Sunday, December 9, 2012

Leicester Great Heart Circle Meeting

The Circle met on a cold and dark night at Great Meeting. We talked of darkness and the light in the turning of the seasons and the differences between countries north, south and close to the equator. Celebrating Christmas in the dark of winter or the light of summer.  Mike read some poems by Ryokan, though not the one below, and we sat to meditate - silent night.

A cold night - sitting alone in my empty room
Filled only with incense smoke.
Outside, a bamboo grove of a hundred trees;
On the bed several volumes of poetry.
The moon shines from the top of the window,
And the entire neighbourhood is still except for the
cry of insects.
Looking at this scene, limitless emotion

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Second Chester Circle, 6th December

We held the second Chester Circle this evening, in Sally's Secret Garden on Bridge Street Rows.  It was a great evening, nine of us in a big circle in the upstairs room, warmed by Sally's glowing heater, lit by candlelight and perfumed by inscense which Sally lit for us.  We did some relaxation, had a talk about Zen as a way of softening our usual sense of ourself and becoming more open to life, and then held a session of Silent Sitting meditation...  At the start of the meditation there was a big noisy parade outside with drums and trumpets!! (like last time too!)  The next circle will be on Thurs 20th Dec at 6.15pm.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

First Chester Metta Circle this evening!

We held the first ever Chester Metta Circle this evening, in a room above Sally's Secret Garden in the Old Dutch House on the Bridge Street Rows (the rows are medieval walkways.  The house is over 400 years old, and the street is nearly 2000 years old)  The circle is held at the top of these stairs in the picture!

The timing was wonderful too - by chance it coincided exactly with a parade in Chester to light the Christmas lights.  There were children with lanterns, a walking huge snowman, drumming and dancing, and a choir on the row opposite us singing carols.  At exactly the moment towards the end of the metta meditation, when I talked about extending it outwards to all beings, the choir began to sing "Joy to the World..."

I hope it's a good sign for an auspicious beginning to exploring metta and Love in general together here in Chester.  May All Beings Be Happy!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Rumi Meets Shams of Tabriz

The Leicester Great Heart Circle met last night for the second of the three nights of Rumi.
We talked about how Rumi, an established preacher and lawyer with a growing reputation and audience, met with Shams of Tabriz.  Shams is described as a strange, wild man, a mystic, a hermit, a wanderer.  They become constant companions and he sets Rumi's heart ablaze with love for the Divine, but Shams disappears as mysteriously as he came. Rumi is transformed, he starts to write his poetry and starts to dance and whirl in longing for oneness. We read the poem "The Guest House" to the sound of the ney flute :

Darling, the body is a guest house;
every morning someone new arrives,
Don't say, "O, another weight around my neck!"
or your guest will fly back to nothingness.
Whatever enters your heart is a guest
from the invisible worl: entertain it well.

Every day and every moment, a thought comes
like an honoured guest into your heart.
My soul, regard each thought as a person,
for very person's value is in the thought they hold.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chester Metta Circle Coming Soon...

There will hopefully be a new Metta Circle starting in Chester in November, following on from the one in Leicester which has been meeting monthly this year.  The Chester circle will meet fortnightly, probably above a lovely gift shop on Bridge Street in the medieval Chester Rows.

Like the Leicester circle, the one in Chester will begin with a guided session of metta (love/kindness) meditation, then we'll have tea together in the circle and have heart-talk about some theme of love, interconnectedness, oneness, and we'll end by singing a simple Buddhist chant together- "Sabbe Satta Sukhi Hontu", which means "May all Beings be Happy".

More details to come soon...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Virtual Metta Circle Begins!

Dear Friends,

Growing out of the monthly metta circles we started offering earlier this year, we now have a Virtual Metta Circle!  Anyone coming along to Great Heart activities is welcome to join - the idea is that if any of us has a friend who is ill, or someone needing help, or maybe something positive like beginning a charity project or going on a pilgrimage, then you would write a brief email asking the circle to send them good thoughts.  Anyone taking part in the circle would read your request, then stop for a few moments and think of the person you've mentioned.  They may simply send them metta ("love" in the Pali language), or they might say a favorite prayer or blessings for them.

I hope in this way we can reach out more and more to those in need, remember our shared vulnerability and kinship, and also create little moments of kindness and beauty in the midst of our daily lives.  If you're involved with the Great Heart Society at all and would like to be part of the Virtual Metta Circle, please send a quick email to:

and you'll be added to the list.  Love to you all,

Chris Starbuck

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Celebrating Rumi's Birthday

We met close to the date of Rumi's birthday on 30th September, a great opportunity to talk about the great Sufi Poet and Teacher !  We talked about his early years from his birth in 1207 in a village in Tajikistan near Balkh (Afghanistan), the movement of his family through Samarkand, Baghdad and finally arrival in Konya.  Jalal al-Din Muhammad Balkh becomes established as an Imam- a preacher and law expert, he attracts many followers, he practices the way of renunciation,obedience and studies his books. Time passes, fourteen years later he is about to meet his future Teacher, Shams Of Tabriz, and his life will be transformed!!

We finished listening to a recording of the sound of the Turkish ney flute and we read some of Rumi's classic poems.

This is the first of three nights celebrating Rumi between his birthday and his wedding night.
The story continues !

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Gently Blowing The Clouds Away

A small intimate meeting of the Leicester Great Heart Circle on Thursday gave us the opportunity to do some pranayama breathing exercises from Yoga,  you discover that the clouds of thoughts and feelings that come into view when
you close your eyes are gently puffed away by the breathing and there is the chance to see some sky !

Natalie brought along another wonderful cake, full of blueberries, that rounded the evening off nicely.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Another Music Circle...!

There were six of us from the Great Heart Circle at tonight's music circle at Yesim Cafe on Narborough Road.  The picture's a bit blurred- here are Ren (left) and Fern, Natalie was there too, Jenny, Greg and Chris.  So many kinds of music again, from different languages and cultures...  The drum here is the Iranian Zarbe, brought along by a brilliant percussionist named Reza.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Leicester Great Heart Circle, 2nd August


We had our Great Heart Circle this evening in the Garden Room of the Unitarian Chapel again.  It was a lovely evening, and we were able to do some quiet walking meditation outside in the garden itself, really an oasis of peace in the city centre with three huge trees towering above us into the sky.

It was Mark's second meeting as circle organiser, and the first full one with most of the regulars back again.  He invited Natalie to lead the opening relaxation, and brought along a section from The Sufi Book of Life for discussion, reading about the Arabic Name "As-Salaam" - "Peace".  We had some silent Zen meditation, followed by some Sufi singing/dancing together, and of course a wonderful feast at the end!

This evening was probably Chris' last time in the circle for a while, so everyone made a toast to his happiness and future life in Chester...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Leaving Meal for Chris

I'd like to thank Mike for arranging a meal at Kayyal Indian restaurant in Leicester to say goodbye to me.  It was a lovely evening, in good company and good food.  Mike composed a poem for me, and presented me with a beautiful gift - a wooden fold-out shrine, originally Chinese and found by him in a market in the middle of Kabul, Afghanistan!  Thanks to everyone, and I'll post the poem here, cos really it's a celebration of our whole group, not just about me...   Many blessings to everyone, Chris

Chris's Leaving Dharma poem  (by Mike Petterson)

Stillness in a whirlpool
Whirlpool in stillness
The noise of his silence
And the silence of his conversation

Circles circles circles
No edges
Just roundness
Eyes seeking eyes
Ears aware of ears
Voice connecting with awareness

The Sufi of Serenity
He dances his whirling dance
Bringing together
Playing the pied pipers tune
For all who can or want to hear

This is no room for closed minds
All dharmas have respect in our house
We seek truth beyond truth
Love beyond love
Life beyond life

Rumi is our guide
Zen is our koan
Buddha is our way
Krishna is our love
Jesus is our joy
Allah is our path

We say adieu
In gratitude and love
Your kindness still and bright
Your talent and life for all to sense, feel and see
May we all remain connected
And guide each other on the way
Au revoir, auf wiedersehn, goodbye, namaste
We know in our heads all things are impermanent
But our human hearts still feel loss
Stay in touch
Value rare connections
But move on to greater happiness

Friday, July 27, 2012

Music Circle at Yesim Patisserie Cafe

For a few months now I've been arranging a music circle in a local cafe here in Leicester, which several people from the Great Heart Society have been taking part in regularly.  We do it on Sunday evenings once a fortnight, it's unplugged and acoustic so everyone can listen to each other's voices.  We have English folk, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Kurdish, Turkish, Iranian, Scottish and Irish, original songs, classical violin and piano... it's really a rich mix of different voices and nationalities, with a warm-hearted circle atmosphere like the Great Heart Circle.  Zen Master Bernie Glassman describes the point of Zen practice as realising and embodying the Oneness of Life.  Spiritual groups can only go so far in this, cos they only attract people who are interested in meditation etc.  A circle like the Yesim Music Circle can include a much wider variety of people, and give a bigger sense of what this 'oneness' is about  beyond the label of 'religion' or 'spirituality'.  The cafe owners are Alevi-Bektashi, from Turkey, and have the ideal of Humanness - "Insan" - deep in their culture.  For me the Music Circle helps us feel the oneness of our shared humanity, and celebrate it through musical expression.  Ya Hajji Bektash Veli, Patron Saint of the musical Anatolian Alevis!

Friday, July 6, 2012

July Great Heart Circle

A small intimate meeting of the Great Heart Circle welcomed Mark as the new facilitator.

The full moon on Tuesday evening was the Guru Purnima, in Hindu and Buddhist cultures a time to celebrate the Guru. This was a good opportunity for us to reflect upon Teachers in our lives, whether it has been Gurus, parents, other people or events.

Sometimes our hearts and minds engage and open with philosophy, sometimes with poetry, sometimes with walking under the trees in the garden and sometimes with music.  Toward the One,  Greg played us out with an Air on his violin.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mark Baverstock is new Coordinator of the Leicester Great Heart Circle!

Hello folks,

As many of you know, I'm planning to leave Leicester in September and move up North.  Several people have said they'd like the Great Heart Circle in Leicester to continue after I've gone, so I've thought a lot about possibilities.  At the weekend I asked Mark Baverstock if he will take on the role of coordinator/vision holder for the circle, and he's agreed.  So this is  fantastic news!  I don't know how many of you plan to keep coming, but I would ask you all to support Mark for the first few months as he takes over and feels his way into it.

The plan is for Mark to begin coordinating right away, with the July and August circles, and I'll still be there as a participant to give him support.  I don't know yet if I'll be here for the September one.  I'm still planning to hold Metta Circles in my house over the summer :-)

Mark has come along to the group dedicatedly for over two years, and has often guided the relaxation session at the start and offered prayers and blessings at various times.  He has a strong background in Indian/Hindu traditions, is connected to a Sufi lineage, and most importantly has the enthusiasm to hold open the space of practice for us all on a regular basis.

Much love to you all, and see you next month I hope.

Chris Zang Starbuck

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Great Heart Circle, 7th June


 The Great Heart Circle this evening was big and fun in spite of the cold rain pouring down outside!  For the main session of Zen meditation we went down into the lower room and made it cosy and warm with heaters, little lanterns and blankets...  Some of us did a ghost-tour of the old chapel building in the dark, and attempted (unsuccessfully!) to scare Natalie...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Season of Love!

For four months now, the whole season of Spring, we've held a Metta Circle in my house in Leicester.  I don't blog about it every month, because my intention is to keep it a little quieter and more private than our celebratory Great Heart Circle in the Unitarian Chapel each month.  Metta is an old Buddhist name for "universal love/kindness", and each month we train in metta through meditation and sharing experiences in a Council Circle (the Native American speaking/listening circles we learned in the Zen Peacemakers),

We hold the Metta Circle on the 3rd Thursday of each month, from 7.30-9.30pm, and so far it's been a really valuable group, with many people from the larger Circle attending.  It means a lot to me to be able to share this practice with people in my own home, and it fulfills an idea that was planted in me through my friendship with a Buddhist teacher in Scotland, Jinavamsa... He instilled in me the deep importance of metta, and used to have people come to his home to practice metta meditation together.

Thanks to everyone who's taken part so far, and I hope it continues in the same spirit...  Ashk olsun, "May it become Divine Love", as some of the old Turkish Sufis used to say!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Great Heart Circle, 3rd May

"Light the candle of  wisdom within, in your heart, and go swiftly with shining heart on to the shining world"  Nasir-i Khusraw

This evening we held our monthly Great Heart Circle in Leicester, with guided relaxation, discussion, silent Zen meditation and a sacred meal.  Our theme for discussion this time was 'discussion'! We talked about how and why we have a discussion in the middle most months, and talked about "sohbet" in the Turkish Sufi tradition and debate in Tibetan Buddhism and Greek philosophy.  Especially we considered the quote from Nasir-i Khusraw above: our discussion is intended to awaken our hearts and minds a little in preparation for entering the period of deep silence that we have following the break.

At the end, we gave two more poetry scrolls out as gifts to people who've been coming along for over a year, in recognition of the connection we've made together.  Marie and Gabi are pictured above!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Persian Drumming Workshop, Sat 28th April

This afternoon we were lucky to have a Persian drumming workshop with Arian Sadr, a professional percussionist from Iran who now lives in Manchester.  The venue was the new upstairs room in Yesim Patisserie on Narborough Road.  There were  12 students altogther, and several people from the Great Heart Society came along with family and friends, giving the afternoon a sense of community for everyone else I think too.

Arian first gave a demonstration on Tonbek, the Iranian goblet drum, then moved on to the Daf - the large tambourine-like drum.  He taught us the basic hand positions and movements and rhythms, and after a break we all played energetic rhythms while he improvised in amazing patterns over the top!  If anyone hasn't heard the daf played before, have a look on Youtube, it's a wonderful instrument!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Great Heart Circle, 5th April 2012

This evening at our Great Heart Circle we took a song by the English folk singer Martha Tilston as the theme for discussion.


I remember how simple simplicity used to be
Before I tried too hard and chased it away.
It would float in, flow through and out of me.
Complication, well I rue the day.

I'm going to get right, right to the heart of it.
I was bigger when I was nothing at all,
Just another pilgrim marching to the sunset,
And it didn't matter if I got there:
It's the journey of it all.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Persian Drumming Workshop, coming Sat 28th April 1-3.30pm

I'm delighted finally to be arranging a Persian drumming workshop with Arian Sadr. He's a professional percussionist from Tehran, and he played at one of our Rumi celebrations in Manchester a couple of years ago!

Arian's doing a full 2.5hr workshop in Yesim Patisserie (the Turkish coffee shop on Narborough Road) on Sat 28th April from 1pm-3.30pm. The cost will be £30 per person, and there are 10 places in total.

Arian will be teaching Daf (frame drum) and Tonbak (goblet drum), you can check out his great website:

For people who practice meditation I think it's well worth learning about Persian music and rhythms, they're based on deep listening and receptivity. And for those who love Rumi and Hafez, it links you more deeply into classical Persian culture from which those poets sprang!

Come, come, and lets make it a really good day! Email: for details or booking!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Great Heart Circle, 1st March

This evening we held our Great Heart Circle in Leicester. Eight of us spent a friendly evening of relaxation, discussion, silent meditation and feasting on a wonderful shared meal.

We've now been meeting over two years in Leicester, so we took this evening to return to the essence of the approach we're exploring together, which we inherit from both Japanese Soto Zen and the Turkish Sufi tradition of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. Our approach is to begin from a view that nothing is missing, that at heart "our life is complete", "who we are is perfect", that "God is One"- whatever philosophical wording fits for anyone is fine. We then practice and work through the challenges of our lives with a sense of celebration rather than of lack. Our path can be a joyful one, despite how tough it can get. We read a description of someone's meeting with Suleyman Dede, the late Mevlevi Shaikh of Konya, to illustrate this theme.

We were honoured this evening to have a guest from Turkey, from the Alevi-Bektashi tradition who share the same spirit as the Mevlevi. She spoke to us a little about their practice and about her own patron saint, the mystic poet-singer-rebel Pir Sultan Abdal. We took a line from Pir Sultan Abdal's poetry as our approach to silent meditation this evening - "to Love we shall return".

The next meeting will be the Metta Circle off Narborough Road on the third Thursday of the month, and then the Great Heart Circle on 5th April.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

New Monthly 'Metta Circle' Begins...

This evening we held our first 'Metta Circle', a monthly training in the ancient Buddhist practice of developing universal love for all beings. On the third Thursday of each month we'll have a short teaching on "metta" (love/kindness), a period of metta meditation, and a 'council circle' on the theme of love. We'll also sing together an old Buddhist chant "Sabbe Satta Sukhi Hontu" which means "May All Beings Be Well And Happy".

Keeping in mind that we're not simply a Buddhist group, though we use "Buddhist" practices, we dedicated this new circle to the memory of the late Shaikh Muzaffer Ozak of the Helveti Jerrahi Sufi tradition from Istanbul. He's a great teacher in one of the lineages we're born from, and was himself a particularly wonderful example of creating a community of love and appreciation for one another. He was also a lover of the "Divine Feminine" (for want of better words), as was his student the late Lex Hixon who also inspires our Great Heart Society.

We appproached Metta practice as the song of the Divine Mother who loves all her children, the Divine Feminine in all of us which is there waiting to be discovered and expressed in our lives.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Second Annual Burns Night, and New Ceremony!

This evening in our monthly Great Heart Circle we celebrated the poetry and spirit of Robert Burns, reading and singing together some of his most famous works- A Red Red Rose, Westlin' Winds, A Man's A Man and the Gowden Locks of Anna. We talked about Burns' detailed appreciation of nature, how he knew the names and lives of so many creatures, and how in our modern lives we lose so much of that, by not seeing the world around us as richly as we could.

At the end of the Zen meditation session, we held a small new ceremony. Our group has no membership, anyone coming along is as much a part of it as anyone else. So to find a way to celebrate our connectedness, we'll be giving a small ceremonial gift to anyone who's been coming along regularly for a year or more. This doesn't make them more of a member, it's just a way of appreciating the connection they've made with us all. For this first ceremony, where there were seven people who've been coming along at least a year, we each received a handmade coloured Indian scroll with a line from a Zen poem written on it.

Next month will mark 2 years of us meeting in the Unitarian Chapel in Leicester, and on the third Thursday of this month we'll be starting a second circle, in someone's house, to work with the Buddhist meditation practice of developing universal Love, called "Metta" in the old language of Pali - the wish for all beings to be well, happy and that their heart's wish be fulfilled.

So let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a' that,
That sense and worth o'er all the earth
May bear the gree and a' that.
For a' that and a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That man to man, the world o'er
Shall brothers be, for a' that.

Robert Burns

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In Memory of Julian Sirkar Grindon-Welch, 1927-2005

I've noticed that there is no mention at all on the whole internet of Julian Grindon-Welch, a Sufi teacher who had a huge influence on me and the shaping of our Great Heart Society, apart from a brief obituary from the Telegraph in 2005. So I thought I'd write something here so his name will be remembered more widely.

I was introduced to Julian in 1997 through the International Sufi Movement, in which he was a Khalif and authorised initiator, and coordinator for the UK. We corresponded with each other by letter every two weeks for about a year, when I moved back up to Scotland and sadly lost touch with him, other than exchanging occasional emails. The last time I heard from him was less than a month before he died in 2005.

In Summer 1998 I visited Julian and his wife Evelyn in their beautiful historic house in Cornwall, I remember the train journey down there very well, blue skies and shining sun, spectacular views of the sea, the first time as an adult I'd been to Cornwall. Julian and Evelyn were perfect hosts for a couple of days, talking and drinking tea in their bright garden and reflecting on the spiritual path and Sufism and Hazrat Inayat Khan.

Julian's letters were very beautiful and practical, and over the years since I received them their words have taught me more and more, as I become a little bit maturer to understand them. He said he was drawn to Inayat Khan, the late Indian Sufi master, for "the gentleness and universality of his spirit", and described his own Sufi initiator as someone who might outwardly appear a crazy old lady, but who had "less ego than anyone I'd ever met".

He taught me to trust in my own experience and spiritual inspiration- that specific practices, teachings, schools, lineages, all ultimately are not crucial, although they might be very useful for many people. Instead he suggested I "believe you already have 'it', whatever 'it' is, and can develop it 'drop by drop, as the Buddha says'..."

He wrote: "Our ego can hide in many forms, even as our spiritual life and our spiritual teacher. So forget about it, and concentrate instead on the vibration of life which runs through every being and every object". He said that whatever we believe or have faith in, our faith in it draws Truth to us and guides us further on the path. What matters is to follow the guidance and inspiration in our life and heart, and all will be well.

"If you feel you need a guru then you probably do", Julian wrote, "but why go through anyone? All this is God!"

"The spiritual life is like the martial arts. It's about your next step... there is your star- your inspiration - and then there is your practical objective"... "living in the moment or, even better, the very next moment...", "we're not here to escape from human life, but to appreciate it all, the beauty of the stars and trees and human relationships".

All of us who enjoy our coming together in The Great Heart Society owe a lot to Julian: it was his words and spirit that taught me that it's ok to be open to everything, to trust innocently in the value of our gathering together in goodheartedness, that if we practice together from the heart then Truth will be drawn to us and we will be drawn to Truth. From my heart, I say thank you to him and consider him a true guide of the Heart.

"Truth is a line which runs from the human heart straight to the heart of God" he told me. May Julian's heart be alive and blessed in the Love and Peace of the God he believed in.

Chris Zang Starbuck,
19th January 2012

Thursday, January 5, 2012

January Great Heart Circle

Our first Great Heart Circle of the year took the theme of blessings- how each human being can be a source of blessings and spiritual inspiration for any other. The purpose of gatherings like ours is to help us encounter each other in this kind of way, whereas if we met in other walks of life we might not be able to appreciate each other as fully. A Circle Practice like ours can be both a source and a generator of "baraka" as it's called in Arabic, or "adisthana" in Sanskrit- the power of blessings which help us grow.

To explore how a gathering could be a source of blessings, we looked at the Jewish practice of Shabbat, with the mystical sense of the Shabbat being a bride and a queen. We learned to sing a part of the Jewish song "Lekha Dodi" together, "Come O Beloved", to a beautiful tune. At the last part of our silent zen meditation session, we sang Lekha Dodi again, this time as a "niggun" - a tune sung without words - and invited the women present to feel that through them blessings were entering our circle, the men receptive to the womens' light.

During the meditation and the sacred meal at the end we lit candles, and listened to Jewish music from around the world.