" Solitude did not breed introspection, quite the reverse. My days were spent outside, immersed in nature, watching. I saw as much as I did because of two things: the first, quite simply, was time, the long hours spent out in the field; the second was alertness, a state of heightened attentiveness. My attention was constantly focused away from myself and on to the natural world around me. And my nights were spent sitting in front of the log fire, aimlessly turning a log from time to time and staring at the flickering flames. I would not be thinking of the day just gone; the day was done. And I would not be planning tomorrow; tomorrow would take care of itself. The silence outside was reflected by a growing silence within. Any interior monologue quietened to a whisper, then faded away entirely. I have never practised meditation, but there is a goal in Buddhist practice of achieving a condition of no-mind, a state of being free of thought, and I seemed to have found my way there by accident. I certainly learned to be at ease with myself in the years I spent at Penlan, but it was not by knowing myself better - it was by forgetting I was there. I had become a part of the landscape, a stone."
How short this brought me up before my own sharp and constant self-consciousness. I was reminded of how much this is a product of displacement, how one might aspire not to a happier self-consciousness, but to less of it.
" When I read my notebooks now I can see a dramatic change taking place from beginning to end. For the first year, it is a fairly straightforward diary, an account of where I went, what I did, and how I felt. By the second year it is strictly a nature journal: a record of my sightings and perhaps some notes on the weather. And by the third year it is virtually an almanac: arrival dates for spring and sutumn migrants; nesting records; perhaps interspersed with an occasional piece of prose capturing a fragmentary moment, say a description of the flight of a single bird. I have disappeared entirely from my own narrative; my ego has dissoved into the mist. I came to the hills to find myself, and ended up losing myself instead. And that was immeasurably better. "
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Reading this, I think I began at last to understand what some of the great Buddhist teachers are saying:
"To study the way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe..." Dogen Zenji (1200-1243), Japanese Buddhist teacher and founder of Soto Zen, oft quoted by Reb Anderson.
"Buddha nature then is the 'world' seen by the subject in one flowing relationship in the state called 'true nature'. The sensory mind participates directly in the world process, but without dualistic identification as something apart." Western Chan Master John Crook (1930-2011)
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Here's a brief video of Neil Ansell at Penlan. In a way perhaps this detracts from the book: his words convey it all so well - a more subtle, open conveying. But knowing the video is there, it seemed a shame not to share it.