The fertilizer of our lives; Who ordered this truckload of dung?

Two neighbours both moved into gorgeous country houses adjacent to a popular walk and bridleway.  It was a lovely environment. Open feilds, a sea view, pretty trees and cute wildlife. After a few days they began to notice that walking horses would foul the pathway outside their respective homes.

Over time, one of the neighbours found it hard to make friends and people often avoided him.  Whereas the other neighbour was popular and had no problem making friends.

Furthermore, the already popular neighbour began to grow his garden and soon his garden was producing lots of beautiful produce.  So much that he left it in crates on the path for the local walkers to help themselves.

The unpopular neighbour began asking people what he was doing wrong, but they would cut short the conversations, often curling their noses while walking away.

What was he doing wrong?


The answer: He was collecting the dung from the path and putting it into his pocket. He had no idea what to do with it and would often carry it for too long. Furthermore, in his attempt to avoid the dung, he would complain to people passing, cautioning them and sometimes even accusing them of fouling the pathway.

The other, wiser neighbour, was simply using the dung to fertilise his garden.


What do we carrying around that makes us stink?  Do you carry your complaints? Your grumbles? Your injustices? Do they make you unpleasant to be around?

Wouldn’t it be wiser to use the events of our lives to fertilize the garden of our being?

We can transform the bad in our lives and even grow from it. 


Credit for this story goes to Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Brahm (who ordered this truckload of dung) and Chogyam Trungpa (The manure of life and the field of Bodhi).


Peace and love

 

 

 

 

 

Acceptance like a Zen master; Is that so

There was a Zen master who lived a peaceful, illuminated life of acceptance.   He was a source of wisdom for the local community.  Within the community, there was a respected family with one daughter of 18 years age.

The daughter was pregnant and soon her belly became too large to conceal.  Her enraged father demanded to know who was responsible.  Initially the daughter resisted telling but eventually in tears muttered the name of the Zen master.  The father stormed to the house of the Zen master and confronted him, “You have fathered a child with my young daughter, you swine!”  The Zen master replied “Is that so”.

Her baby was born a few weeks later; a healthy boy.  Her father immediately took the child and gave it to the Zen master shouting, ‘Here! it’s your child! you look after it”. The Zen master replied, “Is that so”.

A year later the daughter confessed to her family that the father was actually a handsome young man who worked at the local baker store.  The father returned to the Zen master, he explained the huge error.  The Zen master replied, “Is that so” and handed the baby back to the father.


The Zen master was able to accept all manner of circumstance without feeling a need for complaint or objection.  Can we do the same?


I try to remember this story throughout the challenges of life.  Sometimes facing a situation, an attack in words, or some other circumstance.  I try to find the space to stop and say “is that so” and in doing so try to avoid the need to complain or wish otherwise.

A word of caution, however, some people will react with more hostility if you speak, “is that so”.  So I often find its better to just think it without muttering the words.

 

 

 

Enjoying the honey in the midst of adversity

This is the fourth tale in a series of classic old stories I am posting throughout December, told pretty much as they have been for generations.


Many years ago,  a wise man encountered a hungry tiger while walking through the jungle back to his village. The man immediately began to run and the tiger gave chase.

After a few steps, he recalled a dried up well which was quite fortunately just a few steps further down the path.  He sprinted for the well and quickly dived into it.

However, as he was falling downward he heard a hiss.  Alarmed he quickly reached out a hand and grabbed at the sides of the well.  Luckily his had caught an overgrowing root and he was able to stop his fall.

He looked downwards and saw a huge hungry snake at the bottom of the dried up well. He looked up and saw the tiger peering over the edge of the well.  He hung for a minute or two before his situation got worse.  A small rat appeared from a hole in the wall of the well and it began to chew at the root.

The root soon began to fray.

Meanwhile, the tiger was reaching into the well.  In doing so, its feet were pushing against a nearby tree for purchase. causing it to sway.  The swaying motion of the tree caused a drop of honey to fall down the well from an overhanging bee hive.

The snake continued to hiss, the tiger continued to push, the mouse kept chewing through the root, the tree kept swaying and the beehive kept dripping honey into the well.

The man extended his tongue and caught some honey.

mmmm, honey”, he thought.


Life can throw us so much adversity.   Can you still enjoy the drops of honey that fall even during adversity?

Two monks carrying a burden

An older and a younger monk are walking back to their monastery when they notice a young woman passed out in the middle of a busy road.

The older monk tries to rouse her without response, before finally picking her up and carrying her from the road to safety.  He manages to wake her and set her safely on her way.  The younger monk is shocked and could not believe what he had seen happen.

They walk in silence for an hour, two hours, three then four before finally the younger monk can no longer suppress his feelings and says “You should not have picked up that girl, we are not allowed to handle women.”  The other monk responds, “are you still carrying her? I put her down hours ago.”


What burden do you carry in the mind long after it ceased to exist?

Enter Zen from there; A simple Zen story of how to find peace

A learning student of Zen practice was out for a stroll with a more experienced teacher. They walked through the mountains near their accommodation.  Majestic views, a cool evening, everything so calm, truly a blissful environment to walk.

After some time the student said to his friend, “I am trying to find Zen* but I keep thinking about where best to begin and how to do it”.

They continue walking for a few minutes. The student, lost now in further worry, begins to think his friend might not have heard the remark.  He opens his mouth to speak again when his teacher comments. “Do you hear the steam? Enter Zen from there.”

The student listens for a minute or two, paying attention until he eventually hears the sound of a distant stream.  “Satori”** He realised something he could not express.

They continue walking and for the first time the student experiences all there is around him.  After some time however, his mind intrudes upon this peace.  He asks his teacher, “What would you have said if I could not hear the stream? If I heard or saw something else?” 

His teacher responds, “Enter Zen from there.”


We can choose to enter mindful alertness and find peace at any time using anything. I find myself guilty of demanding the ‘right’ circumstances sometimes.  But, we can instead just choose to be alert and alive to the unfolding moments.  Don’t let the mind make excuses or conjure layers of complexity.

We can enter Zen from anywhere!


*Zen – Something words cannot describe, but perhaps the state of completeness with the universe, mindfulness, alertness, presence.

**Satori – A sudden realisation or enlightenment.

zenmountainquote

Sign posts to the moon

A young spiritual learner was out for a walk with a wise old master and his dog. The evening was peaceful and cool. They walked in silence.

After some time the novice says to the wise master, “I have been learning various spiritual teachings on meditation and mindfulness”.

The master nods his head.

The novice then confesses that he has recently become lost with meditation.  That the more he studies, the more lost he becomes.  The various teachings say different things.  So  now, he does not know what to do anymore.

“Wise master”, he asks.  “Do I look at the tip of my nose? or do I close my eyes? do I sit or stand? please tell me which approach is best and end this confusion”.

The master smiles. He the points to the moon and commands his dog to look at the moon. The dog simply stares at his pointing finger.

The master then explains, “Words are conceptualisation and are merely pointers to something beyond; do not focus on the pointing fingers or you will never find the moon”.

 

-x-

“All words about spiritual values are just hints. Don’t hold onto the words as if they are realities. They are hints, almost the way I can point to the moon with my finger – but don’t catch hold of my finger. My finger is not the moon. Although my finger was pointing to the moon, it was only a hint.”

Zarathustra: A God That Can Dance

Toshidama Gallery
Toshidama Gallery

 

Giving freely, confidence and human expression

Do you consider yourself a generous person? You give to charity, help friends and colleagues out when they get into trouble?  If so, that’s good, but let’s not shelve a consideration of generosity just yet.  Let’s dig a bit deeper first. 

What does giving really mean?

Europe has had a refugee crisis for years yet all our politicians talk about is what we can ‘afford’ to do; ‘How many people can we afford to take to our shores?’  Don’t worry, this is not a political post, but I want to make this point.  In the UK our leaders have decided on a little quota of refugees that we can take; ‘little’ as they do not want to inconvenience existing British society. Heaven forbid anyone should have to wait longer for their medical treatment on account of some ill people from foreign shores. This highlights such a lack of generosity, something that feels to me like a King throwing his scraps from the table to the poor.

Now, I admit my faults in this too. A major part of this blog and these posts are about me figuring out how best to think about things in my life so I can form them into something approaching coherence which can then guide how I operate in the world.  And upon reflection, I definitely confess to having been the King at the table who has very often only spared that which can be spared.  

However, I will stand up now and make my statement; ‘Hello my name is Simon and I confess to clinging too much to my possessions, my thoughts, myself and in fact nearly everything I value’.  I vow to do better. In fact, I want to put forward a discussion of giving as a vital part of human expression that can uplift our existence. A giving that manifests as the opposite of sacrifice but rather as an expression of my being, my confidence, and my freedom.

Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.
Erich Fromm
Letting go

Sadly for me, it took a total life crisis and the loss of much of importance to really see that grasping and clinging to things was not actually providing the satisfaction that I thought it would.  You see, this clinging feeling came from a fundamental base of insufficiency. I had this underlying feeling that I never had enough, so I could spare little.  My satisfaction was firmly rooted in the belief that happiness stemmed from the stuff in my life, my possessions, my thoughts, my time, my partner and myself. Ultimately though, the clinging generated a constant feeling of tension and stress. There was this underlying worry about either ‘how to get more’ or ‘how to not lose what had’.  Breaking down this mentality not only made me less tense but also opened up my world  to a freer generosity.

This is not exactly a new insight, the Greek philosopher Epicurus (crica 300 BC) stated:

If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires.
Epicurus
 So what brought this change about for me?

In short, having children and a major life crisis (Link to my post about finding emptiness). My children gave me a very interesting opening into what it means to give in the truest sense. With my children, I know that they will leave me, they will one day go their own way, they will be independent and yet I still have this strong desire to give to them.  In fact, parents stand up! Let’s be honest, our little darlings don’t very often thank us for what we give yet there is still this deep sense of satisfaction in giving to them.

A good example for me is the lovely warm satisfaction and delight of watching them eat. They are simply sat at the table scoffing down the dinner but I love it, all of it, they way they roll into the kitchen with the swagger of  royalty, then the sight of them in their chairs, heads down, plate of food in front of them, dessert to their left, fruit smoothie front and right, them contented, a little bliss for me as a parent and a pure gift from me to them. I look at them in these moments and think, bless you, enjoy my darlings.

Even if you do not have children I am sure you have had similar feelings with ‘feeding’.  Perhaps with animals, throwing bread or seeds to birds in a park, feeding seagulls at the beach or animals at the zoo.

This kind of giving is an expression of love in a true sense and that’s something that I find myself searching for in life.  It’s giving without receiving, it’s a loss of time, money, energy with no return compensation, except that inner joy that giving can generate.  You might say, ‘but they give you love back?’  They do, yes, but like the animal in the park, they are ultimately destined to leave and live their lives. So there is also a touch of transcending the false notion of permanence;  giving knowing something will not last is all about a pure moment of human expression of the truth of reality. The notion that ‘I know it will not be mine – but I do it anyway out of love for it’ And it’s that feeling of giving regardless, a feeling that I found through my children (thank-you darlings) that prompted an expansion of generosity into other areas of my life.

Mother Teressa reportedly had a version of  Kent Kieth’s ‘Paradoxical Commandments’ on the wall of her orphanage in Calcutta which summarizes this notion so very beautifully:

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

Getting back to the issue of children and/or romantic partners it’s worth mentioning that a clandestine style of giving is not exactly the notion. One aspect of generosity when limited exclusively to close partners, is that generosity might be something of a false dawn. Erich Fromm commented that some romantic relationships can lead to the formation of a joint self (aka a joint ego).  In this mode, the self-view expands to encompass the other into oneself. A partnership becomes one but is still very much disjoint from the outside word. This could extend to families which become one unit but are essentially hostile and defensive to the outside world. Fromm wrote about this as ‘Egoisme a deux’ – the ego of two. So in that sense, giving and loving is not really achieved with another as the other is simply subsumed into the self – the ego of two. This notion could be extended further  into insular organizations, be that groups of friends with no generosity for those outside the group, religion, societies and even to countries.

So what caused this ‘stinginess’ in life?

I think most of my life, and life in general, involves trading not giving. Take romantic relationships as an example, in some way there is this need for something, I cook dinner, I get thanked. I stay at home and watch the kids so my partner could go out, she reciprocates. I love you, so you love me. All goes well until someone perceives that they are not getting their slice of the cake. At this point, they might begin to feel unappreciated or even abused in the relationship. They might ask, ‘Why am I the one doing all the giving?’

The problem is that in most of our lives, we trade, we don’t give and this certainly carries into our supposed love relationships too.  Trade is the transfer of something in return for something, the transfer of money, time, goodwill and anything else that can be bartered and exchanged for something.  Perhaps receiving in return, money, time, thanks, goodwill, future favors, good behavior and ‘love’.

Trade has become such a central part of the subconscious of Western life that it is embedded in the fabric of nearly every transaction we make with others in the world. Western society values good trades, the so-called ‘clever man’ is able to trade profitably, he gives away less than he receives.  Conversely, only ‘a fool’ gives away things for less than their worth, be that time, love, money, etc.

What a fool l am now, and what a glad fool

At many points in my life, I have felt ashamed to give freely to others. I have also had to explain why I am giving something away. Western society actually made me feel wrong for doing something out of compassion. This does not necessarily or solely include possessions, money or effort, on a more intimate level, ‘giving’ love can be a challenge.

But giving – by definition – involves the loss of something. This might sound severe as the act of giving generates such an inner pleasure, but the point I am trying to make is that to truly give, is to give without any expectation in return and that involves parting with something.  However, there is some inner gain as it feels like a liberation and freedom.  Free because giving does not make any demands that require judgement of value (nothing is expected to be returned therefore there is no weighing of its merit). It’s simply an act without the judgment, even on the part of yourself, except perhaps that you feel it might brings something good to another. So it’s a moment of freedom and letting go.

So how about giving oneself?

Can we be open, free and remove the armor that shields our emotions and protects our egos? I think for many people, myself included, interactions between people can involve a certain shyness because someone is afraid to give themselves. Ultimately I think this comes from needing something in return? From looking for the trade, perhaps some approval?  ‘Shall I smile – oh wait I cannot smile at this person as they may not smile back’.

Giving without any expectation of anything in return liberates this tension since nothing is expected in return, there is no fear of rejection and as such, there is a sense of total freedom. I will smile at you, I will talk to you, I will help you, I will love you. I don’t worry about it being returned – it’s a gift.  Living like this brings about freedom.  It’s like the joy of throwing a stone into the sea, watching them fly freely through the air before disappearing beneath the water. Thrown and gone.  Being free with yourself is a similar feeling, your speech and deeds fly freely with no grand purpose, you will not get them back once you let them fly, but neither do you need to. 

Finally, the notion of giving can itself become superfluous. Since giving is predicated on relinquishing ‘something’ owned – something held personally – if there were nothing owned or held then there would be nothing to give.  I believe this is the super human consciousness of enlightened beings and Buddhist monks.  And it’s something that seems so beautiful and peaceful.  Something that my musing here have, in some way, enabled me to at least touch;  the beautiful notion of what it must be like to let go completely and therefore have everything to give and nothing to lose.  What a beautiful and free loving place to be.

Peace.

A pie for an eye? Why kindness and interconnectivity really matter

The notion of ‘an eye for an eye’ is that a negative act should warrant a similar reprisal as compensation. If I lose an eye, you lose an eye in return, jab! However, ‘What if the perpetrator was our own family?’ or ‘ourselves?’. Would we want to create harm to ourselves for the sake of revenge? Heard of the expression ‘cutting off your nose to spite you face’? Yet this is exactly what we do every time we seek revenge or retribution.

We are all connected in this world, not just on some notional hand holding ‘I see man as my brother’  level – although that’s really nice.  But something deeper.  An intrinsic connection at a very fundamental level, the fabric of reality.  Whereby we are all part of the same collective consciousness of mind.

We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured; this is its interrelated quality. 
Martin Luther King

With a feeling that I really am being too ambitious in attempting to articulate what I mean, here goes.

Conditioning

What happens when you close your eyes to sleep at night? More than likely your mind brings up thoughts. Even those people that fall asleep very quickly, like me, have some mental activity.  Paying attention to these thoughts is pretty interesting, even if a little distracting from the goal of sleep. Watching my thoughts I have observed the following. Most of what is thought, is related to what has happened in my preceding period of life or what is being planned for the future. Many years ago, back in my darker days, I used to play cards pretty seriously for money and had terrible trouble during that time falling asleep. I was always analyzing events and thinking what I could have done differently or better. Thankfully, my life is a lot less stressed now, but still perhaps there is some incident from the day. Someone was rude to me, perhaps I said something I later regretted or perhaps I just finished watching or listening to something and its was repeating in my mind. The point is, that there is this kind of momentum in thinking that continues.

This is not really surprising as we are conditioned beings, but don’t take my word for this:

We are what we do.
Fromm

 

We are what we do repeatedly
Aristotle

 

Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.
Ghandi
The unconditioned

Meditators know this problem from a different angle, they are not trying to sleep but to stay fully and sharply aware while clearing their minds. But, just as with sleep, the events and thoughts of the day have a certain momentum that needs some quietening. So an experienced meditator begins a sitting using various techniques to clear their mind of thoughts, this could involve concentration on bodily sensations, counting breaths or beads; something to stop indulgence in thoughts.

In addition to preparation activities, an important observation from my practice is that having a ‘peaceful’ meditation often requires some cultivation of wholesome stimuli throughout the day. Some people advocate meditating in the morning, before the mind really cranks up its torrent of activity as a solution to thinking bouncing around in the mind; in the morning most people have fairly quite minds. However, I frequently find I don’t have the time in the morning, I have two young kids whose needs are a priority over my own. By the time I finally want to sit and meditate, events have already transpired. Cultivating a good day is an excellent approach, but not always under my control, perhaps then at least I can make peace with the agitations and to let go of the future plans for the duration of the meditation, this is a skill that times some learning – letting go. However, sometimes events are ongoing rather than limited to a particular day, so cultivating a good life becomes important.  

Even if you do not meditate, hopeful you can relate to the experience of thoughts being a continuation of what has taken place or needs to take place. Its easier to sleep when you are not stressed out, just as its easier to meditate under calm conditions. We also have some control over the conditions that precede our attempt at quietening the mind. 

‘We’ are what we do

One rather startling realisation that changed my view of the world was a result of the mental chatter at the start of the mediation. As per normal, my initial sitting involved the bombardment of thoughts and stimuli. Lots of little things from the day came up in my mind.  But, what happened next was really interesting. For small periods of time, my mind stimuli ceased and with them my experiences of the external world also stopped. Instead, I was left with this awareness of nothing, it was a powerful observation, punctured periodically by thoughts but nonetheless a taste of something quite calm.  The thought then occurred to me, that the physical world of existence which is made up of everything we sense, people, sounds, touches, speech, etc. – a world which incidentally is the world that the vast majority of people experience as their only world – is mostly responsible for the content of the mind and its thoughts. The mind (aka egoic mind for the ‘Eckhart  Tolleites’) is just this reaction to the stimuli to which it has been presented or acquired, just a maelstrom of conditioning. Most of what I think of as me, my thoughts and experiences, are actually the result of external stimuli.

So if my mind is this reaction to stimuli, then ‘What is really me?’  and ‘What am I without stimuli to react to? ‘  This was the first part of something big for me.

They are what I do

This developed a bit further, if my egoic mind is a reaction to the external, then other minds must also be a reaction to the external.  Since I am human and you are human, thus we are human. So others then are a reaction to my mind and at the same time my mind is a reaction to them.  We are both conditioned by the world and at the same time conditioning the world. There is then, this interplay between beings, between all things, some degree of taking in and giving out, where neither is independent and all are codependent. This is the Martin Luther’s “network of mutuality”. Incidentally, this moment felt like the ground beneath my feet giving way, something profound shifting underneath me, not at all unpleasant, very spacious actually. So, if this thing I took to be ‘myself‘ was constructed mostly of input from things outside of me, then I am intrinsically intertwined with these external things and they with me; we are all dancing together in this world.

What now?

This idea really had a profound impact for me, from that moment, I have had the belief that everything I do shapes the collective consciousness of the world, everything is part of the dance where each of us reacts to each other. Every good act to the external world (which is actually not external but rather just the world), has the potential to create a better world for me personally, and likewise bad acts have the potential to create a worse world for me. Thus small changes that I can make throughout my day, much like the lighting of a candle to bring light into the world (see my post on positivity) help to shape the world into something better.

We reap what we sow
This idea is not new, just about every religious or ethical doctrine has this notion at its heart.  They all give a high priority to the ‘golden rule’:
“Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I”
Sutta Nipata, Pali Canon
“Wish for your brother, what you wish for yourself”,
Prophet Muhammad
“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Gospel of Matthew
Likewise, ethical philosophers such as Kant also came to a similar conclusion:
“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”
 Immanuel Kant
So how does this shape my world?

Well, I now have a choice every moment of the day, I can create a better me or a worse one, and this involves what I do to others. For example, If I am driving my car, I choose to be rude, to not let others in front of me, to be selfish. This would create the scene whereby the world is more selfish and others behavior would be a little more conditioned.  I should not then be surprised if others treat me similarly, since they are just reflecting me, by hurting them, I am hurting me; the dance gets nastier. The alternative is that I could drive nicely, I could let people out at junctions, I could smile and laugh, even when faced with rudeness and hostility. This would give others the view that the world is positive and friendly and they would be so conditioned in future to believe that of the world. Perhaps this has an impact on their world and their behavior; the dance gets better. I am not overly naive, I accept that this won’t shift many people, but perhaps one or two, who then act differently and so the interconnected interplay goes. Being kind to others is being kind to myself.

The feeling of inter-connectivity, that I am everyone else and they are me, is really a beautiful notion. It promotes care and consideration for the entire world, since all of the world shapes what we are individually and collectively. We really are that connected, we are made of the world and the world is made of us, we are all the world together. What better motivation is there to put out kindness into this world than that.

Thanks for reading, peace.

PS There is a deeper realisation too, namely that we are not the mind at all, but rather a conscious observer of the dance of being. But, this is something I cannot easily write about just yet.

How to nurture a life of simpler happiness

Modern life looks complicated with many ties, but it needn’t be. This simple short story illustrates how a small problem can develop and overwhelm us.

—–

When I was in my thirties I lived for a year in a simple room in the country with few possessions and commitments. I enjoyed my simple life of walking, meditating, writing and peace. I had few possessions, just my clothes, some money to last the year and a few articles for writing.  

All was well, until one day I woke and noticed a hole in my only pair of trousers. Some investigation led me to believe that the hole was caused by a mouse nibbling through the material. To protect my trousers, I decided to get a cat to keep the mouse away.

However, the cat soon got hungry and needed feeding. Initially I just bought her some milk but I grew tired of walking to the shops, so I formed another plan; I should get a cow! Yes, a cow to provide the milk to feed the cat to keep the mouse away.

This idea though, provided complications.  The cat was more easily fed but the cow was more tricky. So out I went  to buy some cattle feed. Once again, this involved a walk to the shops and again, I soon grew tired or this chore. I needed a new plan. So I decided to buy a small field next to my house. The cow could then graze and I would have the milk to feed my cat to keep the mouse away.

However, the grass began to grow too long too fast and the field needed maintaining. Hmmm, I thought, I need a small tractor. If I had a tractor I could then cut the grass, so my cow could graze and I would have the milk to feed my cat to keep the mouse away.

Soon though, this plan proved problematic too, the tractor needed fuel.  The solution I chose was to sell some milk and some hay to buy the fuel.  The fuel for the tractor, so I could cut the grass, my cow could graze and I would have the milk to feed my cat to keep the mouse away.

My days by this time quite full, I was milking, mowing, selling the surplus, my trousers were without holes but I had little time for the simple life that I had enjoyed. If only I just bought a needle and thread and lived peacefully alongside the mouse.

—–

We make our lives so complicated by taking on more and more things that need care and attention in the false belief that they will bring us happiness. What we end up doing though, is becoming slaves to their maintenance or procurement. We just add another problem on top of other problems. The happiness is then ‘just around the corner’ but the corner never comes.

Choosing a simple life that does not add extra unnecessary responsibility seems far wiser. Cutting down on the things in our lives is one way to achieve this goal.

Enjoy!

Living as art, mindfulness and alchemy

Alchemy is the alluring art of turning ordinary base metals into gold. For many years scientists spent hours mixing powders, fluids, cleaning soot and smoke off their faces in their attempts to succeed and find untapped wealth. Some were driven mad by their efforts but all ultimately failed and now alchemy is a long forgotten footnote in history. But, they were approaching it wrong, it is possible!  The mistake they made is that they aimed too low; they only considered metals. How about turning anything mundane into gold? Don’t think of King Midas, this is not that kind of notion. This take on alchemy involves turning everyday living into something better, something golden. So it’s a different kind of alchemy- one that involves seeing life as golden. By practising the art of mindful alchemy everyday we become an artist;  we practice ‘artfulness’  or if you prefer we practice art in everyday living.

Art in my life involves the practice of daily activities in a way that uplifts my consciousness and reveals the spiritual and aesthetic harmony in my world.  Indeed, the late Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa said:

meditative experience might be called genuine art. Such art is not designed for exhibition or broadcast. Instead, it is a perpetually growing process in which we begin to appreciate our surroundings in life, whatever they may be-it doesn’t necessarily have to be good, beautiful, and pleasurable at all. The definition of art, from this point of view, is to be able to see the uniqueness of everyday experience. Every moment we might be doing the same things-brushing our teeth every day, combing out hair every day, cooking our dinner every day. But that seeming repetitiveness be-come unique every day. A kind of intimacy takes place with the daily habits that you go though and the art involved in it. That’s why is called art in everyday life.

Chogyam Trungpa

This concept always leaves me with a sense of involvement in my own life. It gives me a confident resolve and fearlessness to put attention and love into my world. This blog started in part as an inspiration from his writing. The idea of writing was difficult for me, partly due to some shyness and partly to avoid conceit.  Chogyam cautioned:

When we talk about art, we could be referring to somebody deliberately expressing the beauty and frightfulness or the mockery and crudeness of the world that we live in, in the form of poetry, pictures or music. That kind of art could be said to be somewhat deliberate art. It is not so much for yourself, but it is more an exhibition, however honest and genuine the artist may be. Such an artist may say he simply composed his poem because he felt that way. But if that’s the case, why should he write it down on a piece of paper and date it? If its just purely for himself, it does not need to be recorded. Whenever a need for recording you work of art is involved, then there is a tendency toward awareness of oneself: “If I record that brilliant idea I’ve developed, in turn, quite possible accidentally, somebody might happen to see it and think we of it.” There’s that little touch involved, however honest and genuine it may be.

Chogyam Trungpa

So I am left with this dichotomy, I started this blog just for me but there is this little touch of exhibition, subscribers, viewers, etc. Trungpa went on to say, never sell your art, doing so destroys the art of it.

Getting back to topic, the notion of living art really uplifts my daily world, specifically 1) fearlessness of expression and 2) that it’s okay not to have a purpose other than just the appreciative awareness and love for what is taking place.

Not meaning to state the obvious – perhaps I have been a slow learner – but for me this needs constant learning and reminding. I suspect this is cultural. We are conditioned beings and in the West we have been conditioned to obsess about efficiency in our lives – contemporary western culture demands the efficient. It demands time savings, cost savings, faster, bigger, stronger. However this attitude really is an alienation of life.

Erich Fromm, another favourite author of mine, talks a lot about people living alienated lives. Essentially that people see the results of their actions as more important than the process of the activity.  In doing so people have become alienated from the main bulk of their lives, the part which involves the actual activities. Modern efficiency really does seem to be the death of life and also the death of much aesthetic in life. Consider this common scenario; if I am travelling somewhere and have a Sat Nav, I can find the fastest route – efficient, best then? But best for who? There is a slower, more costly but more scenic route. Since my care is not just to arrive at the destination, I’ll choose to take the less efficient route. I can enjoy the travelling, focus on it, care for it, love it rather than just try to be done with it as quickly as possible. To care only about arriving would relegate the whole journey to a chore, I would become alienated from the journey itself. So screw efficiency. I’ll drive slower and enjoy the journey.

The practice of art in everyday life involves making choices and taking actions that give care to the experience, taking the scenic route, feeling things, smelling the roses, essentially  being alive. The daily mundane present an opportunity of working with the material of life as an artist rather than as a chore. Cleaning the kitchen, folding clothes and interacting with people can all be undertaken in an artist manner.  I give care and full attention to what I am doing and put effort into producing some experience that is 1) conscious and 2) hopefully pleasant.  Rather than deriving satisfaction just from the result, which is but a tiny fleeting part of life, I can focus on the beauty and pleasure in the tasks themselves. This is the alchemy – ordinary life becomes gold.

Alchemy then and the ‘Art in everyday Life’ is about having the courage and fearlessness to do what I feel is right, just because it is pleasing, without a clear goal or need for a result, but just for the experience it brings. So now, I fold my clothes with care and attention, I sit upright, I smell the flowers, I look at the landscape and I do all manner of ‘inefficient’ things and doing so makes me happier and it makes me more alive.