Friday, 31 May 2013

Arms open wide

My arms are open wide
will you fall into their embrace?
My heart is open wide
do you feel its beat in time with yours?
My tears are falling softly
will they water the seeds we have sown?

My heart explodes with love,
sending out millions of bubbles
of loving kindness.
Like tiny dandelion seeds
they float on the air
in search of the heart
ready to receive them.
Have you caught yours yet?

Like Indra's Net
the worldwide web
has drawn us together.
As I am here you are there
and the silence brings us closer
mocking the miles in between.

Sitting with the Sangha,
all those known and unknown
who are on this path
of loving and offering kindness
and spreading peace.

My arms are open wide
will you fall into their embrace?
My heart is open wide
do you feel its beat in time with yours?
My tears are falling softly
will they water the seeds we have sown?

© 31 May 2013

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Barefoot Gardening

feeling the squish of soft, freshly dug earth
between the toes,
crumbling thick sods of earth
between the fingers,
being in close contact with life
in this patch of garden,
watching a worm that has been reluctantly roused
disappear back beneath the soil,
gently teasing out thin, unwanted wisps of root
from their brown home,
planting seeds to supply vegetables for the kitchen,
the home.

Wind in the hair, lifting and playing,
welcoming the sun when it peeps out from
behind the clouds,
grateful to the rain clouds for holding off
until we have finished for today.
Life does not get more basic,
more elemental,
more tactile than this.
I cannot be more in touch
than when I am gardening barefoot.

© 28 May 2013

Wednesday, 22 May 2013


I have to confess when I heard Jon Kabat-Zinn use the term heartfulness recently I thought it was a word he was making up. And then I remembered that Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about the Chinese word for mindfulness incorporating now and heart, "literally, the combined character means the act of experiencing the present moment with the heart. So mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of what is occurring in and around us. It helps us to be in touch with the wonders of life, which are here and now". It seems to me that heartfulness is being quiet and still enough to listen to what your heart is saying. I sat last night to consider Jon Kabat-Zinn's questions, beginning with 'what is our abiding vision, our passion, our love?' He speaks about doing something you love so much you would pay to do it, instead of being paid. My heart was beating very fast as if in acknowledgement that (finally) it was going to be listened to. And what arose from this contemplation was a vision to provide a space that is quiet enough for people to come and be themselves, to drop beneath the usual busyness of the mind and be able to listen to the heart. This needs to be a physical space, a mental space and a heartful space. Part way through my sister alerted me to the fact that at the Chelsea Flower Show this year there is a mindfulness garden and I began watching the programmes to find out what it is like. In fact it is not what I would call a mindfulness garden as it is too busy with a riot of colours, although it did have a lovely stone with a quotation carved into it in a spiral. It became obvious to me that an outdoor space is as important as an indoor one, and I began to envision what this could be like, with calm, soothing planting colours, trees and meadows with mown paths for walking meditation. I have to find a way of making this real!
In some respects the space that I recognised is being provided on a Sunday morning with our silent mornings, but for some reason this seems to attract only a few people, and the space I have in mind will incorporate bedrooms and a beautiful, peaceful meditation hall, surrounded by lots of outdoor space; a proper retreat centre. It seems I have to keep speaking this out loud in order to make sure it will happen, not to force things or make it a mission, but to ensure that somehow a venue will be provided that can offer a space to reconnect with ourselves and live a more truthful life.

Sunday, 19 May 2013


This week many Buddhists throughout the world will be celebrating Wesak, a special day to celebrate the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and parinirvana (giving up of the human body). The particular day is the full moon day at the end of this week. Tomorrow night I am facilitating for my Sangha and in deliberating what I will choose to read I remember it is Wesak, and whilst each evening the Sangha sits together is always special it seems important to choose something extra-special for this week of Wesak.
Here are my reflections from two years ago about Sangha which seems entirely appropriate for tomorrow.

Passing on the candle flame

Our teaching comes to us
from echoes way back in time,
before Lin Chi and Van Hanh*
walked the earth,
when Gautama found the answers
to his perplexing questions
and rested in peacefulness
under the Bodhi tree.

The candle flame has been kept
alive for us by many ancestors and teachers,
and now we find it in our guardianship.
How is it passed on?

Through the gentle rustling of whispering leaves,
In the determined curl of the snail clinging to the twig,
through the smile of recognition in a flower,
in the golden glow of a decaying beech leaf,
through the reflections in the single raindrop suspended from a branch,
in the breath-taking beauty of the pink sunrise,
through the suspended life beneath the frozen lotus pond,
in the acknowledging bow from my sister,
through the delighted laugh of my brother,
in the deeply nourishing smile from you,
through the mutual silence of the Sangha,
sitting peacefully and harmoniously together,
in the flickering candle flame
that is lit each time the Sangha sits.

* Lin Chi (Chinese) and Van Hanh (Vietnamese) were teachers that Thich Nhat Hanh regularly refers to in his own teaching.
© 19 May 2013

May this be an auspicious week for all, and to conclude with an ancient Sanskrit prayer, which reflects the loving kindness meditation often used in Buddhist practice,
May all be happy
may all be without dis-ease
may all creatures have well-being
and none be in misery of any sort.
May peace and peace and peace be everywhere.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Roman ruins

Sitting in morning sunshine
with the playful call of birds
and the playful tug of wind
to lighten the heart,
I sit among the Roman ruins of a monument
built to seeking entertainment and pleasure
from great brutality and condemnation to death.

I find I cannot justify
visiting here as a place of interest
when so many died a horrific death.
The reason this place was built
was the ego-maniacal claims of a ruler
who wanted to be remembered for offering
something back to his nation,
yet what he chose to build had only one purpose,
for people to witness and enjoy the cruel and
painful deaths of many thousands.
Whilst the structure is magnificent 
it stands as a monument of
many unwholesome qualities of humanity
and does not celebrate anything beyond
torture and the glorification of unnecessary pain in death.

I find I cannot justify
being here, admiring its presence
as one would admire a church or cathedral.
This visit fills me with melancholy and pain
for the suffering of those condemned to die here
and could stain the whole of this fine city with its memory.
Yet I am reminded of my teacher's teaching
that if one mourns the death of one tree
in a garden one misses the great beauty
that is still present in other growing forms.

And if one sees Rome as only the Colosseum
one misses the great beauty of many other
works of art and great architecture.
In leaving its shadow behind
the sun is still warm
and the wind still playful.
Looking in a different direction
this city is also the home of
the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica.

© 13 May 2013

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The First International Conference on Mindfulness - the final day

Today was the final day of the conference and as with the others it has gone incredibly quickly. Yesterday I was feeling slightly out of place among so many quantitative researchers and wondering if I was in the right place, but now I hear Paul Grossman (missed him as Tim and I were having lunch together!) was suggesting that we need more qualitative research into mindfulness as it is not necessarily something you can measure, and what is the worth of the questionnaires (to put it bluntly)? I'm not decrying all research as I realise it is important to be able to show the efficacy of mindfulness and for some people they only appreciate it through quantifiable means, I'm just glad it's not me doing it!
One thing I have really appreciated form the conference is the acknowledgement of science and dharma  in the teaching of mindfulness, and that mindfulness cannot or should not be cut off from its source of the teachings of the Buddha. To emphasise this the conference began and ended with Buddhist monks speaking rather than scientists and I think this was a very good move. It has been suggested when Jon Kabat-Zinn started MBSR over 30 years ago it wouldn't have been taken seriously if it was rooted in buddhism, and also because he is from a  scientific background it was easy for him to present it in a way that appealed to scientists and researchers. But now it is established the aspect of Dharma as the foundation for mindfulness can be acknowledged, and also acknowledged that mindfulness is one aspect of the Eightfold path and to separate mindfulness from this context means to reduce it to 1/8th of its fullness.
So it was good to hear Ajahn Chandapalo (who apparently is originally a Yorkshireman!) use the word heartfulness without being aware Jon Kabat-Zinn had also used the same word. And Dario Doshin Girolami question what is mindfulness. When we speak of the present moment how small or large is that moment? Are we aware of the infinity of the present moment? He even recounted one of Thich Nhat Hanh's stories (yay!) about what do we see when we look at a table? Are we aware of the wood the table is made from, the sun and rain that helped the wood to grow, the person who chopped down the tree, the carpenter who created the table? How small or large is our awareness?
It has been a very full and diverse conference, demonstrating many areas into which mindfulness is making a difference and the aspects that have particularly appealed to me personally are in the realms of parents and children, university students and creating calmer classrooms. What is very obvious is that mindfulness has to be a holistic practice that enters into all aspects of life (this is what Thay has been teaching all these years). Or as Dario Doshin Girolami put it where does mindfulness begin and end?

The First International Conference on Mindfulness - days 3 & 4

Day 3
Again, lots to hear and learn about today. The day began with a meditation session led by Ajahn Amaro from Amaravati in the UK, a great way to start the day! Then we had Mark Williams keynote presentation on depression and suicidality and the positive effects mindfulness can have in reversing these processes. It was a very interesting talk, especially given that depression is by far the highest cause of people taking time off work according to the World Health Organisation. Then I heard presentations on experimental studies of mindfulness such as in reducing cognitive rigidity and enabling problem solving. The final session of the day was more presentations on using mindfulness with both children and adults with autism spectrum disorders and what is particularly beneficial in these studies with parents and children is that they are working with both the parents and the children and they are meditating together. Just the plain fact that parents are doing things with their children must be beneficial but when you realise they are meditating and practising mindfulness together, how much more beneficial that must be!
For myself the evening activity was mindful sightseeing (as my husband arrived today) and we went to visit the Vatican museums which culminates in the Sistine Chapel. The museums are vast and we had to be quite choosy about what to look and what to pass by in order to give ourselves time in the Cappella Sistina. It is such an amazing and powerful place dedicated to passion, hard work, artistic ability and love of God.

Day 4
Another morning meditation, this time led by an Italian monk, Dario Doshin Girolami. Followed by a keynote presentation from Susan Bogels who works in Amsterdam offering mindfulness courses to parents whose children suffer mainly from ADHD but also ASD, and again the programme runs complementary classes for the parents and the children and it is their joint participation that is effective. She spoke about recognising there is not just one role the parent plays in relating to their child, especially when stressed, but one can be affected by the way they were parented and can behave as a vulnerable child or revert to the way their parents were and become particularly punitive. There are many factors to consider.
Today was my turn to present some of my research on the mindfulness teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, and this had been put into a Symposium entitled Foundations of Mindfulness as all the speakers were reflecting in some way on the foundation of mindfulness in the teachings of the Buddha (note I do not say Buddhism, as that is a western construct). As Jon Kabat-Zinn pointed out to us, the Buddha was not a Buddhist but a man teaching humanity.
The presentation went well despite problems with the projector and the computer and having to hold a mic (it's much easier when you don't have to rely on powerpoint presentations) and I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to people about Thich Nhat Hanh and the important work he is undertaking, and has been doing for many years. 70 years of practising mindfulness and 60 years of teaching it! I don't think any people can beat that!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The First International Conference on Mindfulness - day 2

Today I have heard many presentations on the application of mindfulness and how it is being changed slightly to meet the needs of many differing groups of people, that it is all quite amazing and overwhelming. There are people teaching mindfulness to parents who have children on the autism spectrum, adults with autism, university students, parents who cannot afford the time or money to attend an 8-week course and so are being offered 3 workshops instead, to name but a few. And that's just in one day! And to top it off we had the key note speech from Jon Kabat-Zinn, which was extremely delightful, reassuring and challenging.
Some of the questions he posed (which I intend to address for myself when I have more time) are;
what is our abiding vision? our passion? our love?
what is our dharma?
what are our intentions and motivations regarding this work (of mindfulness)?
how can we channel these energies if they are to be authentic?
where are we going, if anywhere?
what do we fear?
what do we cherish?

The main point he expressed was that he feels we are facing a potential renaissance, a confluence that could be vital to our survival as a species by connecting with the heart as well as the mind (in many Asian countries the word for heart and mind are the same). He uses the word heartfulness as well as mindfulness. And he concluded by saying 'we are at a very privileged moment on this planet together. Can we love it? live it? We need to cultivate non-dual wisdom'.
Non-dual wisdom, recognising the interconnectedness of all beings, that we all (plants, animals and human beings) need each other. Easy to say and more difficult to live! Yet when we bring mindfulness to be the central aspect of our lives we know this to be true.
Lots to think about!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The First International Conference on Mindfulness - day 1

Today, which was actually the pre-conference day, began with a public lecture (called Mindfulness and its Supportive Friends) by Ajahn Amaro, Abbott of the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in the UK. It was a very entertaining and interesting lecture in which Ajahn Amaro detailed several analogies and stories from the Buddha pertaining to mindfulness and in particular holistic mindfulness, not just paying attention to a single object but taking in the whole context. One lovely story from the Buddha illustrated  how easily we are distracted from being mindful.
Imagine 6 animals (which represent the 5 senses and the mind) a snake, a crocodile, a dog, a bird, a jackal and a monkey all tied together and all pulling in different directions. The snake wants to get to a hole in the ground, the crocodile to the river, the bird to fly up into the sky, the dog to the village, the jackal to the graveyard and the monkey to the forest. As each pulls against the others it creates chaos. Whichever is strongest at the time will drag the others with it, until it gets exhausted and another one takes over. Instead of letting this happen tie the animals to a pillar. They all pull in different directions but they can't move the pillar so in the end they tire and become more peaceful. The pillar is mindfulness.

He also spoke about the 5 distractions that keep us from being mindful, because it is not enough to decide 'I want to be mindful'. These are 1) greed or craving, 2) aversion or negativity, 3) dullness or indolence, 4) agitation and 5) anxiety, worry or doubt. (So familiar!!) The remedy for these is to replace them with positive thoughts such as generosity, patience, kindness and compassion.

I suspect there will be many more pearls of wisdom as the conference progresses. I hope to keep you informed.

Sunlight on the mountains

Flying over the Alps
snow gleaming in bright sunshine
light bouncing off many surfaces
shadows created by
crevices, depths and valleys
that the light does not penetrate.
Yet it is because of the light
the shadows appear.
Light and shade come together,
turn towards the light and
the shadows are behind you.
The snow becomes a beacon
creating more light
and this is what the eye is drawn to
rather than the shadows.
Be a light for yourself
and people are drawn to the light.
Be the mountain,
solid and rocklike in its presence,
grounded in the earth
its peaks rest in the sky, in space,
beyond the clouds of ignorance and illusion.
Be the light that shines
from the top of the mountain,
close to the sky,
one with the space.

© 8 May 2013

What does this mean for me? After many years of practice the knowledge is within, but needs to be accessed regularly through meditation, by coming away from the storms and turbulence of the mind and resting instead in the core stability just below the navel. The breathing is the portal to take you there. The mind cannot resolve the questions of the heart, so go beyond mind and come to rest in the ever-present, peaceful space that fills the cavern of the heart. You cannot think about peace, you can only be peace, and by openly demonstrating peace others will be attracted to it. There is nothing to do beyond accessing that peaceful parcel that dwells in the rhythm of the breath beyond mind; 'body, speech and mind in perfect oneness' as Thich Nhat Hanh would say. Go there often! When the mind is disturbed, uncertain, hesitant or fearful, especially when it is fearful. 'Have the courage, the wisdom, and the joy to practice' (as Thich Nhat Hanh also says).
What does it mean for you?

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Mindfulness Teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

I am rather excited to say this week (from Wednesday) I will be in Rome at the first International Conference on Mindfulness mingling with the likes of Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mark Williams amongst many others!
I am delivering a paper on The Mindfulness Teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh: 'being' peace in order to 'do' peace. On Wednesday night I had the chance of a practice run to a willing and friendly audience in York. Thanks to all who came for allowing themselves to be guinea pigs.
Last night I was looking through the conference programme trying to decide which Symposia to attend, there are 5 running concurrently in each session  And I'll have to make time for some sightseeing as well, never having been to Rome before. My husband is joining me on the Friday and we'll have 3 days together in Rome. It is a very exciting thought to be with so many people who are practising and researching mindfulness in order to make people's lives better by viewing their suffering from a different viewpoint. In this instance 'suffering' can be chronic pain, illness or a dissatisfaction with life by trying to make the impermanent permanent. I am aware of not having too many ideas about what it will be like, what will happen, what I will do, and let things be the way they will be. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that mindfulness is being aware of the present moment and by being here, now, we can awaken to the miracles life has to offer.
'when you become mindful, understanding and loving, you suffer much less, you begin to feel happy, and the people around you begin to profit from your being there’ .
This is a much more natural, pleasant way to live instead of trying to force things to be a particular way.

Have you tried to capture the wind?
Hold it in your hand or bottle it,
to keep it from spoiling your hair or tugging your clothes?
Have you tried to stop the sea?
Keep it in one place
instead of rolling and surfing and breaking down the sandcastle?
Have you tried to bring the rain forth at night,
instead of when you want to walk?
Have you tried to coax the sun to shine
just at that moment when you want to be outside?
Have you tried to make a person be a particular way,
say a particular thing, to fit in with your view of life?
Have you tried to make something happen?
Convinced that if only this were to be, everything would be fine.
Have you tried to stop thinking and planning and forcing,
and just let things be?
Have you tried to stop the earth from turning, gravity from pulling,
time from ticking?
Have you tried to be present,
and let the wind play, let the rain fall, let the clouds cover the sun
and still be happy?
Have you tried to stop the wind?

© 5 May 2013

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Unexpected free time

Unexpected free time
sitting in a cafe
in the sun
by the sea.
Unexpected to find myself here,
nothing to do
nowhere to be
except here.
Unexpected space,
drinking hot chocolate,
listening in on
other people's conversations.
Unexpected to find myself here,
shopping for a
birthday present,
enjoying a sunny day.
Unexpected free time
unexpected space

© 2 May 2013