Leaving our cocoon

Why is it that we often imprison ourselves in the pain of the past and the pain of the future?   What if the door was open all along but we just hadn’t seen it, we could choose to walk out at any time?   Would this be so hard? Perhaps it would and perhaps it is?

After all, it is scary to look outside that familiar cell? It scary to leave the known?  That known yet unhappy prison cell. The thoughts perhaps go like this: ‘This is the cell that is mine, my cell, my prison, its me.  And besides, if I leave the cell, where will I go? What will I be? How will I live? Surely its better to stay here, just a while longer, perhaps I’ll stay a while and try to figure it out, I’ll buy some flowers, make the cell a bit more pretty… but I want to leave, I hate this cell, this cell is a torture, why can’t I leave?’ Dejected scared but familiar, we stay in our prison.

What I am talking about here are people, like myself, that have had traumas, that hold onto those traumas and cannot seem to shed them.  I am talking about people whose minds create a prison such that we are a hostage to the past.  But we don’t just do this with the past, we can also do this with our future too.  Those future aspirations, our carefully planned path, ‘When I have done this, this, this and this then maybe [if I am lucky] everything will be okay, won’t it?’ This is the prison of the future, the prison that takes us from being fully alive and locks us into another prison of suffering.  Like the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus, a man who was doomed to perpetually push a boulder to the top of the hill only to watch it fall down again; not surprisingly Sisyphus was in hell.  Our personal boulder can be the mission for self improvement; it has no end; its a path I know very well from my own experience. The path is never ending because ultimately we don’t want the path to end.  Its ending promotes the same fears as the prison cell of the past, ‘Where would I go when its over? What would I be? But most importantly – and just like the prison of the past – I don’t feel ready to leave?’

But as the Buddhists masters know, when we stop trying to get somewhere we arrive.

‘If not now, when?’

‘Wherever you are, enter Zen from there.’

So try this, say to yourself, ‘It’s okay, everything is okay.’  But not like a parent telling a child to push away the hurt, this is not about rejection or repression, the traumas were truly awful and that is acknowledged and their being is also accepted.  Did you suffer as a child? If so, ‘that’s okay.’  You got angry and shouted this morning, ‘that’s okay too.’  You feel lost and scared, ‘that’s okay.’  Be gentle with yourself, ‘its okay.’  Feel angry at me for suggesting this, ‘that’s okay’.

We can put aside the past and future, perhaps only for a brief while, but it can be done. We step out of our prison, we arrive, we come alive, we smell the roses, taste our food, see the richness of life, we experience love, love of ourself, love of another and love of life.  But be gentle, please don’t turn the goal of leaving prison into yet another prison; another opportunity to swing the whip at ourselves for not meeting our expectations.  Perhaps we begin by leaving just briefly, or perhaps we just entertain the thought that we could leave, we don’t expect too much, we are gentle, after all we have been in prison for a very long time.

So we begin with the notion of gentleness to ourselves, we allow ourselves to feel that we are ‘okay’ and that life is ‘okay’; it hurts at times, but that’s okay, its good enough.  We become comfortable with not knowing or paradoxically knowing that ‘the answer is the there is no answer.’  We cease the unending searching, the unending ‘Why? Why? Why?’  We lay the mind aside and we find peace or rather, when we surrender, the peace that was all around us finds us.

With love.

Nature revealing the way

Trees and nature, showing how to embrace and accept our place in this world, how to grow and be fearless, a blessing and a prophet?

History expressed as form.  Standing proud, a life before the world, with scars and wounds an intrinsic part of beauty.  The twists and turns of form; magical. Unique. Broken branches, dead wood, clusters of life and leaves, unpredictable angles cutting through space. Textured art as skin.

Steadfastly growing for survival.  Making the best of circumstances that cannot be changed.  Forever imprisoned.  Yet with stoic dignity embracing and accepting the cycles of life and death.  That each year, one must start a fresh from the remnants of the year before.  Another year reaching for the sky.

Sustaining the witnessed; a web of hidden growth below.   Above; the visible drama of life. Below; the unknown story.

People and trees, not so different.

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.

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

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

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.

Living free; shedding the good and bad labels

Life is full of events that at the time can seem like a disaster or a triumph.  However, we never really know whether an event will have some long term good or hurt; perhaps not until the fullness of time has passed. This is my take on another old story.  Just as before (see a short story of simplicity) I will not add much commentary but let the concept of the story speak. Enjoy.

—–

When I was in my forties I was a single parent, with two children and struggling with finances. After breakfast one morning I received a letter with some photographs. The pictures were of a charming looking log cottage in the hills facing the sea. It looked beautiful, surrounded back and sides by tall pine trees and secluded; what a lovely house I thought. The final picture was of an unfamiliar old man. After dwelling on the photos I read the letter. My heart raced as I saw the words, apparently a distant relative had died and as their only living relative they had left me the house in the pictures. A dream home I thought and potentially a new start for me and my kids. I was so happy, what luck, I felt so elated.

Now, at this time, my best friend had just returned from a long trip to Asia. He was a bit of a hippie at heart and just suffered a marriage breakup, so he had jacked in his job to travel for a year. I had invited him over for a meal tonight and now had this wonderful news to share. So later that day, with the meal served on the table, my best friend sat next to me, I made a toast to life and told him the good news. His reaction though quickly wiped the big smile from my face – he just shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said “could be good, could be bad, who knows” and changed the subject to the meal we were eating. People can be strange I thought, perhaps he was jealous or perhaps he was sad I would be leaving, eitherway, I was still happy about the situation. We ate and had a pleasant dinner together.

Time passed quickly, I relinquished my rental property, organised removals, planned new schools for the children – thankfully it was summer – and even had a new job lined up for myself to start the week after the move. Everything was going perfect, until the day of the move. Carrying a heavy box up the stairs in my dream home, I slipped and the box fell with me underneath it. The result was a broken leg and me in hospital, the prognosis of a wheel chair for a while. Damn my luck I thought, how stupid of me to attempt to lift such a heavy box up the stairs, now all those plans could falter. I was distraught.

I was so sad, everything was now going wrong just as it looked to be going right. I lamented my fortune to my friend, explaining how I must be cursed to receive this event at such a time. His reaction, “Good, bad, who knows” and a change of subject back to practical matters. Hmmm, perhaps his trip had done funny things to his mind? I wanted both him and my children close, so offered for him to babysit my two kids in my new home.   However, whilst he agreed to look after my children he had an important job interview the next day so he would have to take them back with him tonight.  He promised to return at the weekend.

The next day he called me with then news that he had failed his interview and would be driving back to visit me earlier than planned.  What a waste of time it was for him to return for the interview I thought.  I tried to console him but he just said, “it could be good, could be bad, who knows”.

Another day passed, it was now the second day since my hospitalisation.  That morning I woke to a blaring loud television in my hospital room.  News reporters were giving briefings of an ongoing disaster, aparently there had been some kind of fire, scores of people were dead, helicopters were battling a blaze.  The fire was in the hills. Gradually, like a bad dream, the realisation hit me.  These images were the same hills as my new home. Sure enough, later that day, I received news that my new home had been burnt to the ground.

When my friend came to visit. He came in smiling and pointing at my legs. By this time I had lost my patience and shouted, “I have lost my new house, broken my leg and all you can do is laugh, what’s wrong with you!” He smiled gently and said, “good, bad”, but this time I would not let him finish, so I interrupted and shouted again, “What is it with you and this damn expression?” He sat gently next to me, grabbed my hand with tenderness and said, “My beloved friend, if you had not broken your leg, you would have been in that house with your children and you likely would have all be dead.”  Finally, I understood, took his hand and said, “and thank goodness you had a job interview, otherwise it would have been you dead instead”.

—–

I love the concept of this short story, it affects my thinking constantly. Often I find myself ‘suffering’ some event that seems negative and unfair but now I try to think to myself, wait, let’s see what happens, perhaps this might turn out to be a blessing rather than a curse.  Likewise something seemingly wonderful might turn out to be not quite the godsend it first appeared.

We just do not know the fullness of the story of life to make a judgement about events. Even a major crisis like a depression, while devastating at the time, can in the fullness of time transpire to be the birth of something unforseen and wonderful.

Peace and love.

PS If you like a happy ending, perhaps we could add I had insurance against fire. However, since we are all connected in this world, that’s good for me but bad for others who pay the insurance premiums (see A pie for an eye), but since they are also connected to me, they should be happy that we are all safer from having security.

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.

Short quote from Jung on alchemical studies

A lovely quote from Carl Jung describing one of his patient’s awakening and his subsequent acceptance:
Out of evil, much good has come to me. By keeping quiet, repressing nothing, remaining attentive, and by accepting reality – taking things as they are, and not as I wanted them to be – by doing all this, unusual knowledge has come to me, and unusual powers as well, such as I could never have imagined before.
I always thought that when we accepted things they overpowered us in some way or other. This turns out not to be true at all, and it is only by accepting them that one can assume and attitude towards them.
So now I intend to play the game of life, being receptive to whatever comes to me, good and bad, sun and shadow forever alternating, and, in this way, also accepting my own nature with its positive and negative sides. Thus everything becomes more alive to me.
What a fool I was! How I tried to force everything to go according to way I thought it ought to.”
an ex patient of C. G. Jung (Alchemical Studies, pg 47)