. Oh well, too late now. But do check out Rolfe's work - I can only assume he will become a bigger and bigger name on the Australian literary scene. Incidentally, the book is published by Giramondo who are responsible for so much brave and interesting Australian writing.


Weekly Reading Report

It's late, I know. I spent the weekend in Adelaide, teaching workshops at the SA Writers' Centre, and I had a great turnout and met some really lovely people. But It's taken me till now to recover sufficiently to let you know about the current books in my life.



I have been reading and loving Hazel Holt's exquisite A Lot to Ask: The Life of Barbara Pym. It does have the world's daggiest cover, and people looked at me oddly when I was reading it at the airport, but what a charming, fascinating and at times very funny book. A must-read for all Barbara Pym fans. Holt is fascinating because she was actually a part of Pym's life - they worked together for twenty years.



I bought three books while I was in Adelaide, because I felt my luggage needed some weighing down. The one I picked up immediately and started reading was Doreen Virtue's latest book, The Courage to be Creative. I started reading it instantly, and was utterly charmed by it. I took it in to my first workshop and told the students about it, and many of them were keen to read it, too. One of them went straight out and bought it! People in the writing world probably don't know Doreen, but she is a megastar in the world of the New Age, one of the people who made Angels really big in the 90s with her beautiful cards. This new book is part memoir, and talks a lot about how creative people are normally misfits. I was identifying like crazy. But really, it's well worth reading.



They also had a nice stand of Vintage Classics, and I can't resist those handsome red spines, so I picked up Graham Greene's Reflections, because as you know I love Greene, and I don't have this.





I also grabbed Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception, because Hazel Holt writes a lot about Barbara Pym's love of Huxley's books (he inspired her to write) and I have never read a single one.



And the book I have been diving into and been reading exciting snatches of this past week is I Am She: Her Story by Ann Elizabeth Castle. I have worked with Ann in the past, and earlier this year she came to a talk I gave on Bhutan, which is when I got a copy of the book. It is a beautifully illustrated and constantly illuminating exploration of the feminine sacred, and I would love her to keep on producing other books in this style. Wide-ranging, esoteric and utterly absorbing.

Weekly Reading Report





I am giving a talk on my beloved Noel Coward on Saturday June 18, so I am totally absorbed in The Autobiography of Noel Coward. This is a collection of Coward's two published autobiographies, Present Indicative and Future Indefinite, along with the ten extant pages of his unfinished work of memoir, Past Conditional. It is, of course, all you would expect from Coward - funny, camp and sophisticated, and strangely honest (despite his avoidance of the constant question of his sexuality). I look forward to returning to the book each day.




While randomly picking up books at home doing my research for Coward, I found myself immersed in Tennessee Williams: An Intimate Biography by his brother Dakin Williams. I am always interested in anything to do with Williams, and now I keep picking this book up, "just to read a couple of pages." It helped me find out that Noel Coward starred in the film of one of Williams' plays, in a part originally written for a woman. Seems perfect.




The book in my bag is a new self-help title from the revered Louise Hay. Life Loves You is an absolute delight, though it's a bit cheeky as a publishing project - it is basically an account of chats between Hay and the book's real author, Robert Holden. That said, it's terrific fun, and I have found it incredibly inspiring and helpful. I recommend you grab a copy and, like me, keep it in your bag. It's the perfect pick-me-up when you are waiting for a train. 



The final book I have been dipping into this week is Richard Ellmann's Oscar Wilde. this is, of course, one of my favourite books, and it had an enormous influence on me in my youth. I have promised to re-read it this year, but every time I pick it up it seems so enormous that i find it difficult to commit myself. Even still, every time I read a couple of pages I am reminded of some fascinating fact I have forgotten, or some unexpected 19th century connection I had never really made before. It really is a superb book.

 

Writing Your Prayers





Sit quietly for a minute and think of a person or situation your think might need your prayers and your spiritual support.

Perhaps you have a few, your head is filled with people - it doesn't matter, just write them down as they come to you.

Now, write down what you would normally think or say if you were praying or sending them good wishes.

Write your hopes for them down simply and honestly – no-one is marking or checking it.

Put down on paper the prayer you might otherwise be carrying in your head.

I write these down as they come to me – I start a fresh page in my journal and record one or two lines, whatever I feel is needed. And each morning and evening I go to these pages and send my love to these people and wish them the best. It is a simple, private, routine.

But it is profound – and I know it makes a difference.

Start keeping a spiritual diary and use it to get systematic about your spiritual study.

I know you are all behind in your spiritual reading. I certainly am - it's going to take me a couple of hundred years to catch up on it all.

This year I hope you set yourself some ambitious goals around reading – and your spiritual journal is where you can record this. By writing these goals down you are recording and creating a self-guided course in spiritual development.

Keep a list of books you want to read on your spiritual journey, and keep a list of those you have read. Do always remember to date them.

This seemingly mundane ritual is one that can have an enormous impact, and it is a great gift to yourself later on. You can reflect on how you grew through reading.

And it goes without saying that you should keep notes as you read, jotting down meaningful passages in your journal.

Weekly Reading Report

In an effort to force me to write on my blog and to bring some freshness to it, I have decided to offer up, each Sunday, a weekly reading report, letting you all know what I am reading and why.

So, here's what's been keeping me from reaching my physical fitness goals over the past seven days:



I've been reading Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood very slowly and carefully because on Saturday June 11 I am giving a talk about it at the NSW Dickens Society. This has been backed up by trips to the NSW State Library to read the commentary and criticism around the book (there's a lot!) and it really has been the most fascinating exercise. I have decided I am going to do this every year - read and study one of Dickens' novels closely and give a talk about it. The Mystery of Edwin Drood happens to be the NSW Dickens' Society's Book of the Year, so a few dozen people at least have been reading it in Sydney. Absolutely fascinating, especially because it is unfinished - poor old Dickens died while writing it.





I have also been reading the Walter Shewring translation of The Odyssey because I am doing an 8-week course on it at the Sydney WEA. It is quite a fascinating exercise, and I am enjoying it, though the reading can be rather slow at times. One thing is certain - once you start reading The Odyssey you realise just how much of our culture is linked to it. Names, stories, ideas - they keep popping up in my life again and again.




I have been keeping myself inspired with Alana Fairchild's 55 Keys, a beautiful book meant for small nibbles. Alana is a friend of mine, and I admire her work very much. This little hardcover is filled with inspiring stories and ideas, and keeps me focused on the good things in life. I think I will just keep reading it all year, constantly turning it back to the beginning.





And finally, I have been sent to review one of the most massive books I have seen in ages. It is The Miracle Power of Your Mind: The Joseph Murphy Treasury and it is big - really big! Break-your-foot big, hard-to-hold-up-in-bed big. And utterly fabulous - I love that Tarcher Penguin have done this, collecting together the greatest works of one of the greatest New Thought writers. I have read and re-read Murphy's The Power of Your Subconscious Mind over the years (it was a great favourite among the staff at the old Adyar Bookshop), so I look forward to reading his books together and in context. I may need to tape up my forearms though.

The Spiritual Journal - 1 Day Retreat at Vedanta Hall, Croydon, Sydney - Sunday 15 May, 2016




This month I am conducting a one-day spiritual journaling retreat at Vedanta Hall in Croydon, Sydney, and I would love to invite you along.


Sunday 15 May

9.30am - 4.00pm
The Spiritual Journal - a 1 Day Retreat in Vedanta Hall

Program:
A workshop combining the insights of meditation & mindfulness to create your own spiritual journal. Under the direction of Walter Mason and Relaxation & Breathing Exercises with Hiroko Yanamoto-Symonds
.
Lunch, Morning & Afternoon Tea provided.
Donation for Retreat: $20

Please bring your journal along, or just paper and pen if you don't have one yet.

This workshop is open to all - just come along.


at Vedanta Hall, 15 Liverpool Rd, Croydon NSW 2132

Writer Helen O'Neill on Daffodils, Notebooks and Inspiration




A couple of years ago I met the charming writer Helen O'Neill soon after she'd published her exquisite illustrated biography of Harry Seidler. I interviewed her and went on to read all of her beautifully produced and illustrated books. Helen has carved out a niche all of her own in Australian books, one characterised by beautiful images, fascinating prose and handsome finished product. I was fascinated to discover that her latest book is on the daffodil, and fell in love with the idea right from the beginning. I had a chat with Helen about this book and several other things:

What made you decide to write a book entirely devoted to a single flower? 

I’ve always loved flowers but daffodils are special. I grew up in southern England where they blaze across the landscape every spring so they have been part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Daffodils took on a different meaning after I became ill some years ago and found myself plunged into a deep personal winter. To keep my spirits up friends and family kept sending me daffodils in different forms – in cards, photographs and sweet little pins. As I recovered I began to realise that not only is the daffodil one of the world’s most powerful flowers – this bloom has raised millions for medical research – but that it has a truly remarkable story to tell. 


Narcissus Poeticus, one of Helen O'Neill's favourite daffodils. Photo taken at her mother's garden in England



Did you ever want to be a florist? If you weren’t a writer, what job would you pursue?

That question made me laugh out loud because I flashbacked to an instant when I did think that becoming a florist might be very cool. The moment passed, perhaps because I then quickly remembered that I get hayfever and some flowers make me sneeze uncontrollably. Daffodils never have.

Do you keep a diary, or a writer’s notebook?


My life as a journalist and author is punctuated by spiral-bound notebooks. I generally have at least two on the go simultaneously as I seem often to be working on multiple projects. My notebooks are precious indeed; they contain records of interviews conducted, facts collected and impressions gathered. I would be lost without them.

How do you keep yourself inspired, creative and writing?

Inspiration is not a problem for me, if anything the issue is time. There are so many people and topics I want to write about, and I’m continually discovering more. 

Who have you met in your life that has inspired you as a writer?

Where to begin? Journalists are in the wonderful position of meeting new people and tackling fresh topics constantly but in my experience great ideas can also emerge from the most personal moments of everyday life – which is what happened with my Daffodil book. As British designer Paul Smith put it: you can find inspiration in everything – and if you can’t, look again.

Are you a methodical writer? Do you have a daily writing schedule?


Writing is a job as well as a joy for me. I am pretty organised and keep my work-life highly structured. That said, when I’m in the grip of a subject as fascinating and surprising as Daffodil – Biography of a Flower I lose track of time completely and my working hours can get right out of hand.






Helen O'Neill's latest book Daffodil – Biography of a Flower is out now and available online and at all good bookshops.

Helen O'Neill will be in conversation with Suzanne Leal at Waverley Library on the 21st April, 2016

Helen will be speaking about her daffodil book at Ashfield Library on Monday 2nd of May, 2016

Buddhist Concepts: The Four Noble Truths




The Four Noble Truths are the central ideas behind Buddhism, the "four pillars" on which the entire structure of the Buddhist religion are built. These were the four realisations that the Buddha Sakyamuni arrived at while sitting under the Bodhi tree, and they are a kind of distillation of his enlightenment experience. They are:

  1. There is suffering (dukkha).
  2. There is a cause of suffering (craving).
  3. There is the cessation of suffering (nirvana).
  4. There is the eightfold path leading to the cessation of suffering.
Pretty dry stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. It is hardly the kind of revelation that would set the world alight, and yet it is exactly this measured and un-dramatic insight that converted the first group of monks to the Buddha's philosophy, and spawned a worldwide religion that is still going strong 2600 years later.

The first truth - that life is suffering - is normally the one pointed to with scorn by the critics of Buddhism. "Not very positive," they say, "hardly the kind of thing to fill someone with hope." It is this brutally realistic assertion that has caused some to accuse Buddhism of being nihilistic, a religion absent of grace and devoid of promise for the future. But it must be said that such a frank assessment of reality does contain some charm - it avoids the magical-thinking of most religion, and instead slaps people in the face with a real party-downer right from the very beginning. It can only ever be uphill from that observation.

Stephen Batchelor prefers to call them the "four ennobling truths," because he sees in them a kind of inspirational call to action: we mustn't sit about and let things be horrid, but instead we are bound to pursue a path out of the suffering which is so obvious all about us.

And of course, in the end it's all about the third truth - there IS an end to all of this, and it's called nirvana. But unlike most religious traditions, this opposite of suffering is not heaven, but an unconditioned state of existence in which nothing can exist. It is an extinction of the self.

No-one ever said Buddhism was easy.



The wording of the Truths cited here comes from Wikipedia


Angel Reading Cards by Debbie Malone - A Review





Debbie Malone is one of the most unpretentious and inspiring people currently working on the Sydney spiritual scene, and I have been blessed enough to work with her on a couple of occasions over the years. Her gentle energy, quiet confidence and always-loving messages come through her work with the angels, and over the years Debbie has written about her angelic messengers and created ways in which everyday people might also be able to work with them. In her latest deck of reading cards Debbie has manifested an exquisite display of Angelic energy, and anyone who uses the Angel Reading Cards will, from the very first time they open them, recognise the powerful mystical energy that informs them.





Debbie creates a distinctly 21st century gathering of Angels - there is an Angel of Parking, for example, and an Angel of Relationships for those seeking some bigger answers to life's usual array of vexing questions. Each card has been exquisitely painted by Romanian artist Amalia I. Chitulescu, and each perfectly combines a kind of modern photo-realism with a wonderfully sparkling quality of angel-light that lifts the spirits no matter how many times you see the same card.



The deck comes with a comprehensive book, which supplies a full page of in-depth description for each card along with other information for using the cards. Debbie suggests that, on first opening the cards, the new owner should imprint them with their own good and loving energy, and to that end she provides a handy dedication exercise for their first use.

The book also provides a number of suggestions for using the cards, including 3 card angel guidance layout and a 7-day layout for a whole week’s guidance. When using oracle cards like these Debbie reminds us that we should pay careful attention to the ways they “behave” in our hands and on the table. Cards that fall out or stick should not be ignored – this is usually the message we most need to read.

The entire deck is working with positive energy, of course, but this does not mean that Debbie’s angelic work is not without its challenges. She nominates the Angel of Patience as the most challenging card in the deck, because nobody wants to hear that they need to sit and wait. I know exactly what she means.




There are 36 different angels to work with in in this deck, and Debbie tells us that they make the perfect companion to the rest of our spiritual work. At a recent talk she described a cleansing ritual that involves opening all the windows of the house and smudging each room with sage, all the while inviting the angels into the space. This leaves every room perfectly suited to higher states of existence, and better enables us in whatever spiritual discipline we pursue, be it meditation, prayer, mantra work or sacred reading.

With an eye towards finance in the coming year, I have found myself especially taken with the Angel of Abundance (card No. 17), and naturally she keeps appearing again and again as I shuffle the cards. The waterfall in the background of this beautiful image represents the constant flow of abundance, the pulsating energy of giving to the universe in order to receive.

There is also a smattering of male angels in the deck, all of them distinctly hunky. They remind us that the angelic energies are male as well as female, and that strength and power are equally as angelic as love and nurturing. The cards remind us to imbue our own actions and words with the quality of angelic thought and behaviour. Debbie Malone’s Angel Reading Cards make a beautiful addition to anyone’s daily spiritual routine. Morning or evening, take a card or two at random and see if you can divine the heavenly message contained. Simply ask the Universe: “What do you want from me?” and your angel will appear and direct you.

This is a deck that provides answers, inspiration and plenty of beauty. Get it and play with it and entertain the possibility, just for a moment, that angels are moving amongst us. Have fun with them, and see just how your life might improve with the help of the angels.

A new Pet Shop Boys album in April




Was thrilled to discover over at Boyculture that there is going to be a new Pet Shop Boys album in April.

The Pet Shop Boys are one of the great 80s acts and they have consistently put out good music over the decades. I buy every one of their releases, and I don't really think there's ever been a dud.








They first came to my notice in 1985 when Opportunities was first released. The distinct and unusual whiny vocals of Neil Tennant made it instantly noticeable, and I loved the dorky high-techness of their sound - it reminded me of Soft Cell, a band I'd been devoted to since I was 12. Later on at high school the song Suburbia became something of an anthem for me, and I still love its sophistication.

When I left home and went away to university, all of my suspicions about the Pet Shop Boys were confirmed. They were on the very edge of being open about their homosexuality, which was still a rare and brave thing in the late 80s, and so the clique of gay guys I hung out with held them in extremely high esteem, just a notch or two below Erasure and Kylie Minogue.

When I went back to my country town for the school holidays the newly-opened cinema was paying the Pet Shop Boys movie, a camp extravaganza which attracted appalling reviews but which I loved. I went to see it several times, and my little sister, just a child, adored it instantly. It is still an amazing piece of surrealism which I recommend you hunt down.

Then there was the much-anticipated release of the Domino Dancing video clip, an outrageous piece of overt homo-eroticism which was a really important moment in Queer culture. We were all raving about it. At this stage (1989) the Pet Shop Boys were more or less openly gay. Their music was a feature of our infamous house parties, and well I remember dancing the night away to Heart. A close friend sent a love letter to Chris Lowe.



Chris Lowe


The albums that followed were spectacular - odd, literary and frequently challenging. They did a Dusty Springfield album and a Liza Minnelli album - both still on high rotation at my house 25 or so years later. The dance party era was always peppered for me with Pet Shop Boys highlights - everybody in a frenzy at Go West at the Mardi Gras party, the dance floor at the Exchange writhing with people dancing to their cover of Can't Take My Eyes off You.



Dusty Springfield, Pet Shop Boys era



The Pet Shop Boys-produced album


I even managed to see them live a couple of years ago, at a sparsely attended New Year's Eve party on Sydney Harbour with Culture Club and Jamiroquai.

So now I look forward to April 1, when they release their new album called Super. And we can just be sure it is going to be super.


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