Heath Thompson - Returning To The Source Is Stillness
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello, welcome to Conscious TV, my name is Iain McNay and today I have a guest; Heath Thompson. Hi Heath.
Iain: And what we are doing this morning, is we have three people; Heath, Debra and Rory who have had their own awakenings in their own way but they are not teachers as such, they haven’t written books, they don’t do seminars but they have something to share which is important and very much from the human journey. So, I’m having a chat with Heath first and then we will be joined by Debra and Rory and we’ll have a discussion, and Renata will join us as well, amongst the five of us about awakening and a little bit more detail about the important things in their lives. So with you Heath, you sent me some notes and you started by saying you joined a Buddhist practice under the teachings of a Vietnamese monk…
Heath: That’s right.
Iain: …in 2007, so what drew you to Buddhism in the first place?
Heath: Zen actually, I’d been interested in a practice for quite some time, probably fifteen years or so, I was looking and searching but could not find something that spoke to me and I had practised Aikido for quite some time and was interested in Zen through samurai and so on and I got interested in the poetry that came along with that.
I had already been interested for some years, since the early nineties, in Tai Chi and Chinese poetry and I heard about the Tao and how Zen was very similar, and I just came across it on the internet...(laughs)…I hadn’t thought of looking on the internet for some reason. There was a Zen group in Leamington Spa under the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh who is the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist that I mentioned and I went there twice and really liked it but the group closed pretty much after the second time, so it just happened that the man who was the head of the Midlands area asked “why don’t I start something up in the Redditch area?” which is where I was living near at the time, “because there are a few people that are already interested” but I didn’t really have the confidence to do that because I didn’t know anything about Buddhism apart from the two times that I had gone there (Leamington).
So it wasn’t until another eight months had gone by when Thich Nhat Hanh was coming from France to England for a week and I thought I will do something that coincides with his visit. And I started a group and that was in 2008.
Iain: So what drew you in the first place to Tai Chi and the other practices that you were doing, the Zen? What was in your life that was significant, that was pulling you in that direction?
Heath: It’s a good question. I think as a child I was interested in some of the programs and films that were on television with martial arts particularly. There was a program in the 70’s that I used to watch called Monkey which was about the Chinese Monkey God and martial arts and there was a lot of quotes from Buddha in that and may be this was somehow internalised. I don’t know but I was having my hair cut at the time, when I used to have hair and the lady said “I think that you might like Tai Chi and there’s a local group setting up, why don’t you give it a go?” That was in ’92 and I’m still practising it now (laughs). So yes, I loved it, it just felt right. I have liked poetry for a long time and my first book, that I’ve still got today, of what I would call of value, is a book by Tu Fu who was a Chinese wanderer of around the 8th Century and his poems were about nature and companionship on his travels and I just fell in love with those. It stems from there Iain, I think, yes.
Iain: Yes, so you talked about the notes you sent me beforehand. You talked about two or three significant realisations. Let’s just look at those. What was the first one you felt was (where) something significant happened and how did you recognise it?
Heath: I would say that…in 2009 I had two within a month of each other, that really made the difference. The first one, well, I need to rewind a little bit but it is only short…
Heath: …because it seemed to me that when people were coming to the Buddhist group in 2008, they expected that I should know something about Buddhism. So I joined a distance learning course with a Tibetan school based in London, which was very detailed. The second book that I learned was The Two Truths; the Absolute Truth and the Relative Truth and it was about the eight different schools of Tibetan Buddhism and what they thought of, it seemed, the Relative Truth and at the end of the book, I felt a little bit angry I suppose, that I didn’t know anything about this other truth, this Absolute Truth and yet I felt compelled in some way…to know what this Truth was but I didn’t know it was something different than what I was already living. And I had a few conversations with the other students and it all seemed too complicated and I thought if the Truth is the Truth then it has to be simple. So I quit the course and I remember sitting in my garden on a step just watching bees and insects fly from flower to flower and I had this sudden change within me, a sudden feeling right here (points to his stomach) and the moment that I felt it, my thoughts said that you will never feel this again. And that happened once before; in Tai Chi a lot of people had been talking about Chi energy (life energy) going through different parts of the body and I had felt it once and the same words said you won’t ever feel it again, and I didn’t feel it for ten years and I sat on the step thinking I am not going through another ten years not knowing what that was, what I just felt.
So I decided that I would have just have a sitting practice without any reason to sit because I wasn’t meditating at that (particular) time and I wanted to see if this feeling would come back. And thankfully it did keep coming back and it stayed long enough for me to realise what was being expressed; and it felt like within me, although to say within me isn’t really the right thing because it did not feel like it was being contained but it just felt like there was this endless pool of stillness, that there was something there that was totally untroubled and that all that it was is all that there is. But I still didn’t know what that was (laughs), so I still wasn’t really any more further forward in a spiritual sense.
Iain: That’s quite a deep thing to say.
Iain: What did you say “All that it is?”, what you were feeling was all that it is, I think you said, something like that. It has a great depth that description.
Heath: Yes, but I think I must be quite thick because I hadn’t really comprehended what I was looking at and at the time I was trying to get back into a yoga practice and I Googled ‘the Top Ten yoga books’ and the second one was by Erich Schiffman, I think, Moving into Stillness; the practice of yoga (Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Erich Schiffman) and I looked into the first couple of pages and he was talking about how stillness is the presence of God and how you can get a different wisdom from that. So I bought the book and started looking at different religions and to what they said about being still and of course it is in the Bible, in the Psalms (Psalm 46:10) ‘Be Still and Know that I am God.’ And I don’t know to this day but I had this compulsion to go upstairs to a drawer that hardly has anything in it but inside was an old Tai Chi notebook and the front page of that was a verse (I had written) from the Tao Te Ching, which is one of the classical books of Taoism and Verse 16, part of it says “Returning to the Source is known as Stillness and this is the way of nature. And the way of nature is unchanging and to know that is to know the constant, and to be Awake.” But I still wasn’t awake and I kept thinking about it.
Iain: But how did you know that you weren’t awake?
Heath: (laughs) yes well, in a sense there is no awake but I just wasn’t any different.
Iain: so you still had the same thoughts, you were approaching life in the same way, you felt nothing had fundamentally changed?
Iain: Okay, but you’d had a taste, or you had a reference point of some kind that was different.
Heath: Yes, I just didn’t know what it was until the second, event, if you like, which I just happened to be getting out of bed in the morning and I looked up at the sky out of the window and I saw the same presence in the sky and that presence was then everywhere and all things at once. And I remember laughing at myself at how simple it is and it was that those old Buddha’s teachings suddenly made sense. I don’t know, I could see what he was trying to convey all those years ago and that it is a simple teaching said in different ways but it is the same teaching. We are That, whatever That it is, and I don’t know what That is but I know how it is. And since that moment everything has that beauty. For me it brings a softness and a gentleness and a lightness but it takes time to mature and it still is maturing but also in that simplicity we discover, that in a sense, we are already That, so we don’t really need to go hunting for enlightenment or awakening because when it matures and we get to know it more and more we are in a sense returning to the nature and the wildness of how we were born to be. So I see, the most-pure expression of what I can be is to be a man, to be a person as I was born to be without all the worries and the thoughts that get in the way. And I don’t understand this Iain but there is a love that comes out of it. I don’t really see the thing itself as love but when I feel through it, it is that Beauty there, yes. It is in those flowers right now and it is in the table, that’s what they are, it is not in them, they are it. They are all expressions of a single thing that just happens to appear as it does. When we go through life we tend to like some of its expressions and not others, not realising we are looking at the same thing. But when we realise we are looking at the same things then of course those likes and dislikes tend to flatten out. I think this is the equanimity that is spoken of quite a lot in Buddhism.
Iain: How did it practically change your life, insofar as, did you feel your personality changed, were you different with people, with situations? On a human level, how did this maturity happen?
Heath: On a human level it had a lot of ups and downs actually because I lost interest in pretty much everything and I lost a lot of friends through it and I think it made things difficult for my wife at the time. We had been looking forward to a holiday but I didn’t care whether I went or not and we used to ski and I didn’t care if I skied or not. So what I found was that I had to try and make myself be interested in those things and it seemed a little bit hollow but I was making a mistake actually which I didn’t realise until last year. I felt for some years that I was walking around as a dead man in this way that nothing actually mattered and it came to me that that’s not how it is; it is vibrant whilst being still, it might be empty but also full, it is something that is without any description because…
Iain: I want to keep it at the human level. I’m interested in when you said you walked around like a ‘dead man’, so this realisation happened, the inclusiveness, I’m not sure if you used the word oneness or not, that you are everything, so how could you feel like a dead man? I want to challenge you on that.
Heath: Because every result has no result. It doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t change anything, so I had no goals or objectives any longer.
Iain: So from the way you saw human life, every avenue was kind of a dead end, was pointless. Am I expressing that right?
Heath: Yes, to a degree. Actually there are two things; to look at people living normal human lives felt like there was a sickness that I was seeing that people were not aware of and I found that difficult, to begin with. And when you know you can’t change anything, when you know there’s not really a ‘you’, which has become a bit of a cliché really, (but) when you know that everything you are looking at is yourself and that it just plays itself out, that you don’t have a hand in that to a degree, then what is there to do?
Iain: So could you call it a kind of pointlessness?
Heath: Yes, I think they call it aimlessness in Buddhism. I cannot think (what they call it) in Taoism, my mind has gone blank. Yes, pointlessness is a good word.
Iain: So what changed it to the point of vibrancy and aliveness that you talked about, what were the factors that helped open that up?
Heath: I left the Buddhist group in 2011 because I realised that I couldn’t communicate what I knew to people very well and I decided that what I had learnt had come from nature and what I experienced had (also) come from nature and I think that’s where it came from for Buddha and Lao Tsu of Taoism and nameless other people, Jesus and so on. So I spent time just watching nature and seeing how nature is, because that was, if you like, its pure expression. I am sorry, what was the question again Iain?
Iain: That’s okay, what was the catalyst for the change from what we defined as the pointlessness to the vibrancy.
Heath: What I realised is that in a way, I was stuck in a spiritual sense and not a life sense, that actually what we call God or the Absolute, or the Tao, is Life and everything is its expression as Rory was alluding to earlier. In a way you could be the dead man walking, or you could be the vibrancy of it and still there would be no point but still be alive. I looked at wild animals, and would see an animal would be spontaneous to some degree and it would do things and there doesn’t need to be a point to it but it lives and it’s alive and we won’t know whether it is actually thinking in terms of what it is doing in a spiritual sense. I think some animals do have that. I just suddenly wanted the life of it and not to feel that death any longer. It was like a death.
Iain: And so when you felt the life in you wanted the life of it, how did that manifest? Did you then see more of a point without an aim or how did that happen?
Heath: Well it caused a lot of trouble actually because I realised that a lot of my life was dead. The job that I was doing didn’t make any sense to me and hadn’t done for a while, where I was living didn’t and my relationship with my wife didn’t and we’d been together for 24 years or so. So there were lots of big changes and I felt that actually I had been holding on to things and in some way that, if you want to call it an unfolding, when we are trying to hold on to something and the change can’t happen in the way it wants to change, not that it wants to change but it naturally unfolds. In some ways you have to let go. And then when I let go someone else came into my life suddenly bringing this life and family and children and change very suddenly. No reason why but it just has.
Iain: So it is interesting because we are going to be joined by Rory and Debra, you mentioned Rory, and Debra had a whole process of very intense, you didn’t see her part but, very intense letting go, which she did in a very conscious way. So with your letting go, did it just happen on its own or were you putting in extra meditation or observation? What form did your letting go take?
Heath: I think over the years since 2009 I have not really been listening to my thoughts very much and when I felt unhappy thinking wise, I just ignored it really, but there just came a point somewhere inside, if you want to say the heart, when I looked more at these areas in my life and part of that was due also to looking at my spiritual practices, I didn’t really feel that any of them fully felt right, then you start to look at other elements and it just came to the point where I couldn’t ignore it any longer, it wanted out in a way. I don’t know what the ‘it’ was or where it thought it was going (laughs) but it needed to be out and it did.
Iain: So it was quite a spontaneous thing in one way was it?
Heath: Yes, one day really. It happened in one day.
Iain: So talk about that one day, I am interested in that day.
Heath: Well, I’d been looking at my life for probably a couple of years but not really looking at it, at the same time, so I sensed there was an unease but I also know that there was this kind of malaise, this pointlessness to it, so I was just running along on empty and running along, not really thinking and that’s where I felt quite hollow. The more I looked at these different elements and areas of my life, the more I began to question it and the more I was looking at nature, at the same time, and seeing that it wasn’t that way itself. The more it became clear to me that there was something that, yes while it is stillness and peace, it also has an energy to it. The two can be as one together, you can live a life and be vibrant but also at peace. And you can go skiing if you want to go skiing and still be at peace and the two, although they seem opposed, actually fit together; that’s how nature is. I am meant to be a man, I am meant to have the urges of a man, and I am meant to live like a man. Not ‘meant to’ but that’s my expression, like these flowers are flowering pink and purple. To be something that they’re not would be a wish for them to be yellow or something. It is just natural. It is just That. So in a way, to be thinking should I be doing this or should I be doing that, or should I be staying where I am, should I be this peaceful person is all of this ego that doesn’t exist. It is all a joke. Because there can’t be a me that understands and one that doesn’t because we are one. I think it doesn’t know itself and that’s why I think, humanity is the way it is. It is not at peace because it doesn’t know itself.
Iain: That’s very true. So we’ve got about thirty seconds left and you were mentioning earlier about poetry so can you finish with a poem?
Heath: Yes, sure. It will be very short; one of my Taoist poetry ones (http://www.taoistpoetry.com/taoistpoetry.com).
I am a simple man
what I say is not complicated
sit here with me a while
in my tiny garden
I will show you how to read
the scripture of grass and flowers.
Iain: That’s lovely thank you.
Iain: So thank you Heath for coming on to Conscious TV and we’ll be joined by Debra and Rory shortly, so do stay tuned for part two of the program with Heath. We will see you there.
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