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