One minute of Mindfulness in Greenwich park

A little gem in my life, mindfulness during an early morning glide through Greenwich park.  Everything so vivid, at peace and alive.  Enjoy!

Enjoy the one minute of calm.

Mindfulness is the practice of awareness.  It involves dropping the thoughts from our minds and connecting instead with the experiential moment in its pure unadulterated form.

When I practice mindfulness I found that there world literally becomes more vibrant. Colours become vivid, the more I concentrate, the more I see, the more I feel.  Concentrating without putting a label on the thing, I do not think, ‘a leaf’, ‘a tree’, ‘a row of trees’.  No, instead mindfulness is about dropping all thinking and just existing and witnessing what exists.

If you have not done so then please try it.  It’s a wonderful experience to connect with the fundamental goodness of reality.

The rhizome of life: Carl Jung

Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away–an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.

Jung Carl from Memories Dreams Reflections

–x–

These times we live, the trials of our lives, they can seem such a drama.  However, is this just a question of perspective?  Are we too close?  Are events the petals that will drop? If so, will they fertilise the soil?

Perhaps, in this, we have no choice, causality rules and as long as humanity endures the tapestry of rhizome develops.  What can we do to ensure a healthy growth?

A perspective on the ever shifting collective consciousness of humanity, inspired by Jung.

The Frog and the Scorpion

A frog is about to cross a river at its narrow point when he notices a fearsome scorpion prowling the bank. The frog quickly tries to take cover in some reeds but the scorpion has already seen him and moves closer.  Just as the frog is about to jump into the water and flee he notices the scorpion’s demeanour, it looks almost sad.  The scorpion asks, ‘please will you help me to cross this river? I can jump on your back and you can carry me.’   Being a kind creature the frog pauses and listens.  However, the frog is no fool and replies ‘But, you will sting me and kill me!’  The scorpion responds, ‘If I did we would both drown.’  The frog considers for a moment and compassion and kindness take hold.  The frog agrees.  Midway across the river the frog feels a sharp pain in his back as the scorpion’s stinger penetrates his skin.  ‘Why did you do that?’ asks the Frog, ‘we will both now drown!’.  The scorpion replies, ‘I could not help it, it’s in my nature’.

—x—

This is one of those very simple stories that we can relate with in many different ways.  When I first heard this my thoughts was of nature, transience, impermanence and the thought that however hopeful, we cannot change that much of the negative nature of this physical world, time passes, things change, decay and die. Tagging some keywords for this post was revealing about the depth of meaning that I take from this, a much more positive outlook.

Frog Scorpion Keywords - AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

I empathise with the frog, the frog is hopeful or change, it wants to believe the good in something seen as bad.  Perhaps the frog was naive, he should have trusted his knowledge and not trusted the scorpion.  But, the frog tried to make a better world, it died doing so, but at least it tried.

But, perhaps sometimes things are just not meant to be, people are not ready to change, as hopeful and however much we give and try, we often have to accept this and take care of ourselves.

As for the scorpion? I do not view the scorpion as all bad, its acting from it’s conditioning as a scorpion, it just cannot help itself.  It’s ‘nature’ cost them their lives.  Life is such, somethings we cannot change, we just have to accept them.

I can also empathise with the scorpion, sometimes my nature has led me towards patterns of behaviour that upon reflection I have regretted – but like the scorpion we can only act according to our current level of consciousness.

Of course, I would rather live like the frog, with hope and optimism and risk getting stung – that’s in my nature.

Repost: Why it can be good to feel emptiness

 

When you begin to realize that notion of loving and gentleness in yourself, and at the same time you begin to give up the notion of trying to find out the real truth.  And there is the real notion of where shunyata [emptiness] experience begins to happen.

Chogyam Trungpa

Around three years ago I was homeless for 5 months, I lived in a garage. It was my choice I suppose, I had walked out on a broken marriage and made myself homeless so that I could give all of my financial support to my family. This left me with a meager budget and I could not afford accommodation. This experience was hard at times for sure, but it was also very liberating.

You see, a lot of my life I had been operating with a background motivation of avoiding losing things: my possessions, my job, my relationship, my kids and always in the background my life. Losing things was always very painful for me. I think we all try to hold onto things in the belief that they will secure our happiness, its a very human tendency, one I think is wrong and conversely causes more suffering. In our attempts to avoid losing things we form this defensive position which is quite exhausting and extremely limiting. Like a dog defending a bone, growling, tense and upset and unable to do anything but stay with its bone. How much happier the dog would be if it could leave the bone and go off and enjoy the rest of its environment.

My experience of near total loss brought about some insight for me. I discovered that when you do lose things, there is a period of suffering as the mind grumbles in a very real and painful way about the ‘unfairness’ or ‘sadness’ of the situation. The fundamental basis of this feeling is probably the loss of some deeply held belief about oneself and the one’s future, in other words those self constructed beliefs that form our ego.  But, the revelation  that came to me from my loss was that when there is nothing left to lose, when you really are stripped back to the basics of having nothing, then since there is nothing left to lose, there is also nothing left to fear and that is a really nice place to be.

Loss the fear of loss - from AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

So the emptiness of the situation when fully embraced  contains no fear of loss and is quite free. Like a soldier that accepts the hopelessness of his situation and his certain death and at that point loses all fear.

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all

Hamlet, Shakespeare

My understanding of emptiness is that its a wonderful feeling that we can have when we accept each moment with a total fearlessness and acceptance of what ever might happen without judging of good or bad. I am not saying that in my circumstance of loss I was able to be in this feeling for long. It was a challenge to avoid the tendency to keep objecting to the unfairness. However, there were these moments of beautiful acceptance and freedom that washed over me like a cool wave of water on a hot day.

Walking with freedom - from AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

So how does that work now, well, when I remember I try to bring that feeling back into the day. I try to set out with a feeling of whatever will be will be and in doing so I find a more expansive feeling, something I think is closer to my personal Shunyata.

Four universal words of wisdom

Another favourite story of mine, told for centuries passed on here from my own memory.  Anicca, enjoy.

-x-

There was a young king who suffered greatly with events.  He was not a bad king, he just struggled with the ups and downs of life. During his reign the kingdom went through periods of recession, famine, disease and all manner of negative circumstance.  During these bad times, he, his advisors and his whole kingdom would became so despondent, never seeing the end, never imagining salvation.

However, over the years his kingdom  also went through many fine times of abundance and prosperity. But, during these times he would become swept away with the euphoria of events, he would spend, spend, spend, hold many feasts and festival; he, his advisors and his people would  be so happy! They would feel feel immortal; ”what could touch them?’

Then, of course, something would touch them. Events would transpire and life would take a turn towards the negative.  And so his rule continued, up to exquisite highs and down to the depths of defeat.

After many years of these soaring highs and crushing lows, he woke one morning having had enough.  He set his councillors a task. ‘Find me a something to help me to rule better’.

Hs advisors travelled the world seeking wisdom. They found numerous wise men and women that knew how to deal with the bad times.  Similarly they found many words of wisdom for dealing with the good times.  But, they found only one universal advice that could be applied in both circumstance.  The wisdom, they consolidated into four words so that they could have it  engraved onto a ring.  Their king could then wear the ring and forever be made conscious of it’s wisdom.

What was the universal wisdom? Simply,  that ‘This Too Shall Pass’.

-x-

This wisdom reminds me to savour the moments when life is good but not to get carried away by it, to appreciate and to love but not to cling too tightly. Furthermore, I find that an appreciative awareness of the transience of beautiful things enhances them (Freud’s requiem).   Likewise, this wisdom reminds me that darkness passes and light shines through, sometimes we just need to ride the out the storm.

This wisdom – Anicca – is one of Buddhism’s fundamental mark of existence. All things will pass. To avoid suffering, one better embrace this fact of life.

-x-

Many versions of this adage have been told, perhaps the most famous is:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, “And this too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

Abraham Lincoln,  1859

Another version by David  Franko of Turkey

“One day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah Ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, “Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it.”

“If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty,” replied Benaiah,

I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?” “It has magic powers,” answered the king. “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility.

Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares on a shabby carpet. “Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?” asked Benaiah.

He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile. That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity.

“Well, my friend,” said Solomon, “have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled. To everyone’s surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: gimel, zayin, yud, which began the words “Gam zeh ya’avor” — “This too shall pass.” At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.”

David Franko

Optimism reposted: Rather light a candle than complain about darkness

I love this expression, it has been important to my optimism in life.  On a simple level it helped me to stop complaining about problems and instead to do something about it, obvious really?

Well, not quite for me.  You see, there has been a few points in my life where I have felt quite depressed with life and the world that we live in. During these times I knew it was really important to take actions against my own stupor. However, I just saw no solution to the problems in my life and my place in the world. After all, lighting a single candle is not going to dispel the darkness.  Many people will still be selfish, greedy, unfair and hurtful. Society will still be making demands that I feel are wrong. The rich will still have all the wealth while people die of hunger.

The problem with my thinking was that I was focusing too much on the big problems  all on my own; problems that can’t be solved individually or quickly.  It took some understanding of non-duality to realise that I won’t resolve any big problem alone.  I can light a candle myself and make my world brighter. In doing so I might also brighten those around me. I can make it easier for me to dwell in my environment by making positive changes to my life. Without effort, these changes then cast light for others, and perhaps they too might light a candle.

For example, I don’t eat meat. That’s one candle lit. This does not change the world and nor does it save many animals but it brightens my existence.  It also provides some light for others to see and perhaps they too, one day, follow.

So I used to look at the big scale, the macro changes in the world and I would feel down.  Now I focus on myself, make myself brighter and better, shine for myself and then sometimes others. If we all lit candles instead of complaining then together all those little lights would be quite bright. After all, tiny rain drops can cause a flood just as tiny snowflakes can cover a landscape.

So please light a candle and be happier


This was first published 9 months ago and has been resurrected to spread further light.

What do you do that spreads light?

Peace and love!

The unspoken tragedy of stillbirth; a male perspective

It was around 9:30am and I was walking on air, down the hill from the Whittington hospital in London, sunshine and snow flakes falling like confetti – a bright day – snow flakes should have been improbable but this morning was pure magic.  A small photograph in my bag of a baby (a girl unknown to me at the time).  The image measured her at around 3cm, in truth she was hardly recognisable as a baby, but I had been shown where to look on the image. I had absolute joy in my heart at the creation of this being.  I went to work that day straight from the appointment, I still had the scan photo in my bag and could not resist sharing it with my colleagues, beaming and smiling.

Weeks quickly passed and all rather uneventfully.  We were busy caring for each other. I was probably a somewhat doting father to be, ensuring the expectant mother’s fatigue levels were managed, attending to craving needs, learning about the right foods to eat, what to do and what not to do, attending all the appointments and visits; I was very involved. We had the pregnancy books that described what was happening week by week and we kind of had a schedule to read together each week.  It was a lovely time.

As the weeks passed we named our child Serena, we knew it was a girl from a follow-up scan and wanted to be able to prepare for her.  She was growing nicely. At some point, I can’t recall exactly when, the first flutter of butterfly wings were felt in my partner’s belly.  I could feel them too, “Simon” my partner would say, “come and touch them she is fluttering.”  She would guide my hand onto the right spot, I would wait very still, all concentration focused on the feelings in my fingers, waiting, for something, then, the flutter, a movement, wonderful!

As she grew butterfly flutters turned to somersaults and massive contortions of flesh as elbows and knees protruded and moved. Serena would respond to sounds, voices, even my voice!  I had a song I would sing, I would press my head onto the belly and sing:

If you go down in the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today you’d better go in disguise
For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain
Because today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic

Every Teddy Bear who’s been good is sure of a treat today
There’s lots of marvellous things to eat and wonderful games to play
Beneath the trees where nobody sees they’ll hide and seek as long as they please
That’s the way the Teddy Bears have their picnic
Picnic time for Teddy Bears
The little Teddy Bears are having a lovely time today
Watch them, catch them unawares and see them picnic on their holiday
See them gaily gad about
They love to play and shout
They never have any cares

At six o’clock their Mummies and Daddies will take them home to bed
‘Cause they’re tired little Teddy Bears
If you go down in the woods today you better not go alone
It’s lovely down in the woods today but saver to stay at home
For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain
Because today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic

Henry Hall

I did not know the lyrics, I learnt them for her, for my baby girl.

The second trimester passed, and we were into the third.  We had moved house and began to setup home for Serena.  We had been to various baby swap events, had a nice cot, some clothes, and other items.  We had moved into a lovely little apartment overlooking the docklands of London, it had a river view, big floor to ceiling windows that caught the evening sunset over the water, fantastic.

I think there was a really hot Sunday and we spent the day preparing, I painted up the baby cot with some new varnish. The next day my brother came to visit for dinner. He lived far but was in London for business on the Monday.  My wife had told me that Serena’s normal morning exercise routine – summersault, kicks  and elbow gouges – was absent that day. We ate curry, I cooked it, I like cooking and spent hours making the curry, freshly ground spices and slow cooked.  After dinner Serena was still strangely quiet.  My heart felt assurances turned to some slight anxiety.   We decided to go to the hospital to have things checked.

We attended the royal London hospital this time, I had a friend who was a midwife there. However, it’s choice was just governed by location really and my friend was not working that day.  A kindly midwife lay my partner down on a bed, wheeled in a heart rate monitor machine.  It had chords leading to big suckers that fitted onto my partners big belly.  The midwife was young, short bobbed hair, slightly blonde ginger and freckled, jolly and very nice.

She connected the machine up and played with some of the buttons and dials on the machine, I held my wife’s hand and squeezed, looked at her and smiled for reassurances, telling myself and her that this was all fine.  We all just waited for the thud, thud ,thud of the heartbeat.   Hear it comes, I thought.  The mid-wife began to adjust the suckers, took them off, reapplied.  I squeezed my partners hand again, my partner said, “Simon, its all okay isn’t it?”  I nodded, “It will be fine”.  Inside I was beginning to panic. Seconds dragged out like minutes. The midwife began to move the suckers again, she looked more desperate. Her face began to redden, I will never forget the redness of her face and the flustered movements – she knew. Everything was now running in slow motion.

After seconds, maybe a minute, who knows, she said, “I’ll get another machine this one is not working.”  She hurried off.  We waited as she wheeled in another machine. I can’t recall if at this point she was joined by a colleague, but the atmosphere was changing.  She hooked up a fresh machine, and nothing.  They exchanged glances, I knew too, we knew.  A doctor appeared, a little Indian, maybe she had been there a while, I don’t know. Time just hung.  My partner was just calling out, “Simon, its  all right? Isn’t it, Simon, Simon…Simon”.   I felt helpless, I could do nothing.  They had drawn the curtain, around the bed, the doctor said that they needed to check fully but they could not find a heart beat and the baby was likely dead.

-x-

This has been something I have wanted to write for a while, it’s been over 10 years since this happened. Attending a funeral yesterday strengthened my resolve to finally write this. It brought back memories of that little coffin in an empty chapel, just me, my partner, her sister, a christian monk and a little plain wooden coffin.   I hope that writing it down and putting it out to the world gives another kind of closure, the pain is still there, I can still cry about this and that’s fine, it’s human. Getting over something does not mean that the painful memories turn to rainbows and sunshine, but it does mean that I accept and understand the nature of life and events, that I understand and feel a communion with humanity. I feel humbled by events, like a stone washed up in the sea that has lost its hardness, it’s all part of being alive.

Still birth is quite common – 3,600 deaths per year in the UK, one for every 200 pregnancy.  Its not something discussed or considered until is happened.  It’s an utter tragedy. Apart from the trauma of the death itself, there is the carrying of the dead baby for a few days while the labour is induced, then the giving birth of a dead baby that follows. In the UK we have the issue of organising both a birth and death certificate, then a funeral with a coffin that is painfully tiny.  What follows is a looking for answers,’ what did we do wrong?’

For anyone that has been through this or is going through this – you are not alone.  Be strong, its hard.  Time can heal this. We don’t know the full journey of our lives, we don’t know how things will be in future, so have hope as things can improve (Living free; shedding the good and bad labels).

For us, in true Hollywood style we got a happy ending.   Two years later we had Lara – our little lion as she was always so big and strong – and three years after that we had Jay – our peaceful zen master.  The tragedy was all part of our journey into parenthood.   Tragedy can happen.  I don’t for a second assume that the story of life is complete.  Life can change in a heartbeat, so I just try to savour the moments that I have, enjoy the company of those I love and give out love.  The truth is that everything passes and all things have an end. That’s the life we live.  I take from all of this a greater intensity within the transient moments of life (Freud’s requiem and the joy of transience) and my children have the absolute adoration and love of their father.

Everything flows and nothing stays.
Everything flows and nothing abides.
Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
Everything flows; nothing remains.
All is flux, nothing is stationary.
All is flux, nothing stays still.
All flows, nothing stays.

Various versions of a quote from Heraclitus of Ephesus, 500 bc

Love and peace.

And this, for me, is forever Serena’s song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZANKFxrcKU

Terrorism and trees

If a tree falls in a forest, and there is no one to  hear it, does it make a sound?

I am pretty sure trees fall quite often,  yet it is not something that I worry about.    But, what would happen if a tree falling – like terrorism – were reported across every news outlet constantly for days and days?  Imagine if we walked into stores and instead of terrorism, we saw newspapers depicting falling trees – the devastation caused,  interviews with survivors and witnesses and experts discussing all the potential ways that trees could fall in future.   We would probably become quite concerned about the issue.

This is exactly what happens with the media whenever something ‘news worthy’  occurs.

Recently, in the UK we suffered a terrorist attack.  In truth it was quite minor with a handful of deaths.   Now, I am in no way am I dismissing the trauma to those concerned but we need to keep this event in perspective.

The reality check

In 2015, Europe suffered 175  fatalities from terrorism [1].  In 2015 Europe suffered 26,000 road traffic fatalities [2].   Furthermore, according to research published in the Lancet it takes 29 minutes for 175 children to die from malnutrition in this world [3]  – that’s 10 seconds per child death.

The media is responsible for propagating the irrational fear of terrorist  attacks.  The reality is that the world faces far greater problems.  So please,  let’s keep perspective. Even in the face  of the hysterical  publicity of events  that, in reality,  are not a major risk.

What concerns me

I vow to continue my life without fear of terrorism,  however I do also vow to something to help poverty in this world.  Something that kills far more people than terrorism.

Sources

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/transport/road_safety/specialist/statistics_en

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22935692

[3] http://ec.europa.eu/transport/road_safety/sites/roadsafety/files/pdf/observatory/trends_figures.pdf

Child friendly meditation

My children – a boy of 6 and a girl of 9 years – are fairly typical and struggle with finding calm space in the maelstrom of their lives.  But, I want them to be able to take timeout from their engagement with activities.  In truth,  some of their activities can become so all consuming and they lose all mindfulness to the world outside. How then can I get them to develop moments of stillness? How can I give them tools for dealing with the intensity of life?  My plan is to find a child friendly meditation for us to practice together.

Don’t misunderstand me, I think concentration is good, but the right type of concentration. Concentration that is aware and importantly under control. My kids though, especially with technology, often lose control of themselves and get absorbed.

The plan

Now, around two years ago I had the pleasure of attending a mindfulness evening with the super human monks of Plum Village.  The evening involved, mindful orange eating and various physical activities, but what I really took home and practiced was a trade mark song of theirs; breathing in and breathing out.

Breathing in, breathing out.
Breathing in, breathing out.
I am fresh as the dew.
I am solid as a mountain.
I am firm as the earth.
I am free.

Breathing in, breathing out.
I am water reflecting
What is real, what is true,
And I feel there is space
Deep inside of me.
I am free, I am free, I am free.

The monastics of Plum Village

Its something so simple. I use this song myself to find space when I am lost in thought. In my life the demands and stresses of events often derail and then blow me around. Like being hit by a storm, I get swept away before eventually landing and finding that moment of calmness to practice some grounding and recenter myself.  But, during that grounding, I feel like a beginner practitioner again and I need something simple This song provides that simplicity.

And, I think it could also work for my children.  Why?

  1. It is simple.
  2. It has hand gestures which they will enjoy learning.
  3. It has a song which encourage participation.
  4. It is short and therefore a suitable introduction.

So, I plan to practice this every day with them and see where it leads.

The wow moment from knocking down walls

The ground falls away beneath your feet leaving you feeling suspended in open space, weightless, boundless, light, optimistic and free. A wow moment.

A wow moment is that feeling when something shifts in my world; much like a wall collapsing to reveal something more spacious.  The sudden loss of some constraining boundary feels vast and boundless.  It is very hard to describe the experience itself beyond a sudden sense of freedom and expansiveness.

So what triggers these moments?

I consume a good many spiritual teachings from Buddhist monks, more mainstream spiritual teachers and other sources including academic sociology, philosophy and psychology.  In addition to studying, I also ‘try’ to practice a life of mindfulness; a life without too much intellectualisation.  But, these two activities:  study and mindfulness, seem to oppose one another.

If the aim is to be mindful, ‘why do I consume written or spoken material?’ Rather than simply experiencing and being present? Isn’t the study like ‘reading about living rather than experiencing living?’  or like ‘reading about swimming without actually swimming?’  Well, I don’t find that so, and here is why.

For one, I find studying very calming. It is also an inspiration for my future experiential practices.  It gives me more motivation to return to some practice with fresh vigor.  However, I also find that reading or listening has the capability of inducing one of these wow moments.  For example, I might find myself listening to a spiritual lecture and at some point the teaching might say something that breaks down a wall that was constraining my thinking.  The studying brings about a shift in my world and in my consciousness.

Often I cannot articulate precisely the notion that has caused the shift. However the feeling is quite a strong, “ooh, wow, yes” followed by an opening.   The wow moment is this very liberating feeling; a lightening of some load; a realisation. It’s an amazing experience and one that keeps me returning to study.

That’s not to say that I have not also had these wow moments during meditation or mindful activity. But, I do believe that studying also has the capacity to open my mind to some shift in my being too.

Sharing the wow

And this is why I continue to listen, to read and to learn.  It’s an utter pleasure to think that at times, perhaps, me passing on some of what I have read or experienced could bring about a ‘wow’ moment for others; not from some conceit but as an act of loving kindness.

May you all find and enjoy your ‘wow’ moments, whenever and wherever you find them.

Peace and love.

wow moments - AnAccidentalAnarchist.com