Monday 29 July 2013

No reason to be sad

I took Mum for a walk this evening,
a walking meditation
through the rain-soaked garden.
I felt sad she is no longer here,
and sad that she would not have walked,
in her wheelchair-bound state,
but now I can walk for her.

And the coolness of the wet grass
tells me not be sad.
And the bees,
gently embracing the lavender,
see no reason to be sad.
And the great canopy of green
from the towering tree
knows no reason to be sad.

And the unfurling sweet peas,
softly perfuming the summer evening's air,
see no reason to be sad.
And the fuchsia buds,
ready to pop into dancing ladies,
know no reason to be sad.
And even the rain has stopped.

© 29 July 2013

Friday 26 July 2013

I have walked this path before

You may have noticed by now that poetry is often the way I find most easily communicates what my heart has to say, expressing more succinctly than ordinary words can. And in the same way I find other poems often resonate with a particular feeling or mood and perfectly articulate what is in my heart.
Today there are two poems that have informed what I have written. The first is by Rumi,

Don't go back to sleep.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth between the
door sill where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.

And the second one is by David Wagoner


Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. Let it find you.

And here is my contribution.

I have walked this path before

Where can my restless heart find solace?
I have walked this path before,
I know it well.
I know the answer will not come with
more restless wandering.
Become stillness.
Let stillness rise up through your bones,
seep into your very being
until you and it are one,
and you cannot find the edge
where you finish and stillness begins.
Let stillness descend upon you
like a cloak, that wraps itself
around you so completely
that you cannot tell where its seams begin
and your own seams end.
Stand still.
And let here and now be your guide,
you are not lost
just because you cannot see the way ahead clearly,
you are not lost
just because the restless heart cannot find solace,
you are not lost.
Feel the beating of your heart,
the pumping of your blood
as it courses through your veins.
Know that standing still
is as much of a journey as
the restless wandering,
and is the only way to bring you home.
That sense of helplessness
can be quietened by standing still,
and remembering
you are not lost.
You have walked this path before,
and know it well.

© 26 July 2013

Tuesday 23 July 2013

No mud, no lotus (expectations and attachments part 2)

Thich Nhat Hanh often uses the phrase 'no mud, no lotus' to indicate that suffering and happiness interare, they come together and we cannot appreciate one without the other, although often we wish only for the lotus and want to be without the mud, forgetting that the lotus only grows from the mud.
Last night in our Sangha we spoke of gratitude, particularly for the practice and how it has helped us to grow, but one person reminded us we need to be grateful for the mud. It is the experiences when we are pulled up by our bootstrings and have to take stock of what we are thinking, what we are saying to ourselves about a situation that teach us the most and move us forward. And again it comes back to expectations and attachments. Can we see a situation as it is, without the dusty layers of our own thoughts, feelings and emotions?

Can we love?

Can we love
and hold the love so lightly
that if and when it chooses to fly
we shall only be gladdened by the flight
and not burdened by sorrow?

Can we hold the hand
of our beloved
and at the time it slips from our fingers
only remember the warmth that was there
and not dwell on the cold
now it has gone?

Can we suffer
and holding the suffering
as gently as a fragile, new-born baby,
tending to its needs with love
and infinite care
but not burdening it with layers of our own pain?

Can we question,
a deep-seated, heartstring-pulling question
that yearns to find completeness
and yet sit with it
rather than leaping forward
to search for the answer?

Can we walk
barefoot in the grass
feeling each prickle, coolness and bump,
each stone that pricks, each blade that tickles
and yet just walk each footstep
without knowing where the walking ends?

Can we love
each moment that occurs,
each blessed, heart-stopping, present moment
and receive it as a gift
instead of letting it slip by
into the unknown and unremembered distance?
© 23 July 2013

Friday 12 July 2013

Expectations and attachments

It has recently occurred to me that much of the suffering we experience is caused by expectations and attachments, the stories and layers we add on top of our experiences rather than the experience itself. Thich Nhat Hanh says 'pain is inevitable but suffering is optional' and he uses the story of the 2 arrows to demonstrate this. If we are hit by an arrow it causes pain but if we are hit in the same place by a second arrow it causes immense suffering, and magnifies the pain many times beyond the original experience.
The 'pain' we experience is an outcome of being human, of living a life and we should not shy away from this pain as it has much to teach us, but the suffering that is added on top is of our own making and that is why he says it is optional, we can choose whether or not to add to the pain with additional suffering. If we can examine our expectations and attachments we can free ourselves from much unnecessary suffering that we give ourselves.
I feel there is much to look at here and there may well be several poems or reflections coming out of this; here is the first one.

Can't Sleep!

Can't get to sleep in this heat,
can't get any rest with twitchy, restless legs
and a mind willing sleep to come.
I get up, I move around,
trying not to wake others.
I aim to distract myself with a film
as if I can trick myself into
falling asleep,
but sleep will not come.
It is slippery and evasive
and more importantly, not here.
I breathe deeply
and try to convince myself I don't need the sleep.
Back in bed
I can barely lie still
as the fight between wanting to sleep
and wakefulness continues.
And in the morning,
grumpy and fuzzy,
I am thankful I don't have to be anywhere,
don't have a job to concentrate on,
don't have people who need looking after,
they can take care of themselves.

And finally the insight comes,
expectations and attachments
are what kept me awake.
I lay there in the darkness
demanding for sleep to come,
as if the sheer force of will
can accomplish it.
I was attached to the idea of being asleep
like those around me who had so easily succumbed.
My longing for sleep created a battle
that pushed sleep further out of reach.
Somehow, in the early hours of the morning
I must have let go
but I don't recall the letting go.
That moment of acceptance
when sleep came upon me
happened without my knowing,
without my doing anything.

Expectations and attachements kept me awake
and in knowing this I can accept
sleep will not come because I demand it,
because I look for it.
Sleep will slip into place when it is ready,
and sometimes that may be
slithering through the back door,
silent and unnoticed
while I stand,
expectant and jittery, at the front door,
eyes searching, ears listening out
for an eagerly awaited guest that will not come.

© 12 July 2013

Sunday 7 July 2013

Do something every day that scares you

Who was it said, do something every day that scares you? It is a mindful practice to open yourself up to the things that scare and be able to see what feeds them and drives them. Well today I did about a month's worth of being scared, in one episode. Now I am aware that for lots of people it wouldn't be scary at all but I guess that is the nature of the things that scare us, they are very personal. For me, riding a bike is something I have avoided for much of my life. I think I have had too many bad experiences of riding a bike. I learnt to ride on my sister's bike, which was far too big for me and also lived in a city which was very hilly, so not a lot of cycle-riding happened anyway. Then hiring a bike in Australia many years ago that had no brakes, you had to back-pedal to brake and that was unnerving to say the least as I felt totally out of control. I never found any pleasure in bike riding. So when we got married and our children were young it was always my husband who took them out bike riding and I just refused to go and that became the norm.
But here we are in Barcelona, and the ideal way to sightsee and learn something about the city is to do a cycle tour, which all the rest of the party were very keen on doing. They were also keen that it was something we all did together, which is understandable and something I would ask for in different circumstances. So I found myself with a huge dilemma, did I refuse to go, or overcome the fear and go along with them? It wasn't something I could easily resolve because just the thought of getting on a bike made me want to cry! And I know this may sound terribly wimpish but just think of the thing that really scares you, that you have spent your life avoiding and suddenly being asked to get on and do it!
To be fair there wasn't a lot of pressure from the family, they were happy for me to go along and decide once we got there whether I would join in or not, but there was an obvious issue about what I would do if I didn't join in for the 4 hours while they were cycling the city. There was also some expectation that I would join in, mainly because they were all looking forward to it so much and couldn't really understand the fuss I was making. But our fears are not rational, explicable thoughts that can be easily worked through, they are often accompanied by layers of past history and confusing hidden depths.
Last night I had to deliberately choose not to think about making a decision as it would have kept me awake all night. This morning we all got ready together and set off to the meeting place and I still didn't know whether I could get on a bike. When we met up with our lovely tour guide my stomach was turning somersaults and I was ready to cry, but step by step! We went off to the shop to get our bikes and then I had the opportunity of getting on one and trying it out. It wasn't as bad as I had feared! I was shaky to begin with but I discovered I could steer the bike and keep balance and not knock people over (and there were plenty of tourists who could get knocked over!) So in that moment I took the decision to go for it and join in. And I am so glad I did!
The tour was pretty gentle and we stopped lots of times to hear some of Barcelona's history and look at some of its beautiful architecture and the great majority of it is fairly flat so it was an easy ride. There is just one hill, up to the Sagrada Familia and by the time we reached there I was very overheated and felt sick but a rest in the shade and plenty to drink settled that. And I was distracted from my concerns by being poohed on by a bird as I looked for shade under a palm tree! Why do people say that is meant to be good luck? I also discovered I wasn't the only one on our tour who was a novice bike rider, so as well as those such as my children who were incredibly confident there were others who were as shaky and nervous as I was, especially in negotiating narrow old streets full of people on foot. But it wasn't 4 solid hours of bike riding, it was broken up with lots of stops and chances to drink water (it was also a very hot day!). And it is an amazing way to see lots of the city in a short space of time, and work out which places you want to go back to and explore further.
The tour company is called Fat Tire Bike Tours and I would happily recommend them to anyone! They offer similar trips in London, Paris and Berlin and they are extremely well organised but also very friendly and easy-going.
And so I did it! Today I rode a bike and overcame a fear of many years! I'm not saying I now want to leap on a bike at any circumstance but I now know that something I had considered to be impossible is in fact possible and that is an amazing thing to recognise. In teaching mindfulness we emphasise that thoughts are not facts and don't have to be believed or acted upon, but when something is very deep-seated it's not so easy to accept this. Today I became living proof that it is possible to meet a long-standing fear, look it in the face and realise it's not as big or scary as it appears to be! And I am very glad that I did. Now I can appreciate why doing something that scares you is so important, as otherwise you could spend your whole life being ruled by such fears, avoiding things and limiting the opportunities we take because of them.