Sunday 16 December 2012

One Bright Star

One bright star
in the inky, indigo blueness
of a fading sunset.

A bright slice of moon
that sits atop a pink and lilac
dance of sunrise.

These images
bring me back to myself,

fill my heart
with more eloquence
than a thousand words can express,

reveal the peace
that resides therein

and produce a smile of
gratitude and joy
for the simple beauty and revelation

one bright star
one slice of moon.

©  4 January 2013

Monday 10 December 2012

I have submitted!

On Monday 26th November I finally submitted my thesis and now I have time and space to step away from the computer and academic work it feels quite odd to be back at my desk for a day. It was both a relief and an anticlimax to finally hand in the thesis, as I secretly wanted a fanfare of trumpets and shouts of acclamation at the very least. Instead I had to wait 3 hours for the printers to soft bind the copies, then queue for half an hour at students services before finally getting to that point of hand in. At least the chap behind the desk appreciated the poignancy of the moment, and stood up to recieve it, because 'it's worth standing up for'!!
Since then I have been at home, enjoying not having to travel into York every day and having time to sew, and make Christmas presents. I have also missed the cameradarie and banter of the G-lab, the Graduate centre where I had my desk. I went in at a later date to clear my desk and bring all Thay's books home, and this was another significant moment, almost a rite of passage. The end is in sight but I still have to wait for the viva date and prepare for the examination.
It feels like I am on holiday and shortly I will have to get back to 'it', except I remind myself there is no 'it' to get back to now! I really have reached that point that for the last 4 years seemed to be a mythological, moving one that I would never reach. I have poured heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into bringing the thesis into being and after a pause for a huge sigh of relief, there is also a sense of 'what now?' I am very aware of not plunging head first into the next project, and appreciating the space that has been created, whilst not filling every moment of the day as it was filled a month ago.
'What now?' remains a question that is yet to be answered. There are plans for mindfulness retreats for 2013, and running some MBSR courses, but I am in the very fortunate position of not immediately needing to earn money and so have some space to find out what will come next.
This is a real lesson in impermanence and finding out what that means, and how one lives when there seems to be a natural urge to cling to permanence, or what one thinks is permanent. Looking for the permanent in an ever-shifting, changing landscape creates many difficulties in a mind that longs for rest, for peace. Accepting what is right now must be the only answer.

Thank you to those of you following and reading this blog, and passing it on to others. This journey I have undertaken was only possible because of people like you, and what comes next will most likely involve you as well! Let's enjoy it together :)

Friday 30 November 2012

November cold

The sharpness of the air
that took my breath away

The cold in the night that makes
my nose run and my teeth chatter

The frosty November evening
that has frozen my windows closed

has painted a pastel swirl of clarity
across the morning sky

has decorated the remaining autumn leaves
with a coat of frosted icing

has bedazzled the evening sky with a
gorgeous display of colour

has produced a plethora of
diamonds in the sky

if only one looks up.

©  30 November 2012

Sunday 18 November 2012

Fear of Death

Fear of losing
what is not mine,
but I take to be mine.
Losing, family, losing friends.
But what is the loss?

Fear of death is to deny the continuation of life,
the impermanent, ever-changing circle
through which we dance.
Death is all around us and within us.
Death is in these logs
that thus provide heat and light.
Death is in the falling autumn leaves,
the compost smell of rotting vegetation
that in the closing down and dying
is preparing for a new spring.
Death is in me, created anew
by the characteristics of my mother,
the ideals and beliefs passed on from my ancestors.
Death is in the greying hair and wrinkling skin
that brings with it a different perspective on life,
acceptance, peacefulness and quiet joy.

Fear of death is to deny the continuation of life,
to try and keep in one's hand
the grains of sand trickling through the fingers,
to try and contain the ever-flowing
mass of water that gurgles on its way,
to try and capture a scene of loveliness
that the new moon displays
on a clear, frost-filled night.
To let go
instead of holding on,
to let them trickle, gurgle and float on by,
is freedom,
is an acceptance of the continuation of life.
Is life.

© 18 November 2012

Friday 9 November 2012


Who would have thought,
there can be too many commas in a thesis,
but so my proof-reader tells me.

And now I am required
to declutter my writing,
as commas have appeared
like confetti
and liberally sprinkled themselves
throughout my work,
I am sure I did not put them all there!

The rules I thought I was following
appear not to be rules at all,
and those rules I now have,
printed out by my side,
need to be checked constantly
as I reread my work
and delete the squirming tadpoles.

Such a small, little mark,
yet so significant
and such a trouble-maker right now!

© 9 November 2012

Sunday 4 November 2012

Finding myself in water

The water became our adventure,
showed me myself
and how to be free.

We walked on the weir and
my toes enjoyed the swim as
boots protested they were not,
after all, waterproof.
The sharp shock of coldness
brought me to reality,
brought me back to myself,
infinite being of boundless love
in a human form.

And where the water danced
over cobbles,
its speed unbalanced me
and convinced me I was moving.
looking deeper,

I was the wave that knew
she was water also,
and did not need to be carried along
by the movement of the world.
Beneath the fast flowing water
I was the leaf that remained steadfast.

Where is the stillness
in the apparently unceasing flow?
By my side stood my friend,
who had led me on this adventure.
And she knows,
and I know,
the stillness within.

There is a delight in the
gorgeous palette of autumn,
the sharpness of cold air
not quite warmed by the gentle sun,
the call and laughter
of water, as it dances on its way.

But the stillness within
comes from knowing ourselves as
infinite beings of boundless love.

© 1 November 2012

Beyond words

Beyond words,

beyond the to-do list,
and things to be achieved,
beyond mind.

Beyond words
searching for a means to describe
the indescribable.
This vast space,
this knowing,
this perfect moment stretching to infinity.

Beyond doubt,
beyond fear and insecurity,
beyond illusion.
A place of no location,
not fixed, yet tangible.

Any description is inadequate.
Words disappear
like bubbles bursting
on the playful stream;
as if one golden beech leaf
can pronounce the wealth of
autumn colour.

Beyond words.

This company,
this peace,
this ...
this is it.

© 30 October 2012

Sunday 21 October 2012

I used to think I wanted to be like you.

I used to think I wanted to be like you,

fearless and confident in saying what you said,
or at ease with talking to anyone you had just met
or always having just the right answer;

fearless and brave in death-defying moments,
or at ease with new situations,
or always knowing just how to handle whatever came up;

fearless in facing troubled times,
or at ease with the uncomfortable, the scary, the dangerous,
or always being in control.

I used to think I wanted to be like you.

Yet this morning I sat sewing, creating,
playing with colour and shape and thread and stitch
and I was completely myself.

I didn't want to be anywhere else,
I didn't want to do anything different,
I was completely at ease with things as they were.

I used to think I wanted to be like you,
but now I want to be completely myself,
quiet, and peaceful and creating beauty.

© 22 October 2012

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Today I noticed ... part 2

I have been very aware recently of how my mind tends to jump automatically to a negative rather than a positive thought, and I also learnt that for each negative thought we have it takes 7 positive thoughts to redress the balance. 7!!
I've also noticed that particularly among my friends, several of us who are reaching the end of our PhD research, are all having a lot of negative thoughts at the moment, especially centring on "I can't do this"!
So I have resolved to make a special effort to notice the good, the beautiful, the positive and the miracles that tend to get overlooked in the whirl of negativity.
Today I noticed ... is my way of doing this.

Today I noticed, the sunshine, and the wind making the autumn leaves dance
and the unrestrained giggles of a little girl whose hands were sticking out the bottom of her coat instead of down her sleeves, and she just thought this was hilarious!!

What have you noticed?

Monday 15 October 2012

Today I noticed

I noticed the repetitious cycle of negative thoughts
I was dwelling in,
and looked up to see
a flock of birds swirling majestically
across a blue and white sky.

I noticed
the cotton-woolness of the clouds above me
that turned into lines and layers of shimmering whiteness,
and somewhere
will have a proper name.

I noticed
the blueness of the sky
changed from left to right.
To the left, its depth was navy,
yet barely perceptible through its white duvet cover.
To the right, bold and bright
royalness gleamed fully through specks of clouds.

I noticed
and looked up.

© 15 October 2012

Sunday 7 October 2012

Stay with me

It's so hard to stop from
rushing into the future,
tumbling into this evening,
tomorrow, next week, next year.
'Stay with me' says the present moment.

But there's so much to do,
so much to think about
and Christmas is on its way!
'Be with me' whispers the present moment.

The pull into the future
is almost irresistible, like a wild horse
charging forward without
care or thought for where it is heading.
'Stay with me' smiles the present moment.

And halfway through another gallop forward
I stop
and turn
and hear what is being offered.
Stay with me,
be with me,
stay here.

© 7 October 2012

Wednesday 3 October 2012


Do you still think you can control situations
and force them to fit your desires?

Do you also think you can contain the wind,
make the rain stop by praying for it to be so,
or induce the sun to create a happy day, just for you?

Let go, let go,
and instead of rejecting what is,
embrace it.

Open your eyes to the way things are.
And when the wind blows, wear a scarf,
if it rains, take an umbrella,
and when the sun shines, shed your layers and put on sunglasses.

Let go, let go,
and instead of rejecting what is,
embrace it.

© 2 October 2012

Tuesday 2 October 2012

This is for you

I'm sending you all my love,
because I know you are hurting a lot.
And if I can't hold your hand,
I'll hold you in my heart.

I'm sending you all my peace,
because I think you have need of it.
And knowing you are peaceful
will make me so too.

I'm sending you all my joy,
as a reminder that it's still possible
to see beyond the hurt,
and reconnect with joy.

I'm sending you all my compassion,
for you to be kind to yourself,
and gently find your way through
the suffering that will not last.

I'm sending you all my hugs,
because I think you need their warmth.
And it costs me nothing
to pass them on to you.

© 1 October 2012

Monday 24 September 2012

A bow to truth

We have just enjoyed a Sangha weekend retreat in a luxurious barn conversion tucked away on the North York Moors. We had a very simple weekend, cooking together and sharing meals, meditating together and sharing mindfulness, walking together and enjoying the gorgeous scenery and a beautiful clear sky, which revealed an outstanding Milky Way! We also discussed Buddhism and ecology, using Thay's Intimate conversations with Mother Earth as a basis for examining how we behave as ecologists, what more we can do and what we can do as a Sangha. I found it very heartening to realise, especially as a Sangha, there is a lot we do, whether it is sharing harvest from our gardens, recycling, sharing information about co-operatives and other ventures, or just sharing teabags! We are very fortunate.
Here are my reflections from the weekend.

Arms wide open.
Receiving all,
good, bad and indifferent.
Accepting all,
no judgement, criticism or condemnation.
Rejecting none,
generous, compassionate and loving.
Smiling to life,
welcoming, grateful and free from fear.

May I be blessed to be so open-hearted.
May I look with the eyes of compassion.
May I hear with the ears of equanimity.
May I receive all with loving-kindness.
May all be happy, peaceful and safe.

© 22 September 2012

Thursday 20 September 2012

Welcome Autumn

Welcome autumn!
Dripping wetness from the trees,
leaves just about holding onto greenness
with the expectation of a
glorious blaze of colour yet to come.

Surprising sunny days,
reminiscent of summer,
but a chill in the air

log fires,
thick jumpers,
and comfort food
hearty soups and sticky toffee pudding.

Darkening evenings and sparkling clear nights
and the faint promise of
cosy winter evenings tucked up in a quilt,
Bonfire night
and Christmas.
Wondering if it will snow.

© 20 September 2012

Thursday 13 September 2012

A Homage to Thay

Breathing in, I am aware of a busy mind.
Breathing out, I let the breath blow through the thoughts.

Breathing in, I recognise a mind full of thoughts.
Breathing out, I let recognition give space to the thoughts.

Breathing in, I accept a busy mind.
Breathing out, I let acceptance reveal the thoughts for what they are.

Breathing in, I smile to the jumble of thoughts.
Breathing out, I let the smile dance through the thoughts.

Breathing in, I watch the mind settle, like a glass of juice.
Breathing out, I accept the settling mind.

Breathing in, I am aware of the present moment.
Breathing out, I dwell happily in the present moment.

© 13 September 2012

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Rescued by Thich Nhat Hanh

A roller-coaster ride of a day.

I have received feedback that
violently hurled me from
where I thought I was
into a maelstrom of
uncertainty, doubt and despair.
Trying to recover my footing
I vacillate between
'I can't do this'
'it's not as bad as it seems' and
'everything will be ok'.
Moment by moment I hop
from one thought to the next
like a fidgety flea that cannot settle.
What can I do to recover peace?

and accept the uncertainty.
Easy to say,
harder to practice.
I struggle on through,
step by step,
trying to come to terms
with this new situation.
I talk with a friend
who is reassuring and calm.
I acknowledge hiding my head in sand
will not solve the problem.

The mindfulness app on my phone sounds,
providing a breathing space.
I smile gratefully at the inanimate object
for reminding me there is more than just thoughts.
And then I read,
'If we do not have peace and joy right now,
when will we have peace and joy -
tomorrow, or after tomorrow?
What is preventing us from being happy
right now?'
And I breathe deeply
and smile at my foolishness,
in believing the thoughts.

© 5 September 2012

Sunday 2 September 2012

My own personal Buddha

Walking back to the car
head full of meandering thoughts,
flitting butterfly-like from
one notion to the next.
Head buried in a hood to
keep out the blustery wind.
And then I see you,
my own personal Buddha,
standing on the street-corner
smiling beatifically
and offering a bearlike hug of greeting.
We exchange pleasantries and move on,
but this meeting is more than
a brief conversation.
Your smile reminds me to notice
the sun is shining,
there is more than wind
and it has stopped raining.
I was there and you were there
my own personal Buddha,
to remind me to see the beauty
present in that sunny, blustery autumnal evening.

© 2 September 2012

Monday 20 August 2012

Loving kindness

I have just been practising a loving kindness meditation this morning. There are several versions of it, but they all go roughly the same way, in that you begin by offering loving kindness to yourself, then to a loved one, then to someone who you are neutral about (i.e. you know as an acquaintance but not well), then to someone you are having difficulties with and finally to everyone, everything, everywhere in the universe.
As I practised this last step I recognised a thought that said, 'who am I to be able to offer loving kindness and peace to the world?' and the very clear response was, 'because you are part of the universe'. That is all. You don't have to be a guru or someone who has spent years devoted to meditation to be able to offer loving kindness to the world, it is a natural consequence of being a part of that world, a sign of being interconnected. This has always puzzled me. Although on a theoretical level I understand and appreciate interbeing it always seemed somewhat beyond reach, again as if you have to have been practising for many years to really understand what interbeing is, that each and every particle in the universe, whether it forms a flower, or an animal or a human, is the same. But this is trying to understand it at the level of theory, not knowledge through practice. And this morning, there it was, the recognition that I am a part of the universe, and as such I can offer loving kindness to that universe, and it will have an effect. Wow! What a beautiful realisation to have first thing in the morning :)

As I say, there are several different versions of loving kindness. The one I have been using is from an ancient Sanskrit prayer and it goes like this.

May all be happy,
may all be free from disease,
may all creatures have well-being
and none be in misery of any sort.
May peace and peace and peace be everywhere.

And I see that peace, not as a general fluffy kind of 'hey, let's have peace in the world', ignoring that there is a lot of suffering going on. I see it as the peace in an individual's heart, also called contentment or acceptance, of whatever situation we find ourselves in. The peace that is non-judgemental and kind and compassionate, especially to ourselves. May peace and peace and peace be everywhere, especially in your own heart.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

"A Banquet of Peace" - Thich Nhat Hanh

Recently in our Sangha we had an opportunity to practice walking meditation in the garden, and the facilitator read a piece from Thay's book 'The Long Road Turns to Joy', which invites us to enjoy a banquet of peace, nourishing our body and spirit as we walk. Here's what I wrote afterwards.

A Banquet of Peace.

the pale pastel of lacecap by the back door,
concrete flags warmed by a day of sunshine,
birds that fly away as I enter the courtyard,
and sit chattering in a nearby tree,
the coolness of freshly mown grass,
the vibrancy of summer flowers
a conversation of voices,
distant traffic and
the tinkle of an ice-cream van,
and lots of birds, invisible
to the eye but chirping audibly,
a pale blue sky deckled with white clouds,
and the glimmer of a sliver of new moon,
sounds dampened in the encroaching summer twilight,
a banquet of peace in the garden.

© 7 August 2012

Monday 23 July 2012

tick, tock

Feeling uneasy, not sure what to do,
mind is not on the job,
preoccupied and looking for distractions,
one hour to fill.
What do I do?

So much to get through
but can't concentrate,
uneasily looking for a diversion,
anything but this.
What do I do?

Anxious and nervous,
energy surging through the body,
agitation turning the stomach funny,
and the mind restless.
What do I do?

Time is not a commodity to be filled,
or segmented into neat portions.
Is it a friend or an enemy?
it is a man-made creation
to apportion years, seasons, months, days moments
into meaningful divisions.
It is not a rule to beat yourself with.
Or something that will run out
if it is not contained.

So breathe,
do nothing,
and be.
This moment is all the time you need.

© 23 July 2012

Saturday 21 July 2012

Thought for the day

Are you living in the realm of things as they are, or in the world of suffering?

Monday 16 July 2012


Tonight at Sangha we had a chance to go outside into the garden and spend some time deeply looking and investigating something. Noticing the judgements that come up and trying to see afresh without being carried away by perceptions coloured by previous experiences. Here are my reflections

Did you see the poppies
by the path?
Unfurling, becoming
not yet formed into flowerness.
Two poppies
standing straight and
other flower heads
flopping, not yet ready,
resting on
silver-grey-green leaves
with serrated edges
and raindrops
round, iridescent globules
sitting on the leaves.
Hello poppies
by the path
unscented, unfolding
many shades of red, crimson
and pink
with depths of purple
at the base.
Tomorrow you will be in
the full flourish of flowerness
and I will not be there to see.
Tonight I enjoy
two poppies by the path
still sporting green caps of
protective bud
unfurling and becoming.

© 18 July 2012

Tuesday 10 July 2012


Last week I did a week's intensive MBSR teacher training course. It was completely amazing, as well as intense and emotional and tiring. The course leader was superb and she took us through a whole series of guided meditations and mindful exercises, some of them incredibly simple, but just another way into being mindful in one's daily life. And the week away from the Ph.D did me the power of good, so that I felt really refreshed coming back to it this week, and the final bits of writing have gone really well. So from September I will be teaching MBSR courses in Yorkshire and from next year running retreats as well for people who want an extended practice of mindfulness. I can't wait!
Coming back to the course, I think the most interesting bits for me personally were mindful movements,   which were yoga type exercises and watching the reaction in the mind to what was happening in the body. There's a lovely question when you get to the point of feeling you can't continue holding a pose, is it the body or the mind that's saying no? I find that a really useful question because often it is the mind, the body can cope with more than the mind thinks. It reminds me of the analogy the Buddha used of 2 arrows. If one is hit by an arrow it hurts, but if one is hit in the same place by a second arrow the hurt is increased tenfold. The first arrow is pain, which exists as part of the human condition, but the second arrow is suffering, which is the attachments we place on top of the pain, the comments or judgements we make. As Thay says, pain exists but suffering is optional.

Thursday 28 June 2012

I am ...

I am not courageous,
I am not brave.
I am full of fear,
doubt, mistrust and self-loathing.
I think I have nothing to say
to those I call strangers.
I worry about things that will not happen
and presume the worst.

I am not truthful either,
because that is not all I am.

I am content and peaceful,
I am smiling and laughing
at what the world has to offer.
I am full of joy
with the support and encouragement
of family and friends.
I enjoy silence
and am a good listener.

I am not truthful either,
because that is not all I am.

© 6 July 2012

Monday 25 June 2012

Our front garden

During a silent morning yesterday I was reflecting on our front garden, because although we apparently created it to our own wishes, many of the neighbours have commented on how beautiful it looks, and it seems to give them a lot of pleasure, which I think is wonderful!
I wrote this poem about it yesterday.

The flowers of the Cherry blossom have already come and gone.
Seedheads are all that is left of the Aquilegia.
Rain has bent the Foxgloves and they flop in an ungainly manner.
The Lupins are part-purple and part-seed;
the ones in the back garden are festooned with greenfly and have all been eaten.
The Weigela flowers are non-existent now
and the plumpening seedheads are all that remain of the beautiful Irises.
Is there a moment when the garden is in the prime of perfection?

The anticipation of flowering in the Spring led to a brief flurry of colour,
and sun and rain produced a profusion of growth,
and some unidentifiable weeds, that appear like magic overnight.
Yet there is so much more to the garden than the brief splash of colour the flowers gave.
The elegance of the Cherry tree lends support to the climbing Clematis, yet to flower.
The darkened leaves of the Copper Beech offer a contrasting background to the greenery.
And the dancing ladies of the Fuchsia are yet to appear.
Is there a moment when the garden is in the prime of perfection?

The evolving, changing and growing garden continues to delight and amaze.
Forgotten Poppies suddenly announce themselves.
Small heads of Jacob's Ladder add a touch of whiteness,
and the tall purple-headed spikes,
that continue to perplex us whether or not they are weeds
are just beginning to emerge.
They keep their place because they are purple!

The perfection of the garden is in each moment
of looking deeply
and delight in what seed, sun, rain, wind and a little cultivation can produce.
Next year it will be completely different.

© 6 July 2012

I find it very helpful to recognise and accept the ever-changingness of the garden, there is never a moment when it is complete, it is always evolving. After the flowering comes the all-important seed-producing for next year, and the creation of compost from which something new will emerge. Accept the beauty of the moment without regretting what has past, or longing for what is to come :)

Thursday 21 June 2012


the uncertainty,
the not knowing,
not having all the answers.
Wanting a neat, concise package to present and instead
having a messy, unwieldy armful of stuff
that refuses to be condensed into

"Hello my desire to present certainty, clarity and neatness"
"Hello world that offers an amorphous mass of messiness"
"Can you two meet and shake hands?
Can you live together knowing that one will never be the other?"

Where is the thesaurus when I want to present
a concise train of thought
instead of a jumble of disconnected ramblings?

I see you both,
my desire and reality,
the knot in the stomach
produced by not finding
the smooth and equanimous path
I want to present to others.

Mindfulness and acceptance
are not about waiting until
the sea is calm to set sail,
but learning how to ride the waves,
and embracing the thrill of the ride
as well as sea-sickness.

Where is the neat conclusion
to this train of thought?
There isn't one!

© 6 July 2012

Monday 18 June 2012

The Dalai Lama in Manchester

Yesterday ten of us went over to Manchester to hear the Dalai Lama talk, what a great man he is! He's so jolly and just full of the joys of being alive. He had 3 points to deliver in his message
1) think globally, think at the level of humanity - recognise our interdependence
2) pay more attention to your inner realm
3) keep optimistic

That's it! And this is clearly what he lives and practises. He also talked in a very similar way to Thay about the urgent need for moral ethics to be taught in schools and throughout education, from the kindergarten upwards to university level. Not in a religious way, but to introduce morality back into schools and lives.
He also addressed the urgency of ecological thinking and acting. Someone asked a question about how to best show compassion to this earth and he said, 'use common sense!' He reminded us this planet is our only home and we need to look after it, he used the analogy of being cold and burning the furniture to warm up, it doesn't make sense and in the end it harms us.
One of the last questions put to him was, how to love the unlovable. And his answer was 'that's real love, genuine compassion, you should try it!'.
One of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings that I am currently looking at on my path as an aspirant to becoming a member of the Order of Interbeing is number 8, using compassionate listening and loving speech to avoid separation and suffering. To me, this is connected to what the Dalai Lama was teaching, we need to find ways of inclusion rather than rejecting those we disagree with, or stop listening to them. We all have an input into this life and the sort of contribution we make will determine not only how happy our own life is, but also the people around us. If we can be compassionate and loving towards others, especially when they don't deserve it, we can make the world a better place.
All the great teachers of all time have been telling us this, Jesus said turn the other cheek, Gandhi said hate the action but not the doer, the Buddha said 'hatred is never appeased by hatred, it is only appeased by love'. We need to start living these teachings for ourselves.

Monday 11 June 2012

We shall not cease from exploration

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time". T. S. Eliot
This kept coming to mind yesterday, on a silent morning at our house, and a question about where a journey begins and what about the influences on the way, especially people.
It's interesting the things that come up on a silent morning! There were 5 of us, enjoying the delights of the sunshine (before the rain). Some went for a walk after we meditated together, some read and I wrote, but at the end when we each feedback, there is always a thread that links each person's perceptions and observations together. I find that really magical! Here's what I wrote

Where does a journey begin?

Where does a journey begin?
Is it with this next footstep, crossing over this threshold?
Or does it track back to what got me here?
Does it begin afresh each morning?
Or is it a culmination of many footsteps, leading to this door?
Is there a moment I can pinpoint and say,
'now this is where the journey began'?
But what about what went before?
Does it begin afresh each lifetime?
Or is it a culmination of many lives?
How many lifetimes have I been on this path?
Is it a moment of awakening?
Or the steps that led up to that moment?
Does it begin afresh each moment?
Or is it a culmination of many moments?
Was it a particular person that opened a particular door?
Or a sound that was heard and responded to?
Was it you, was it you, that set my journey off?
Does it begin afresh with each person?
Or is it a culmination of many people walking together?
Is this one journey, one path that I am on?
Or have I meandered from one to another,
attracted by the flowers or scents caught along the way?
Does it begin afresh with each stepping stone?
Or is it a culmination of many paths?
Is it a straight path?
Or does it twist and wind continuously,
so that the way ahead is unclear, and the destination unseen?
Does it begin afresh at each crossroad?
Or is it a culmination of many meetings?
Looking back, I see people I have walked with,
some for many years, and others a shorter time,
some are still beside me, and others lost in the mists of time.
Does it begin afresh each meeting?
Or is it a culmination of many people coming together?
Those people I carry in my heart, as clearly as a photo in a wallet,
because they have made a contribution to this journey.
Does it begin afresh with each person?
Or is it a culmination of a team moving together?
To those that have walked with me, I thank you,
to those still walking, I bow to you in gratitude,
to those waiting ahead, yet unknown, I greet you.
Does it begin afresh with each moment?
Or is it a culmination of many moments?
Where did this journey begin?
Like Eliot, will I recognise it, at its ending and know it afresh?
It is enough that it has begun.

© 6 July 2012

Many questions, and not so many answers. Something that came from yesterday morning's meeting was whether we can be comfortable with the unknown, the unnamed. Being mindful, being present is about accepting what is, and sometimes that may be not knowing, but who would want to know everything anyway?! There is a vitality about learning new things, having new experiences, so that stepping into the unknown suddenly seems not only interesting but necessary. Today, do something you have never done before. Take a different way home or speak to someone you don't know, do something outrageous!

Wednesday 6 June 2012

No mud, no lotus - Thich Nhat Hanh

Thay often says, 'no mud, no lotus', what does this mean? That without suffering there can be no happiness, without the grit there is nothing to create a pearl. There has to be something that wakes us out of dullness and mechanical living to be able to appreciate the present moment. It recently occurred to me that Thay talks a great deal about happiness, much more so than suffering. Whilst acknowledging suffering he doesn't dwell on it, but speaks instead of the fruits of happiness, of the wonders and joys to be found in the present moment, unadulterated by desires and fluctuating emotions.
In writing my thesis I am fortunate to be immersed in his teachings and his beautiful poetic words, they are my inspiration. Here is my interpretation of what Thay calls the wonders of life.

Hello nowness

Precious moments
frittered away by bursting bubbles
can't take them back,
can't rewrite the script,
can only take a mindful breath
that wipes clean the blackboard
of what has gone before
and presents a new moment
fresh and clean,
full of potentiality and promise.

No regrets,
no need to replay conversations,
and write your part in a different way.
Let it go.
Take a mindful breath,
a mindful step into
here and now.
'Hello nowness, what do you have to offer?'
A life full of possibilities.

A script unwritten,
a blank page.
No need to rush towards
some future moment,
leap-frogging supposedly dull moments
and forging on to the next excitement.
Take one mindful breath,
one mindful step
to see what is available
'hello nowness'.

© 6 July 2012

Hello nowness audio

Monday 28 May 2012

A mindful walk in the Hole of Horcum

Hole of Horcum, Heaven or Hell?

I see there are two paths we can walk on through this adventure.
They run parallel, and appear not dissimilar.
Both have grassy valleys, trees and sheep,
yet one is heaven and one is hell.
To begin with I did not see two separate paths.
As we stepped over each stile and passed through each gate they seemed
Narnia-like to offer a different world beyond.

Here there was a dry and dusty path winding down through coarse heather,
with the delight of a snake on the path, soaking up the sun
and hurriedly moving away from the irritating disturbance that we represent.
Next a grassy meadow where the solitary but persistent cry
of a sheep turned into a chorus of bleats and belches.
Here there was a small wood offering much needed shade,
and the delightful babble of a nearby brook.
Next the vast openness of the valley top,
with the air full of invisible skylarks,
and the sky beguilingly blue,
gloriously welcoming and dangerously lying about the strength of the sun.

But as we walk I realise I vacillated between two paths,
one of acceptance
and welcoming each new treat as an unknown, unchartered world,
and the other of comment and complaining.
Have I brought the right footwear?
Should I be wearing boots like everyone else?
The sun is beautiful, but too hot,
I don’t like the feeling of stickiness.
I need the loo, but where can I go
in this landscape that suddenly seems bleak and barren?
I hope there’s shade when we stop for lunch!

And the place where we naturally came to rest and eat offers no shade,
but a glorious sweeping vista,
and the sound of a distant steam-train,
unseen but puffing its way from the past,
and a calm, playful breeze that unerringly drives away
the unbearable heat of the sun,
turning it instead to a welcome delight
that means one can shed layers of clothing and shoes and walk carefree.
The two paths criss-cross and dance with each other,
but ultimately one has to choose.

Heaven is not a place,
it is a moment,
a present moment,
a moment of acceptance and welcoming.

© 6 July 2012

Thursday 24 May 2012



stop trying to be
Let me tell you a secret.
You already are someone.
And if you look
deep inside
you may catch a glimpse
of the jewel
that is you
hidden beneath
the dusty, musty covers
that you have collected over the years,
as a kind of protection.
The layers that make you think
you have to be
a particular kind of someone.
A wife, a mother,
a loving friend
that does things
and says things
in a particular way.
But if you stop
and listen to your heart
you will hear
deep inside
there is already a someone
who wants to be set free.
A someone
who doesn’t behave the way
she thinks other people want her to,
a someone
who doesn’t say all the right things
and doesn’t have all the answers,
but is unique.
The unique jewel
that is you
only needs a bit of space,
a scent of fresh, clear air
in order to be free,
to find the gap
between the dense forest of covers
that you have collected over the years.
Stop trying
to be a different someone,
a better someone
and let yourself be
really you.
Stop trying.

© 6 July 2012

Monday 21 May 2012

When is a good time to meditate?

When the nowness of the moment
takes you by the hand
and gently whispers 'stop'
in your ear.
When the blushing pinkness
of the sky
catches your eye.
When the path least trod
and the bridge welcomes you
instead of the road.
When the scent of wisteria
tickles your nostrils.
When the flickering glimmer
of a bat's wing
against a darkening sky
makes you turn
figures of eight.
When the heart says 'be'.
When the twinkling wetness
of dew on grass
forces the socks and shoes
from your feet
and your toes delight in
breath-taking coldness.
When 'stop' and 'rest'
are greater than the
momentum that propels
you onward.
When the nowness of the moment
takes you by the hand.

© 6 July 2012

When is a good time to meditate? audio

Sunday 20 May 2012

Face your fears

This morning I have been meditating on the 5 Remembrances - after being recommended to do so and then happily stumbling upon them in the book I was reading. These are recommendations from the Buddha to face your fears by contemplating the following -

1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.
3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

This is what I concluded this morning.
The dead and the dying walk side by side with us through life, but do we appreciate how they nurture us? These logs on the fire give heat and light and comfort, but only because they have died first.The death of last year's plants and flowers have become a rich, and nourishing compost to help spring's new life to grow. I think I am afraid of death but what does it actually mean? When I think of my mum, who died ten years ago, or the friend who died in a car crash around the same time, they are as real to me in my thoughts and rememberings as if they had popped next door and will soon return.
Thay calls death 'a life without boundaries' and Kahlil Gibran talks about being 'unencumbered'. That word always makes me smile because of hilarious connotations. When my mum-in-law died we asked our children and their cousin to read Gibran's words about death, but at the ages of nine to fourteen they struggled with 'unencumbered' and kept practising 'cucmbered'. It's life's little jokes like this that makes me realise death is not all sadness and despair, and certainly not an ending. It is inevitable though, and I think not to face that but to be fearful of it makes it harder when the inevitable happens. We should prepare for death by living life to the full, so that when it comes there are no regrets, no what-ifs, no should-have-dones. We should prepare for death by embracing change and impermanence rather than foolishly trying to hold onto something that slips through the fingers like grains of sand.

The bookmark keeping my page in Gibran's book is a photo of our family - taken 45 years ago, before my youngest sister was born. It is a moment captured that no longer exists, Sunday afternoon tea round at the grandparents house. Mum must be in some stage of pregnancy, as she sips sherry and is choosing a chocolate from a proffered box. Dad is formally dressed in a suit and tie, and smoking. We three are playing a game at a separate table in the bay window. The tv does not feature, I wonder if they had one then? I look at this photo and it is both familiar and unrecognisable. I know this scene, more because I have looked at the photo before, than because I was there. But if I look closely the faces are unrecognisable. It's like watching an old black and white film that has no relevance my current life, but that is not entirely true because there I am, my 2 year old self, turning away from the camera! Now the family is my two sisters, my brother and I, plus those we have collected along the way, but my younger sister is not even there in the picture, where is she? We are all dressed up and I cannot recall why, simply for tea at the Grandparents? This picture, this scene, this family has helped to shape who I have become, but I do not recognise myself there.

This morning, after the contemplation of growing old, I went into the garden and felt enlivened to do things that I had previously put off, spurred into action by the thought of impending old age. But I do not think that is such a bad thing, I think with age there comes an acceptance and a quiet confidence that replaces the energy of youth, it only gets better! :)

Wednesday 16 May 2012

The healing temple

I have just been practising Jack Kornfield's healing meditation, which leads one through the visualisation of a entering a place of healing and receiving its nourishment. It is a beautiful practice, gentle and calming yet safe enough to explore the often untouched areas that really need healing. And at the end he reads this beautiful declaration from Thomas Merton,
"of what avail is it to travel to the moon, if we cannot cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?"
What poignant words.
Thay talks about breathing as being the key that reunites us with ourselves, bringing body and mind back to one place, the present moment. And it is only a breath away. I may have said that before, but it's always worth repeating. Mindfulness is only a breath away.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Are you sure?

Are you sure? What a great question! One that Thay uses often, suggesting that we use it to check in on our perceptions and thoughts. Is what we firmly believe really so certain?
Sometimes it's a really difficult one, especially when you're actually full of doubt. Recently I have been struggling with a chapter I'm writing, or rather rewriting. Although I now have a sense of what it should look like, it's felt like a real uphill struggle the last few days to keep on task, even when I know I have a deadline. I posted the dilemma on facebook today, supposedly asking for help, but actually making a kind of public declaration that I have been prevaricating and it can go on no longer. And it helped! A friend reminded me of FOFBOC as a starting point (feet on floor, bum on chair). The problem with sitting at a computer is there are so many juicy distractions at your very fingertips. But having formulated one section with nearly 2,000 words I do feel as if progress is being made, the view is not quite so treacherously uphill, but levelling out somewhat, bringing space with it.
And the poems which have been flowing very easily out of my pencil of late offer a formulation to what has been taking place. Here is tonight's ...

Are You Sure? 
Hello, Doubt, my old friend,
What have you to say to me today?
What poisonous words will you tip into my ear?
Have you come to tell me I am no good at this,
and will never finish it, because I am not capable?
Have you brought along your friends,
Procrastination and Distraction,
with a tempting array of delights to place before me?
And is that Boredom that I see, trailing along behind,
suggesting that anything would be better
than concentrating on this task before me?
Do you feel bolstered up by their presence?
Your little army, to reinforce your statements?
Are you sure, Doubt, are you sure?

Are you certain they will back you up,
be there through thick and thin and
when the going gets rough?
Can you guarantee they will be at your shoulder
to confirm what you have to say?
Do I see a nervous flicker in your eyes,
A sly glance backwards to ensure they are still present?
Is Doubt itself having doubts?
What a hilarious thought!
I laugh out loud at your predicament.
Doubt has turned on itself, and no longer has
the swagger and self-confident poise that first appeared.
Are you sure, Doubt, are you sure?

Oh Doubt,
Where are you?

© 6 July 2012

Are you sure? audio

Sunday 6 May 2012

A mindful weekend

A mindful weekend has been had! Practising yesterday with students from Leeds Uni, meditating on nettles in a wind-filled park, listening "like a Martian" and playing energy games, silent lunch and deep relaxation that allowed everyone to fall asleep! Finishing with a loving-kindness meditation, whilst break-dancers practised outside the door!
Silent Sunday morning in which 9 of us enjoyed the fire on a frosty morning whilst reading, meditating and enjoying the shared silence. Suddenly the sun comes out, and the cold May morning pretend to be a balmy summer afternoon. Tim and I visit a bluebell wood and enjoy the sound of lapwings and skylarks.
3 more poems written over the weekend, which shall I share?

Looking for peace

Looking for peace,
the mind is full of jumbling, swirling thoughts.
what could be.
Things to do, achieve, fulfil,
emails to send (a blog to write!)
an incomplete thesis.
have I done all that I should do?
Uncertainty, doubt, anxiety.
Where is the peace when I need it most?
Elusive, hidden,
covered by the cacophony
of noise and muddled thoughts.

Yet there is also a stillness.
The ticking of the clock,
the gently crackling fire,
the soft swoosh of pages turning.
There is also a space
to hear these things.
Peace sits in the corner,
like a guest once invited
and forgotten about.
Patient and uncomplaining,
smiling and nodding,
gently encouraging.
Accepting the noise,
and softly embracing it.

Not trying to usurp or overthrow,
yet gently stepping forward
asserting herself.
Demanding nothing,
but offering all.
A cool hand caressing
a burning forehead,
a firm hand taking mine,
a strong shoulder to lean on.
Peace has always been here,
quiet in the background.
Peace and noise sit,
side by side.
Which one will you choose?

© 6 July 2012

The sun has unexpectedly come out and suddenly everything feels different, summery. The scarf and coat come off and it is enjoyable to be outside, instead of hiding from the wind. Smiling with the sunshine!

Friday 4 May 2012

The bluebells are out

I have been in York all week, and came home today to all the new delights that are appearing in the garden. The bluebells are out, the lilac tree is heavy with large fronds, the leaves on the Cotinus Grace are just beginning to show, everything is green and ready to burst into colour. What a glorious time of year this is, things appearing miraculously overnight, as if from nowhere, green, lush and full. And there is a newt in our pond (well it's a sink, a tiny pond). This always seems such a hopeful time of year, when everything changes very quickly and there is such promise in the air. It might even get warm soon!
It always reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Kahlil Gibran. I think it is wonderful that we can still be surprised by the birth and growth that takes place each spring.

"In a field I have watched an acorn, a thing so still and seemingly useless. And in the spring I have seen that acorn take roots and rise, the beginning of an oak tree, towards the sun.
Surely you would deem this a miracle, yet that miracle is wrought a thousand thousand times in the drowsiness of every autumn and the passion of every spring."

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Silence is no longer an option

We had a beautiful Day of Mindfulness on Saturday in York, with Pete the poet, who inspired and delighted us with his poems and his insights as to how he writes. Most memorable for me was, 'you can write a poem about anything'. Really? I have been a part-time poet, writing occasionally on retreats or inspired by meditation practices, but I am reluctant to share them because of the habit energy of doubt, that rears it's voice to say, 'are you sure it's any good? who wants to hear that?' Pete has written a poem about that too! So, inspired by his honesty and bravery, and of the others there on Saturday I have begun not only to write again, but also to share. Here is today's poem.

Looking for the right words,
the apt ones, the funny words,
they elusively slip away,
dancing and teasing
but just beyond reach.
Mind is full of
other people's words,
Gibran and Shakespeare,
Eliot and Rumi,
dance and tease and play,
but what do I have to say?

Who am I, a mere mortal,
to declare anything?
A pin-prick on this
vast global orb.
What can I share?
And yet the heart is full,
bursting with a jumble of something.
Silence is no longer an option.
The pencil trembles
over the paper.

Don't let doubt take the lead.
Don't let the churning stomach
dictate what comes next.
Deep breath
a pause
a smile of certainty,
this is my contribution.
I love you
that is all.
That ... is ... all!

© 6 July 2012

Thursday 26 April 2012

Lazy Day

I just want to officially declare that I am going to make Mondays my Lazy Day. At Plum Village (where Thay lives) they have a Lazy day once a week, where nothing is planned but it's about being comfortable with having nothing planned and nothing to do, rather than feeling we have to fill every moment of time with something or it will be wasted. It's more about being awake to the space and seeing what happens rather than trying to fill it. Anyway, for me initially it's not going to mean I won't be working, but I won't be checking or sending emails, going on the internet (especially facebook) and won't be writing any new posts! I'm aware that all of these things can take up a lot of the day, and it will be interesting to see how important they really are, so instead of feeling I have to respond immediately if an email comes in, it will have to wait until the next day. It also includes texts, so only text or phone me on a Monday if it's REALLY urgent! I'm hoping that by making it a public declaration I will have your support, so if I forget, feel free to remind me. I'm hoping to rediscover there is life beyond a computer and the internet.
I have been reminded this week of my love of the poetry of Kahlil Gibran, so here's one of his quotes -
"forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair"

Wednesday 25 April 2012

The miracles of mindfulness

Having a discussion with a friend yesterday we came to realise mindfulness can be a deliberate step, but it can also be a wonderful happening by chance, as something or someone reminds you to be mindful. What a joy that is, to stumble into mindfulness as it were, by a reminder.
This week I have been really fortunate to have 3 meditation sessions with different groups, the York Sangha, the MBSR support group and Leeds University meditation society. They are all quite different but the joy of practising with other like-minded people is tangible from each.
Thay has some beautiful analogies for practising with other people, practising as a Sangha -
going as a river (instead of a single droplet of water). This is my personal favourite as I find the image of many individual droplets of water joining together to create a great force, like an unstoppable torrent, is very powerful. There is a beautiful quote from Robert Kennedy which demonstrates the same thing that Thay is alluding to;

Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Robert F Kennedy.
June 1966 from South Africa against apartheid

To me, this quote could also be a description of Thay and the many amazing things he has done in his life. It is wonderful to think he is nearly 86, and has been practising mindfulness and meditation since he became a novice monk at the age of 16, 70 years!! No wonder he seems to do everything with such ease. I'd be well into my centenary if I had 70 years of practice. 

Thay refers to the things that remind us to be mindful as miracles. I wonder how many miracles we will happen upon today?

Monday 23 April 2012

Mindfulness is ...

Mindfulness is only a breath away. Thanks to a friend on fb for letting me remember that today :) As soon as you can connect with your breath again, mindfulness is there.
"Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
Breathing in, I connect to the present moment.
Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment."

Or as Tara Brach says (new bf for York MBSR) - 'if you lived in your heart, you'd be home right now'.

I feel very lucky to have so many reminders to be mindful, so many reasons to be happy, so much to be thankful for.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Listen to Thay speaking

Again, I have to credit my sister for prompting me to do this - you can watch and listen to all the talks that Thay gives on vimeo and search for Nottingham retreat, or follow this link
which takes you to the Q&A session on 9th April. About 1 hour and 1 minute in you'll see me ask Thay a question about the difference between Engaged Buddhism and Applied Buddhism.
They are well worth listening to.

What can I learn from Thich Nhat Hanh?

As I have been home from the retreat for a week now, I wonder what I have learnt that will help me live a more mindful life at home and work. Something I really appreciated this morning is to be grateful for the non-toothache, and express gratitude for the 'ordinary' moments in our life when actually nothing is going wrong or being troublesome, so much so that we tend to simply miss it! Yesterday I burnt my finger on a toaster and the shock of that brief pain really woke me up to how often everything is alright, there is no pain or suffering, but because of that we just don't notice it. I think this is what Thay calls the miracles of life - being able to walk down a street in the rain and just enjoy it, rather than complain because I forgot my umbrella!
This blog has also taught me how unmindfully I type, because I am so used to spellchecker doing the work for me and because I am used to typing fast I make so many mistakes. This blog is a practical and useful lesson in slowing down and mindfully being with each letter as each word emerges. What a joy!
Let's make today a day for appreciating and sharing gratitude.
As we say in Thay's tradition,
A lotus for you, a Buddha to be (accompanied by a bow) _/\_

Tuesday 17 April 2012

On retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh

Last week I was on retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, - and about 800 other people - and what a joyous experience it was! At the prompting of my sister I have started this blog to write about living mindfully, not just when on reteat but in daily life as well, as this is what Thay teaches. Thay is the Vietnamese word meaning teacher, by which Thich Nhat Hanh is known to his students. and I certainly consider myself one of his students!
The retreat was for me a demonstration that living mindfully, moment by moment, is possible, as it is lived by both Thay and the other monastics who accompanied him. Although we all hang onto his every word, and try to mindfully buy his latest book, without showing too much craving, I think the way he lives his life is a practical and palpable example of mindfulness. Just to notice the way he walks across a room is a teaching in itself. He exudes gentleness and happiness in each step, and it is clear he is really alive, awake to each step as it is taken. He is not walking to the stage thinking about what he will say to his audience, he is walking to enjoy the walk!
The simplicity of his teaching should not be dismissed as merely breathing and smiling, because to practice what he is teaching is hard work and requires diligent effort! It's easy to be mindful in that collective atmosphere with hundreds of others, but arriving home, when the family/house/work clamours for attention does take a lot of effort. No wonder he says it is easier to be a monk than to practice as a lay person.

The retreat was an experience of swimming in mindfulness, everywhere you turned someone was walking mindfully, or sitting mindfully, or smiling mindfully, being aware of their breathing and just enjoying being themselves, and this practice has a ripple effect that affects others.
It's hard to write this without sounding like an adoring groupie, as I do love Thay and love what he teaches, but actually, what I love is the effect of being in his presence, and knowing that peacefulness and quietness are possible. He is a very humble person who offers his teaching with a smile of happiness, and only teaches what he knows to be true through practice. He is very charismatic, but he is not seeking to be a leader, first and foremost he is a practitioner.
One of the teachings that stood out for me from the week was about cows! The Buddha was teaching his monastics when a worried farmer appeared saying he had lost his cows and asked if they had seen them. As they hadn't, the Buddha recommended he look in another direction. As the farmer disappeared the Buddha said to his monks, 'we are very fortunate not to have any cows'. In this instance the cows are an analogy for the things we dearly hold onto, not just physical or material possessions but thoughts and ideas as well. In fact, Thay suggests that the hardest cows to get rid of are our ideas, especially the idea of happiness, which
can provide many misperceptions and wrong notions. If we think we need a particular object or item to make us happy we will be miserable until we get it, but actually achieving it also shows the idea is false, as it does not bring lasting happiness. The only true freedom and happiness we can have is when we are free from ideas and perceptions, not bound by them.
Thay suggests we have to identify our cows, in order to release them. So, what are your cows?