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Duck tales from the pond, May 14 2010

PersonalPosted by Björn Lindeblad Sat, May 22, 2010 14:10:53

Dear feathered friends,

It's Friday 3.30 am, the sixth day of the retreat, and as so often, I'm the only one awake. Yanai, my co-teacher, lent me his computer for the night, so I thought I'd send you all a sign of life from this retreat at Barnens Ö, "Island of the Children". There are 32 retreatants, two cooks, two managers, and Yanai and me teaching. The cooks, Paul and Bettina, are very dear friends of mine. We've already started scheming to arrange another retreat together in late August, hopefully in Idöborg, a stunning island outside Stockholm.

If anyone aspires to win a "Razzie Award", the opposite of the Oscars, they should come out here, film what's going on, and market it as an action movie. A group of people living in a big house by the sea, walking gently, sitting still, standing still, laying down at night, eating quietly together three times a day. Most of the day, no one says a word. Half a dozen times a day, a tall fellow with a Kiwi accent or a red-haired Swede addresses the group, leading some Chi-Gong exercises, guiding a meditation, or just talking to the group. Once a day, the Kiwi and the redhead sit with 7 or 8 of the others, exchanging joys and sorrows. In short, a real cliffhanger of a movie...

I've had a major insight this retreat. The insight is; "I'm a duck." Followed instantly by the accompanying insight; "... and this is a pond. I belong here". For the first time in a long time, life makes perfect sense. I've often struggled with a recurring sense of futility and meaninglessness since I stopped being a monk 18 months ago. Here, I get to offer what's overwhelmingly closest to my heart, and it is received with a remarkable degree of appreciation. I get to hear what struggles and triumphs others are going through, offer my fullest listening, and sometimes a few words of encouragement and support. Ah, how hungry I've been for full and revealing meetings between humans! I'm showered with expressions of gratitude, little notes left on the notice-board, random acts of kindness like chocolate left in my slippers, hugs, tears, and most precious, hearts starting to soften, open, and rejoin the human family.

So what do we actually do, then? For the first few days, Yanai and I focused on guiding the retreatants towards awareness of the body, often using breathing as the vehicle. It's been lovely to see peoples faces soften as they move out of their heads. You want to go out of your mind? This is the place! As the mind starts to quieten, and body awareness grows, some of the orphans of the heart start to manifest and speak. This often happens around day three or four. That's when Yanai and I start to focus more explicitly on the healing qualities of all-inclusive awareness, forgiveness, gratitude, and, dare I say it, unconditional love... As the retreatants start to discover, or reconnect with, the power of awareness, we can then start to turn awareness back on itself. What is it, whose is it, and why is it such a gift?

I've introduced a new word to the Swedish language! After 15 years of thinking about a good translation for awareness, this is what I've come up with (and I'm mighty proud of it!); "varsevarande". When I googled it a year ago, it only occurred once, in my friend Boutchies nano-blog, just after I spent a few days with him. It's landed very happily with the retreatants, and I'm really hoping it will fly! Most meditation-teachers who teach in Sweden, come from abroad and teach in English. So me teaching in Swedish has been received with a tangible degree of enthusiasm. Talking of enthusiasm, I'm experiencing more than my fair share. Not being a monk anymore, I feel more free to draw on examples from all kinds of wisdom traditions, like Winnie the Pooh, The Matrix and The Truman Show. Most days I read a poem by Adyashanti to the group, and it feels right not to be an "official" representative of Buddhism, even if it is the main source of what I have been given and can offer.

OK, slowly time to move on. We start the day together early, with some Chi-Gong warm-up exercises under the trees, listening to our bodies and the birds. The duck is well in his pond.

May all ducks, and non-ducks, be at ease with themselves and the world.



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Loafing in Lanzarote, March 24 2010

PersonalPosted by Björn Lindeblad Sat, May 22, 2010 14:03:51

Today is day 9 in Lanzarote. I´m redder than ever, but this is somewhat compensated for by having a very pale, very large yellow Tiger python right next to me. Luckily, there´s a sheet of glass between us. I´m in Arrieta, a fishing village on the northeast coast. I´ve found a laid-back collective of hippie-chic German diving instructors. I have my own room, but we share most meals. In the evenings some of the locals eccentrics come by for a chat and a drink. Last night, the Lanzarote Buddha came by, who´s a very black stonemason with his own philosophy on everything, and I mean everything. And Fernando, who wears cutting-edge street fashion despite his 55 years, as bling as anybody, and a bit too fond of fermented spirits for his own good.
Before here, I spent two days at La Graciosa, a small island north of Lanzarote. Just me, a few fishermen, a few German campers, a few volcanoes and Playa de las Conchas, the finest beach I´ve ever seen. My head was going a bit soft from so much sun and solitude, so it was good to find this little collective here in Arrieta. It includes four furry enormous rabbits, a roaming tortoise, a ferocious guarding duck (yes...) and more white mice than you can throw a stick at. The mice look pretty carefree, so I guess they haven´t figured out they´ll end their days as snake lunch. The house has six or seven rooms, with lots of tasteful shaded nooks and crannies in-between. Plenty of perky potted plants, even a pot plant and a plantain! One of the owners is a sculptress with a soft spot for dragons, so there are clay cousins of the oldest resident of Loch Ness everywhere. After five functional but unadorned flats, I´m relishing the aesthetics of this space. My eyes are happy. So are my ears, savouring the soundtrack to "The Big Blue". Don´t ask about my skin, please. The touch of the ocean and the warm sand and wind yes, but the sun, ohh, the sun, way too much. Despite managing the first six days without burning... My mouth, on the other hand, had a peak moment yesterday. Charlie and Stefan, the diving instructors, barbecued fish and stewed shrimp, while Sabine and Sierra made a potato-salad that changes the way you think of potato-salad. The secret is in the capers. My nose has had a mixed ride. It´s pretty burned, and some of the wild bushes on the side of the volcanoes smell like urine. But then again it never tires of the salty, saturated scent of the sea. Or the smell of olive oil, fish and garlic in the harbour restaurants as the sun sets. And let us not forget the smell of fresh bread as the shops open in the morning. Yes, by and large, the nose is having a fine holiday.

Another of the pleasures of loafing around Lanzarote are all the chance encounters. When hitch-hiking from Famara I was picked up by a classic Spanish Señor, a real Caballero. He drove over 30 kms out of his way to get me to Orzola, guiding me through the sights along the way. We also stopped at his small country home, where he proudly presented his rainwater well and his homemade wine-based liquor. I´ve travelled all over the island, never spending more than two nights in one place, although that might change now. Except for the odd overworked resort receptionista, I´ve met only friendliness from the locals. Speaking Spanish obviously helps. Some days I´ve had use for 5 of my languages, but unless I visit the Thai restaurant in Puerto del Carmen, I don´t think I´ll get to use my sixth...

Everything is more expensive here than I imagined, so I´ve cooked almost all my meals myself. There hasn´t been much nightlife for me, even when it´s been available. Hitting the town on my own just doesn´t feel like my thing. I´ve read a lot, from Kierkegaard and Yalom to Iggulden, Plura Jonsson, Nesbo and Holt. And yes, if you happened upon a deserted beach when the shadows grow longer, you might spot me happily boogeying away, iPod in hand... Now my ears are very happy again, hearing the soundtrack to "Mar Dentro", ahhh, thank you Susi!

Ok, tonight I am finally hitting the town, with Sierra and Stefan. Stefan has lived here 10 years, and knows the local scene. He has promised me a tapas extravaganza! And in 5 days it´s time to return to Swedish spring, with significantly older skin and pockets full of seashells. Wonder what's around the next corner?

Hasta la vista, amigos!


El Zanahorio

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Coagulating in the Canaries, March 16 2010

PersonalPosted by Björn Lindeblad Sat, May 22, 2010 13:45:33
March 14 2010 I found an embarrasingly cheap flight ticket to Lanzarote for the next day. Winter had been too long, too cold and too lonely. I was supremely hungry for some sun, sea and sand. Here´s the first report, March 16;

The flight to Lanzarote was longer than I imagined, 5 hours. As we flew past Casablanca, I nodded towards Sam's Cafe, and listened to "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" with Green Day. I think a propensity towards melancholy is part of the Swedish DNA. A sweet couple from Alingsås offered me a taxi ride from the airport to Puerto del Carmen, so why not? Here's where 70 % of all Lanzarote tourists stay. I found a flat one street up from the beach. The temperature is a few degrees hotter than a perfect Swedish summer's day. When taking my first dip in the clear sea, pretty much every cell of my body was screaming "yes!". Otherwise, my most favourable impression of this touristy town was during my early morning walk, 5.30-8.00. At first, the last of the late night revellers, a few prostitutes, a lonely gay Filipino, and small hordes of very young and very loud Irish. As dawn broke, a few German joggers, Spanish dog-walkers and English strollers. Sunrise was so much faster than in Sweden.
The cleaning lady has a flat in El Golfo that she offered me to rent, so today I'm going there. It's a much smaller place, which suits me. Being who I am, I do talk to people a lot, and make acquaintances quickly. It is weird, I have hardly spoken any Spanish in 23 years, but somehow it's still in there. Or somewhere, memory is a mysterious thing. It's really too stressful to formulate my impression at a computer that costs 6 Euros per hour. I'm on a holiday in the sun, for the first time in 19 years. I refuse to be stressed!

Vaya con Dios!

Björn Natthiko

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After splenectomy, Feb 23 2010

PersonalPosted by Björn Lindeblad Sat, May 22, 2010 13:38:10
Dear Ones,

Thank you so much to so many of you for all your warm wishes! It certainly took any loneliness away from the occasion, and I sensed I was held, even carried, by something very benevolent. As I was rolled into the operation theatre, I was amazed at how many wires and tubes I was hooked up to, at least 20! I was also on a mischievous mellow high from the tranquillizers. which I thoroughly enjoyed. There must have been at least ten people present for the surgery, don´t know what they all did, but they were all very friendly. The penultimate thing I remember was an oxygenmask over my mouth and nose. Then they said "we´re giving you something intravenously to put you to sleep now", and one of my favourite lines from "The Matrix" appeared in my head; "Buckle up, Dorothy, ´cause Kansas is going bye-bye!".

Then all of a sudden it was six hours later and I woke up somewhere else. First face was the surgeons`, Anita Montgomery, who beamed at me and said "it went absolutely splendid!". Being someone who´s hardly had a good nights sleep in the last three years, there was a tangible pleasure at feeling so sleepy and dreamy.The rest of yesterday and last night was just a going in and out of dreamland, with an occasional sip of blueberry juice. I´ve been lucky , and have my own room, which certainly helps. I can see much of Malmö from my window. Which, honestly, isn´t much to write home about...

Yesterday I didn´t eat anything, but today at breakfast I could eat a bit. And, praise the Lord, even urinate! It´s one of the places I´m least equanimous about having a tube inserted... The throat is sore from the breathing tubes, but on the mend. Of course, the body is weak, and everything has to happen in slow-motion. But I did manage to shuffle to the breakfast room all by myself. I need help to get out of the bed and out of chairs, because of the wound in the abdomen. There´s a vigorous pain around the wound where the spleen was removed, but I get painkillers every four hours. At the end of each inbreath there´s pain, I guess the expansion of the left lung displaces some hurt areas around where the spleen used to be. Of course, the main criteria for the success of the operation is whether the level of thrombocytes/blood platelets/blut plättchen will increase and stabilise at a higher level over the coming days, weeks, months, years. This remains to be seen.

I´ll be staying at the hospital for another couple of days. Then I´ll be moving to my parents summer house in Falsterbo, where mum is ready to look after me. When the body is strong enough to manage the four flights of stairs to my flat, I´ll move back there. I recently put up a link on my profile-page to a web-album of my flat and its surroundings. Obviously, it looks a bit different in winter-time!

OK, perhaps that´s all for now. It was a very conscious decision to be so public about this operation. It helps me feel connected and supported, and I believe it speeds up the healing too. I´ll leave you with a few words of wisdom from my favourite Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart;

"If the only prayer you ever learn is `Thank you`, this will suffice."

Thank you, thank you, thank you....

Björn Natthiko

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Before splenectomy, Feb 20 2010

PersonalPosted by Björn Lindeblad Sat, May 22, 2010 13:36:08
Dear friends near and far,

On Monday my spleen will be removed. I´ll be staying 3-4 days at the hospital afterwards. All blessings, prayers and good wishes are gratefully received! The operation is scheduled to begin around 10 a.m in Malmö. I´ll take my computer along and stay in touch on FB. For those of you who don´t know, I´ve had an autoimmune disease for almost three years. It´s called ITP, and results in the blood being unable to coagulate. Doctors in England, Switzerland and Sweden have all recommended splenectomy, and until recently I´ve resisted. But hey, this old dog ain´t too old to learn a new trick! As the operation draws nearer, I notice I´m more concerned about machinery taking over my breathing during surgery, than the cutting and removing of an organ. I guess I´m much closer to my breathing than to my spleen... I intend to make the experience as healing a journey as I can. May everything that needs to go, go with the spleen. And may what´s left find health and strength as soon as possible. And dear spleen, thanks for 48 years of impeccable service! We both know this isn´t your fault, and that your intention has always been to protect me.

I´ll leave you all with wise words from one of my favourite spiritual teachers over the last couple of years, Jed McKenna:"When something seems to go wrong, it's invariably part of a larger right."

And for those of you who share my seemingly incurable interest in awakening, here are a few words from Jed about how life is lived from the awakened perspective:"If I get a pimple on prom night or find myself trapped in a burning car, my response is never fear or anger or disappointment or doubt, my response is always the same. It's thank you. It's always thank you."Wouldn´t it be wonderful to live there?

Thank you all for being in my life in some way. I know I´ve been a lousy correspondent lately, well, for quite a while actually! But here I am, as I am.

Björn Natthiko

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High five from Knäred Feb 2009

PersonalPosted by Björn Lindeblad Sat, May 22, 2010 13:25:00

I´m sitting in my little house in Knäred, halfway between Göteborg and Malmö, 20 kilometers from the west coast. The stove retains a hint of heat from firing it up last night. This eating in the evenings business makes breakfast a modest affair, a pear, two kiwis and a fine Latte is just what the doctor ordered. Mornings are still early, so there was a leisurely perusing of "The Mandala of Being" by Richard Moss around 5-6 am, accompanied by Chinese red tea, Puh Ehr, my new meditation medicine of choice, still enjoying the gifts from my monks life. Then the customary hour of sitting in silence before my beautiful shrine. The usual joy of reconnecting with the still center, and wondering why I overlook it so much of the rest of the time. The old conundrum of how much to attend to specifics of body and heart, and how much to just rest in the ineffable sense of "I am". I much prefer the latter, but occasionally wonder if I tend towards spiritual bypassing through this preference... A true Lutheran is never alone.

Returned from Stockholm yesterday, where my parents and three brothers live, 500 kilometers away. I´ve spent much time with my parents since I got back to Sweden, and it´s been real good. My buttons seem to have worn out over the years, and it´s just plain sweet almost all of the time. My parents have decided to give me a monthly allowance, as an advance inheritance, that covers my living costs. This means the pressure eases around getting a livelihood together, and I can move with the Tao, the natural rythm of things, rather than push and pull to pay the bills. And slowly, a genuine wish to contribute, in some way, is emerging. Despite all the limiting messages my little self can generate, something wiser knows I have things worth sharing. I´ve even had moments considering putting up a website! But it´s good not to have to rush things.

The illness remains, and on Thursday the doctors want to know if I´m willing to let go of my spleen. The symptoms have improved slightly, nosebleeds are rarer than in the dry Alpine air, and stop much quicker. Insomnia remains, but not going to bed on an empty stomach helps, and vigorous physical activity also seems to help. You would have giggled seeing me in the aerobics class with one other man and about 50 women. Or the yogaclass, where I´m the only man. It´s been a good winter for longdistance skating, and I´ve made much of it. Especially during 3 weeks in January, when my parents were in Mallorca and lent me their car. The last time I fell through. It´s a weird experience, ice-cold water, not another human anywhere, alone on and in a huge lake, trying to claw your way up onto the ice with a small icepick in each hand, and the ice continously breaking under you. Strangely enough, I was completely cool, even enjoying the wild energy of it. It took five minutes to get back out of the water, and skating back the 3-4 kilometers to the car in soaking clothes was freezing. I was left with a fun memory, and some mightily colorful bruises along my thighs.

Will I part with my spleen? No, not now anyway. As a gambler, the odds are too poor, the upside too small, and the downside too big. As a friend, I´d be ashamed of dumping my spleen after all our years together. It´s perhaps not God´s greatest spleen, perhaps God was having a bad hair day when he made it, but is that really reason enough to destroy it forever? For now, I´m inclined to learn to live with this illness.

I´ve met much understanding and generosity from both friends and family, and feel no real lack of anything, except perhaps a car. But that´s expensive, and a lot of headache, if it´s a cheap car. I have real bad vehicle karma, and was involved in half a dozen serious single traffic accidents as a wild young man. Also, I notice my needs are quite modest, and the urge to seem succesful in the eyes of others isn´t oppressing me much. I delight in my little house, although all my friends and family seem to agree it´s much too solitary and uncivilised for me! I´m no great shakes in the cooking department, but my love of fruits keeps my diet fairly healthy. I haven´t had dark chocolate or jelly sweets since I was a monk, and hope never to eat dark chocolate again! My main complaint is that after 3 months in trousers I still haven´t had a chance to dance, except for my occasional tribal solitary stomps here at home. Of course, people are busy working and looking after their children and pretending to be grown-ups, so I´m a bit out of synch with the majority around me. A bit like a pensioner with too much prana for his own good...

I do notice it´s much easier to be me than it used to, 17 years ago, before I was a monk. It´s probably not all about the good things I picked up as a monk, but also the grace of middle age, the relative absence of the debilitating self consciousness of me as a young man. I´ve been surprised about how cool I´ve been around forming a romantic relationship. Female warmth has come my way, and I´ve enjoyed that very much, but I seem quite happy to live on my own for now.

I haven´t made any contact with Buddhist folk, or any spiritual folk here, this far. My contemplative side feels well integrated, and doesn´t seem to need the support of a group. That may, of course, change. During December I read much too much Jed McKenna and UG Krishnamurti for my own good, so lately I´ve focused on the podcasts of John Sherman and the writings of Richard Moss, they give me something to do, and keep me away from the propensity to nihilism. I´ve joined the anarchic movement of filesharers on the internet. And so I´m making a valiant attempt to catch up on some of the movies and music I´ve missed out on during the last 17 years. One thing I´m really looking forward to is a 5-day retreat with Adyashanti in upstate New York in early May. A friend has invited me, and graciously paid the whole retreat for me. I doubt there are more than a handful of people on the planet who have listened to more talks by Adyashanti than me, he´s been my house guru for the last 6-7 years. So hey, if I´m not abiding permanently in nondual awareness by mid-May, will it ever happen?

I´ve put up a few photos of my new home as a Picasa web-album. It´s mobile phone photos, so a bit shaky.

Ok, perhaps this is all for now. As you notice, this has been a bit of a free rambling letter. It´s for you all, but please don´t forward it to other folks without checking with me first.

Hope you´re all bearing up with winter and all the doom and gloom of the economy. A few days ago I had tears in my eyes when reading the morning newspaper. President Obama had just appointed his Middle-east representative. His first first instructions went something like this; "Listen a lot. For far too long, we have mainly dictated."

I´m sure I´m not the only one who´s been Baracked.

God bless America, and the rest of us too.


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Farewell letter Oct 2008

PersonalPosted by Björn Lindeblad Sat, May 22, 2010 13:22:55

Dear Ones,

It´s been a long time since I wrote one of these letters to you all. Many of you know that my health challenge remains. The blood platelets have refused to multiply above 10 since last summer, and it seems to be a condition I have to get used to for now. I´ve been through an extensive array of alternative therapies and substances since last summer; half a dozen homeopathic combinations, various Tibetan pills, 3 courses of different Chinese herb mixtures, various Chinese pills, acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, Skenar-treatments, lots of remote-control Reiki and distant healing, Moomiyo, Spirulina, Umckaloabo tincture, antibiotics, zinc, colloidal silver, Lapacho tea, Indian Mulberry capsules, various vitamins, ginseng, brottrunk, noni-juice, Colostrum, kombucha, adrenal cortex enzymes, vibhuti from Sai Baba, Bach flower remedies, chlorella, AFA algae, alkaline salts, foot reflexology, cranio-sacral treatments and on and on... So please don´t think I haven´t tried!

Subjectively, the symptoms are quite bearable, insomnia being the most inconvenient one. Energy levels are lower, of course, both in body and in mind, but it´s been instructive for me to learn to live with less vitality. I certainly feel a lot more sympathy for folks with energy problems now! Bleeding has been limited, except for February when it wouldn´t stop, and I ended up having to go to the hospital for minor emergency surgery in the nose. I´ve taken a couple of falls in the mountains, and even though it takes a while, the blood still remembers how to coagulate, which is great news.

There are promising developments in conventional medicine, one chemotherapy drug called Retoximab has had success rates almost as high as removing the spleen, and if I get an opportunity I might try that.

The main reason I have not been writing for so long, is that in October last year, something inside urged me to consider whether I want to remain a Buddhist monk. It surprised me, since I´ve never before had any real doubts about this. The intellect was rather baffled, pointing out the inconvenience and uncertainty of getting a lay life together at 46, especially with the present health issue. I tried to ignore this urge, but it kept returning. By April, it turned into a clear conviction that I need to disrobe. Still, I was reluctant to act. This conviction reasserted itself in early May again, and again in late June. I realise this all sounds a bit mysterious, almost as if the impulse originated from somewhere other than "me". But that´s how I´ve experienced it.

So I´m sceptical about presenting reasons, since this intuition definitely preceded reasons. Yes, it´s true that I rarely get inspired by our outer forms these days, such as chanting, vinaya, and monastic etiquette. But neither do I have great reservations about them, as far as forms go, they´re fine, quite beautiful, actually. Yes, I don´t read suttas that often anymore, but I know them well enough, carry many similes with me in life, and what does fire up my spiritual vitality these days usually doesn´t contradict the suttas. Yes, there are times when the notion of a romantic relationship seems very appealing, but I long ago stopped believing that someone else can, or should, make me happy and fulfilled forever. Yes, I do wish that the male/female divide in our communities didn´t cause so much pain and confusion, but living here in Switzerland I´m less affected by it. I could go on.

One image that conveys well how I feel, is that of a garment you´ve used for a long time. One day you notice it doesn´t quite fit anymore. Nothing wrong with it, but it´s time for a change. Actually, I´m very fond of the old garment!

I also notice I´m reluctant to linger on the few things I don´t feel unequivocally good about in Sangha life. It can easily be read as blame, and that´s the last thing I want to convey. But now, for me, the time has come to lead a different life, as a lay person. I believe it will do me good to stand on my own two feet, and make my own decisions, this being the first one. I also feel that some of the constrictions of life as a monk are not helpful for me personally any longer, and that a bit more freedom in choosing my responses to life is needed. I have no worries that my spiritual health will suffer, the enthusiasm for awakening is very much alive and feels more integrated than ever before. There´s no sense of failure or stepping down in leaving the robes for me.

On the level of physical health, I´m hoping lay life will bring improvements, but it´s not a major factor. Surprisingly, perhaps, I´m quite looking forward to looking like everybody else, and not be so set apart in society. Even Leos can apparently yearn for that!

I´ve consulted with my spiritual mentors, and talked to my family, my brothers at Dhammapala and a few other monks and friends about my decision. As always, I´m reminded of how many good and wise friends there are in my life. I have a hunch this will continue, it seems to be my greatest talent! The decision is mine alone, of course, and is obviously not the one most of my mentors favoured.

The present plan is to formally relinquish the bhikkhu training on October 21, two days after our kathina, with Ajahn Khemasiri, Ashin Ottama and Anagarika Robert present. Then spend 10 days or so taking leave of of my extended Dhammapala family here in Switzerland. On November 1st or 2nd I´d like to travel to Chithurst, and then be at Amaravati around November 7-12, all subject to the blessings of the Sangha and guest monks at Chithurst and Amaravati. The theme for this period I imagine will be to honour what´s been, clumsily try to express the inexpressible gratitude, and try to survive the grief of separation.

In Sweden a small house, well, more like a large kuti actually, is waiting for me way out in the countryside roughly halfway between Göteborg and Malmö. My godsons grandmother is graciously making it available for a very low rent. It doesn´t seem unlikely that the Swedish welfare system may provide me with some financial support for an initial period, due to the illness. My parents have also indicated that they´re willing to help out, as always. Even throughout my life as a monk, they have remained my most generous supporters.

Work wise, it´s still pretty vague. The illness means I wont be able to work full-time anytime soon, there´s just not the juice for that. Somehow I don´t worry too much about livelihood, I´m sure it will become clearer what´s next as time goes by. Initially, I´ll just have to take pretty much anything on offer, and that´s fine. Over time, I wouldn´t be surprised if opportunities arise to share what I´ve learned over the years in the Sangha. Overall, there is a reassuring albeit irrational sense that "everything will work out fine". That sense includes even the vague but recurring premonition that this body might not last a "normal" life span.

I find it hard to know what to include and what not to include in a letter such as this. I trust there will be time to talk things over with many of you in Switzerland and England over the coming period. In case anyone wonders, I´m not in love, and there´s not a particular woman on my mind. My three brothers seem very happy to have me live a bit closer and more accessible, and my youngest brother is already sorting through his wardrobe for clothes to pass on. He´s in the fashion business, so I fear I´ll look more hip than I´ll feel... My very close friends in Sweden, Carl Henrik and Marie, have already started planning an alcohol-free welcome-party, I wonder if I´m ready for that?

Hmm... I´d like to send this letter out to you all soon. I notice the words aren´t quite falling into place. Partly it´s the lack of proper rest, partly it´s the fear of sounding flippant. Being sober and serious isn´t really my natural mode.

It´s important for me to try to acknowledge all that´s been given to me over the past 16 years, although I know that´s impossible. The guidance, the friendships, the encouragement, the material support, the travels, the fun, the opportunity to learn, grow and let go in safe and supportive environments, and much more. There are moments when gratitude catches me from behind, and it´s almost too much to bear. Through all this support and encouragement, it has become a lot easier to be me, than it was 16 years ago. Mind you, I do prefer not getting too serious about being me, and that is getting a lot easier too!

So, one phase is coming to an end, and something else begins. I´ll carry the blessings of my years as a monk with me until my last breath, and beyond, I imagine. I have no doubts that I´ll continue to visit Ajahn Chahs´ monasteries, and stay in touch with many of you, but of course, it will be different.

Ahh, big words, they always let me down. Who knows, maybe one day I´ll be back, requesting to start again!

So, looking forward to seeing many of you in Switzerland and England over the next two months, heartbreaking as some of the farewells will be. But hey, at least my heart seems to want and need to be broken open!

With love, grief and gratitude, all mixed up together,


Ps; Since I got my own computer two years ago, I´ve collected photos people have given me. Click here if you´re interested.

I´ve also included my previous letters from last year as an attachment, for those of you who didn´t get them.

And for those who want to know about the true nature of lions, click here!

Natthiko Bhikkhu
Kloster Dhammapala
Am Waldrand, Kandersteg
37 18 CH Switzerland
Tel: 00-41-(0)33- 675 21 00
Fax: 00-41-(0)33-675 22 41

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Getting sick 2007

PersonalPosted by Björn Lindeblad Sat, May 22, 2010 13:21:00

On April 1, 2007, I was put in intensive care for four days at a London hospital after they fond I had almost no thrombocytes, blood platelets. The main (only?) function of platelets is to help the blood coagulate. The doctor said I was a "walking bomb", because my platelet level was 3, and it should be 150-400. I soon returned to Switzerland, where I lived, and continued treatment. Occasionally I'd write letters to family and friends:

First letter to friends and family, April 19;

Dear all in and around Chithurst and Amaravati,

Thank you again for support and friendship during this bodys´ wobbles. There have been many e-mails wondering how I ´m doing, so I thought I´d write a group reply.

The care at Berns´University hospital has been exceptional. They have been very thorough, and a lot less stressed than the staff at Hemel Hempstead hospital. The diagnostical process seems to be a game of exclusion. The bone marrow seems fine, which indicates the blood platelets get produced ok, but then destroyed by a misinformed immune system. Apparently, miguided auto immune systems are not uncommon at all. The ultrasound scan indicates that the spleen and the liver are fine. Ajahn Thanasanti will be pleased to know that they checked for DVT, and the legs are free of that.The illness is called " Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP)". Idiopathic means they don´t know what causes it... As of yesterday, I take a high dose of steroids daily, which will gradually be reduced over a month or so. This will dampen the activity levels of the immune system, and give the platelets a chance to regenerate. The platelet count was coming up roses today, 18, compared to 3 on Good Friday. But there´s still a long way to go to the normal amounts, 150 - 300. And even if it goes up a lot, will it stay up when I come off steroids? Taking steroids for too long increases the risk of osteoperosis later on. The expected side effects of taking steroids sound interesting; more hunger, more aggression, more lust, less sleep... This far, I feel stronger but can still contain myself around charming nurses...

The sangha here is very kind and supportive, and allow me a light schedule. Some nights I have to sit up and hold my bleeding nose tightly for hours, so my sleeping patterns are a bit wonky. The mind has remained cooperative this far, if anything I notice some boredom after all the excitement and attention in South Africa and England... My usual remedy for that here is to go climb a mountain, but now the body doesn´t have the juice for that. Meditation is, strangely, more enjoyable than usual. In some ways learning to cope with limited bodily (and mental) energy is a good lesson for me, being used to having plenty of bodily energy. And being reminded in England of what a caring larger field I live in was a real tonic for the heart.

Thank you all for that.

Warm wishes and a valley full of gratitude,


Second one, April 26:

Dear Ones,

Thank you all for concern, good wishes, auspicious chanting and merit-sharing on three continents. I just got back from hospital, and in the last week the platelet-count has gone from 18 to 47, which is pleasing. I will remain on a high dose (100 mg) of steroids for another week or two, and then they will gradually reduce the dose over 6-8 weeks. The increase in platelets confirms the diagnosis of the immune-system as the culprit.

Subjectively, I have much more energy, albeit of an artificial and somewhat restless kind. But it is great to be able to do longer walks in the mountains again. Sleeping is good enough, and I´m still on friendly terms with my Dhammapala brothers, and still not on too friendly terms with the nurses...

The atmosphere at Dhammapala is very pleasant, we have managed to navigate out of the quiet of the winter, to the relative busyness of spring without any turbulence or withdrawal this far. Right now the rain is finally falling, giving nature much needed moisture. The next couple of months include visits from Ajahn Piyasilo, Tan Nyanadassano and Bhante Nyanabodhi, U Kaccayana is here for a month or so, Ajahn Abhinando, Ajahn Metta and Sister Candasara coming in July, Tan Kevali and Ajahn Thiradhammo have just been, and Tan Mettiko and Phra Martin from the Dhammayut tradition come through in the summer too. I enjoy these visits from the wider sangha. Tomorrow Khun Lamai and 25 friends from Ubon come to shower us with support, and then we´ll take them up the Allmenalp for a stroll.

The good life goes on, it´s a fine vehicle.

Sail on, dear friends,


That should make letter 3 a bit more intelligible. It´s interesting to note how my commitment and capacity for clarity is gradually fading...

Third letter, May 3;

Dear Ones,

If this was golf, I´d be in great shape. From 47 to 14 in one week. That took me three years as a kid. But in blood platelet-count, 150 - 300 is a perfect handicap, so I ain´t no Tiger Woods. It seems I´m one of a minority who don´t respond well to this particular steroid (Prednison, starting at 100mg/day and decreasing to nothing over two months), and now they´re switching to another (Dexamethason 40 mg/day for 4 days, then 24 days off), which they intend to try for a few 28-day cycles. If that doesn´t work, the only thing left to try with conventional medicine, is to remove the spleen, which they feel is safe and likely to produce good results. As you might imagine, I will not go along with that anytime soon...Like many people, I suspect there´s a lot about spleens western medicine doesn´t know. Who ever thought I´d get to write a sentence like that! And I discover other interesting things about this body too. Today they told me that I have definitely had Hepatitis B at some point in this life, but now I have anti-bodies, and will not get it again. I´m convinced it was all that rotten-fish curry in North-east Thailand.

Subjectively, it´s been a weird week. Not one quarter-decent night of sleep. I feel like a character out of a Cheech & Chong magazine. Wired day and night, as if I was on continous intravenous espresso. The steroids make the body hard, and much less available to awareness. The treatment also makes the heart shielded, so I´m less emotionally connected, and more reactive and fiery. And like with any sustained chemical high, the thinking process has started to gracefully flounder. But I have tolerant friends, and I suspect my brain isn´t the main reason my friends are my friends anyway. Through it all, I´m pleased with how well I´m coping. Uncharacteristically functional and earthy about it all. No worry or fear at all this far, very little resistance or arguing with conditions. 17 years of practising letting go of resistance to what is certainly seems to be manifesting some results.

It is a weird thing to be sharing this with so many of you, but it feels right. I am a Leo, after all... What I would not enjoy, is to cause undue worry. I noticed that silence also induced worry, especially in my mother(...), so this is my way, for now. I expect no replies to these updates, but do enjoy the blessings, high fives and general good cheer of the responses that do come in. My favourite thus far is from Ajahn Thanasanti: "Keep coagulating!"

There is some exceptionally potent medicine on its´way, four days of "Paris in the Springtime" with Luang Por Sumedho and Anagarika Robert, starting on monday May 7, sponsored by my mindblowingly kind and generous parents. If Luang Pors´ forcefield of benevolent presence, Roberts unwaivering friendship, and a leisurely cone of Isle St Louis Berthillion Glace Sorbet strolling under the sun in the city of light wont get the platelets cooking, what could?

I´ll sign off here. The next blood test is on May 14. On monday May 7 I´ll take the last steroids for 4 weeks. Who knows, I might spend all my time in Paris catching up on ten days of lost sleep?... Fat chance.

Thanks for being twinkling little stars on my inner night sky. Keep shining!


(He is going a bit funny, isn´t he...)

May 15:

Dear Ones,

Warm greetings from Dhammapala. Thank you all for numerous expressions of support and good wishes. Yesterday it was platelet-count day again, and it was down to 6, so pretty much back where it started on Good Friday. The steroid-treatment has been pretty horrible, and I´m so glad I´m not taking any more since about a week. Coming off it was like having a cold hand ripping all joy out of the chest and belly. Perhaps one of the Dementors from the Harry Potter books was doing some freelancing in Paris?.. Luang Por and Anagarika Robert were great, giving me human warmth and space. Despite not sleeping much, and the withdrawal symptoms, we had a spiffing four days in Paris. The Louvre, Versailles, Musee d`Orsay, Centre Pompidou, Musee Carnavalet, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur and Montmartre, lots of croissants for breakfast, Jewish, French, Indian and Mexican lunches, peak ice cream experiences and let me tell you a politically incorrect secret; The best coffee and tea in Paris is to be had at Starbucks! Our flat was small but cosy, smack in the middle of Le Marais, the most vibrant part of Paris these days. Oh lalah.., a memory I will cherish for a long, long time.

Yesterday I communicated to the doctors that I am not willing to continue the steroid treatment, but want to take a break to pursue alternative treatments for a good few months. They were fine with that, and are happy for me to come and check the platelet level once a month. Obviously, they´re also aware that none of their treatments have worked, and there aren´t a great many options left within western medicine. They pointed out that my illness, ITP, (Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura), is usually a chronic illness. I have a strong gut sense that given time, good alternative therapies and the continued well wishing from everywhere, this body has a good chance of recuperating and learning to live with a lower platelet level.

The decision to discontinue the steroid treatment arose out of stillness, while meditating on Thursday May 3. It was accompanied by quiet conviction, and a sense of rightness. The body seemed to breath a deep sigh of relief immediately, exhausted as it is by the steroids. On Friday I saw a healer that has a long history with Dhammapala. We sat quietly for a few minutes, and then I asked her what she saw. She said that the problem started in the tonsils when I was a young boy, and has traveled slowly through the endocrine system, and now the problem resides in the adrenal cortex, which is misinforming the immune system to destroy the platelets. Pretty straight, heh?

It fits well with my health history, as far as I know it. I can still remember the horror at 4 or 5, when a couple of grown ups held me down, and another pushed a soft black rubber mask over my face, and I slowly passed out under the ether. I probably thought I was dying. That was the tonsil removal operation. Which my mother, incidentally, believes was done in Switzerland, with Catholic nuns helping out... On my second meditation retreat, as a layman, I had a very strong smell nimitta of ether while walking meditation. No one else smelled anything.

I´ve only been scrutinised by two healers before. Ajahn Jayasaro once took me to a healer in Thailand, who said I was fine, except for something in my kidneys that he couldn´t quite understand. The adrenal cortex makes up 80% of the adrenal gland, which sits like a happy little frog on top of the kidney.

And on a Sunday teatime at Chithurst 4-5 years ago, a very centered old healer in her 80s from Portsmouth came with a few disciples. She didn´t say much herself, at one point they talked about one colleague who had set up shop, and she remarked "when you start to charge for this gift, you will loose it". As she left, she asked me how I was, and I asked her what she saw, and she held her hands first over her neck, and then over her kidneys, and said: "Some problems here, some problems here, but you´ll be alright". Something in me felt very confident she was right.

One question you may have, is why has this permanent problem in the adrenal gland caused such a sudden drop in platelets now? When Kittisaro, JP and I walked around Bamboo Mountain in South Africa, I cut myself under the knee in the morning. We walked in high grass all day, and the wound was left uncovered. It started to hurt in the evening, and spread down and inwards the leg, got worse for two weeks, and then gradually faded. It was most painful when the leg was still, it woke me up some mornings. A weird, high pitch kind of acidic pain. Just about then the hemorrhage pinpricks started to appear, a cardinal sign that the platelet count is dropping dangerously low. Soon after that I had my first marathon nosebleed, a night in Johannesburg, 6 hours. I believe this infection, or whatever it was, triggered something. Now that infection is gone. I sense my body has good recuperative powers now, (if these damned steroids just stop poisoning it) and will be able to do quite a bit of self-healing. Our Kandersteg healer also commented on how capable to heal themselves my elements seemed to her.

She listened to my intention to discontinue the hospital treatment without saying much. I asked her if she had any homeopathic remedies in mind, yes, calcium fluor. D 200 for healing, and Kalium chloratum D6 for bleeding emergencies. I asked her about acupuncture, which she supported. We have an acupuncture friend of Dhammapala who seems happy to treat me. I am scheduled to see a Chinese herbalist, who is also a Swiss medical doctor, in June. Someone is trying to get me an appointment with the next Tibetan doctor visiting Switzerland. Two documentedly successful healers are doing their best to support the healing process from afar. There may be an opportunity to do a detox/colon cleansing, which would greatly help the body help itself. And I have accumulated an impressive array of vitamins, tonics and vitality boosters given by friends from everywhere. So lots of opportunities and gestures of care continue to come my way. In many ways this illness has been a real blessing, reminding me just how responsive and kind a universe I inhabit. Thank you all for making that so clear!

Perhaps that´s all for now. I´ll include the previous letters, since for a few folks this is the first one you read. It might be a while until the next letter, perhaps at the end of June, when I´m due for another platelet-count at the hospital.

Strange days. Getting up at 1.30-2 am is normal, unless I´ve taken the occasional sleeping pill to get more rest. Most mornings, there is a tangibly alive benevolence present when I meditate, which doesn´t seem to be coming "from me". I´ve been advised to spend some time suffusing the kidney and pituitary gland areas with healing energy every sitting. This feels easy, and natural.

Be well, dear friends near and far, and thank you for making my solar system such a friendly and bright corner of the Milky Way!


July 3:

Dear Ones,

It´s been a while. I´ve been waiting for some good health news to share, but it doesn´t seem to be happening right now.

Had a pleasant time in Sweden, a memorable day on a little island all to ourselves in the Stockholm archipelago with my three brothers and a brother in law. Gentle stag-party if there ever was one. My brothers´ civil marriage was fast and fun, just like him. The ceremony took 3 minutes. Outside the Town Hall, as our families sipped something sparkling on the lawn, a group of hardcore Goths sat next to us, and we had a good, curious look at each other...

Spent a weekend with my two best Swedish friends in a beautiful house in the countryside, drinking tea, eating ,chatting and celebrating friendship unabashedly.

I was pleased to note my parents are in such good form, the five grandchildren keep them young, I suspect. And out of mischief, most of the time.

Had a platelet count in Malmö on May 28, and it was up to 21, which was encouraging, 15 more than 14 days earlier. Came back to Dhammapala June 7, and have felt weaker since. On June 26, the platelets were down to 6 again, so the scenario of slow but steady improvement doesn´t hold true. The Chinese doctor diagnosed depleted and stagnant blood, and depleted vitality, and has prescribed two 5-day-batches of herbs, which I´ve been cooking most mornings myself. Saw him today again, he was a bit puzzled by the lack of improvement. More herbs, two batches of ten days each now, with more focus on helping the blood to be less stagnant. His main means of diagnosis are questions, pulse-reading and tongue examination. He says I have most symptoms of burn-out, except that I sleep well, which I have done since May 22. The only bodily process which is in good form, he said today, was the heart. By that is apparently meant the emotional heart more than the physical. That´s about how I feel, subjectively. His acupuncture seems to help a little.

A very impressive homeopath in Freiburg has also diagnosed me, and given me a remedy to take constitutionally. I definitely felt better on it, and put most of my hopes on that, right now. It is also a time for patience, and learning to live with less energy and zest. This illness came on quite suddenly, and I suspect it will leave quite suddenly, one day. The doctors at the hospital admit they don´t have any great options left, other than taking out the spleen. And that stays where it is. The homeopath looked me in the eyes and said; "Listen; This is very important. Do not let them remove your spleen!"" Why?" I asked. "It is the sun of the body", he replied.

As many of you have noticed, I haven´t been very communicative for the last 6 weeks or so. Please forgive me. I just don´t have much energy to respond to all the kind gestures, gifts, greetings and offers of help right now. My brain can´t hold complexity very well, and I forget things all the time. Today I swore I must manage to bring the fine umbrella back I borrowed to travel to the Chinese doctor. Sure enough, last seen it was on the train on its way to Interlaken with me standing on the platform in Spiez....

Maybe I can respond to some things right here? Yes, I still plan to go to Gloucestershire and be with the folks there. No, I wont go walking in Cornwall, there´s nowhere near the juice needed for that. Instead, the Chithurst monks have kindly allowed me to quietly abide in one of their huts for a while. The moomio is working well, I take it first thing on waking up, every day. Thanks! And thanks for the sweet gift of honey with bee venom, the Adyashanti poetry book, tea, cards, greetings, blessings and offers of help all around.

Ok, I think I´ll sign off here. One thing worth mentioning, again, is that knowing that others worry about me makes it harder. Especially family, natural as it is.

Be well, friends and family out there.

Much gratitude, much blessings,


Natthiko Bhikkhu
Kloster Dhammapala
Am Waldrand, Kandersteg
37 18 CH Switzerland
Tel: 00-41-(0)33- 675 21 00
Fax: 00-41-(0)33-675 22 41

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