Thursday 29 May 2014

An Autobiography in Five Chapters by Portia Nelson

I don't often post other people's poems on here but I found this poem again recently and I just love it as a description of the growing discernment that comes through mindfulness.

An Autobiography in Five Chapters
by Portia Nelson

Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in. I am lost….I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the side walk.
I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I fall in….it’s a habit…but my eyes are open.
I know where I am. It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down a different street.

3 week retreat at Plum Village

From this Sunday, 1st June I will be on a 3-week retreat at Plum Village in France. There won't be any internet access there so I won't be able to post anything while I'm there but I'm sure there will be lots to add once I'm back home again (after 22nd June).
The retreat is called 'What happens when we die?' and here is the link to it
It sounds as if it will be amazingly interesting, 3 weeks to sink into the reality of no birth and no death. This will be the longest retreat I have ever done so I'm really looking forward to it.
And while I'm there I'm hoping to take part in a ceremony to receive the 14 Mindfulness Trainings and become an Order member. I've been working towards this as an aspirant for about 3 years and it has been an interesting and challenging time of considering what each of the 14MTs means to me personally.
Here's a link to the 14 Mindfulness Trainings
I feel that this has helped me deepen my practice and embody more fully teachings of Buddhism, practising compassion to all, nonviolence and kindness, as well as reviewing what I am thinking and feeling through that all important question 'are you sure?'

Free the Mind

On Monday I went with a group of people into York for the UK's premier showing of a film called Free the Mind, featuring the work of Professor Richard Davidson on how we can change the way we think. It's a powerful film, working with soldiers suffering with PTSD and a child suffering from ADHD (you can watch the trailer here
I took members of my family with me and it helped them understand what I'm doing as a Mindfulness teacher. When my niece (who has exams coming up) said she wanted to learn some of the breathing exercises I was delighted!
If you get a chance, see the film, it's amazing.

Friday 23 May 2014

On the apothecary’s shelf

I am become an apothecary
I am become an alchemist.
The jars lining my shelves
are full of strange and wondrous objects
moving and ethereal, like light
rather than tangible shapes.
I take down this one and
hold it in my two warm hands.
This jar is filled with my sadness.
I hold it close to my heart
like a fretful baby,
only soothed by the closeness of
its mother’s heartbeat.
I embrace this jar of sadnesses
to soothe and calm them
letting each emotion rise and
overflow and dissipate from the
attention of loving care.

On the apothecary’s shelf
this jar holds disappointment,
this one anger, this one meanness and
this one selfishness.
In the middle of the shelf
stands a jar of water,
shining and bright as if filled
with silver moonlight.
A jar of mindfulness.
Each water droplet
a moment of mindfulness,
imperceptibly filling, flooding the jar,
spilling out, overflowing
into the other jars,
washing away the sadness, anger and meanness,
like marbles of light
dancing atop a surging wave of mindfulness,
turning the seeds of despair,
hopelessness and frustration into
happiness, compassion and joy,
filling the jars of darkness with smiles,
transforming each sadness into a
tiny flower of resilience.

With this jar of mindfulness
I am become an alchemist,
watering each seed to nurture and
transform it into a
golden flower of mindfulness.
© 22 May 14

Twenty-one days to create a new neural pathway - giving up computer games

Day 1,2,3 (3rd - 5th May) - This has been an easy start to giving up the addictive computer games as I was on a retreat and whilst I had my computer with me for work purposes I wasn't tempted to go on the games. It also helped that the wifi connection was a bit rubbish (being up on the moors in Lancashire) and took ages to load so unless I wanted something really important I didn't bother.
Day 4 - this will be the test, back home and working on the computer but trying to resist. It's lunchtime and I haven't been on them yet but I don't want to congratulate myself too early as I know the pull of them is strong at times.
I must say the games I play are very mild and inoffensive, there are only two I play, Spider Solitaire and Taipei (I know they are lame) but nonetheless they are addictive.
This will be helped again by another retreat on days 6-9.
Day 5 - I am on the computer but finished checking emails and Facebook and the blogs and anything else I need to do, and that this the time I would normally play a few games. So my hands feel twitchy and I have to walk away from the computer and find something else to do. Pleased that I didn't succumb to playing the games today. Each day is a fresh start.
Day 6 - Not going to be on the computer much today or the next few days as I'm off on a retreat this afternoon so that makes it much easier to resist the temptation.
Day 7-9 (Barmoor retreat) No internet signal and no computer anyway so not a problem on these days. It's when I'm on the computer that it will be more difficult.
Day 10 - It's good to acknowledge that I have already reached ten days without playing the games, I hadn't realised it had been as long as that.
Day 11 & 12 - mostly it has been fairly easy but there are times when I'm on the computer and I start to get twitchy and want to play. It's those times when I would have turned to the games before, so recognising that habit energy and knowing I don't have to choice that path this time. It's a step-by-step, moment-by-moment approach. This time I chose to put the laptop down and do something else. So it also relates to the time I'm spending on the computer. Haven't played a game yet but there were times over these two days when the mind would say, 'oh go on, why not. It's harmless' but I have managed to resist.
Day 13-16 - I have managed not to play a game yet but as above there are times when the habit energy would kick in. At those times I've had to put the laptop down and walk away. Not a bad thing of course. Perhaps the worst part of the habit is doing something else on the computer instead of walking away from it.
Day 17 - still haven't played a game but tempted a couple of times when the Ph.D work gets hard and I need a break from thinking.
Day 18 - not feeling so good today, really tired and not much energy. Today it would be easy to just have a couple of 'harmless' games. But I'm writing this instead to remind me of what I have resolved to do and hoping it will help. Nearly there as well so it would be a shame to break it now!
Day 19-21 - Well I've got to the last day without playing any games, and I'm really pleased to have managed it. The last few days have been the hardest, especially when I'm using the computer for other things, I have to make a conscious decision each time to put the computer down and do something else. I'm not saying I'll never play a computer game again as I think it's still a moment-by-moment, day-by-day decision, but I do feel as if I've broken the stickiness of the habit energy that meant I automatically played a few games as part of the checking emails etc. routine.
I'm celebrating 21 days without playing computer games! :)

Friday 16 May 2014

Why not fail joyfully?

Thought for the day - we talk about failing miserably, but why not fail joyfully? Why not rejoice in the mistakes that we make, that we learn from? Life would be dull indeed if occasionally we didn't have the opportunity to laugh uncontrollably at our own foolishness, short-comings, and falling flat on our faces! Let's celebrate those 'mistakes' that make us who we are :)

Thursday 15 May 2014

Each bend in the road

Turn the radio off.
Notice the full moon
beaming down from a spacious,
pale blue sky.
Notice the pinkness in the sky behind
as the sun sinks and lets go of the day.
Enjoy each bend in the road
instead of anticipating
the end of the journey.
Just this one and
this one and
this one.
Be with the blossoming trees and
the approaching summer.
The journey is each inch of the way and
not only the final destination.
Notice the full moon
lighting each step of the way.
This one and
this one and
this one.
© 14 Apr 2014

Twenty-one days to create a new neural pathway - part 3

Day 15 (7th May) - Mindful Movements after meditation but I have decided I prefer them beforehand, or actually as I did them yesterday, which was most before leading into meditation then finishing them off afterwards.
Day 16 - Mindful Movements as day 14 with most before and the rest after. I'm lucky to be going on another retreat today so the next few days will definitely have some Mindful Movements at the beginning of each day.
Day 17 - 19 (Barmoor retreat) On these days I led the Mindful Movements for a group of people and we had plenty of time so could extend each movement to ten times. It really helped to give time to connect fully with the breath and deepen the experience. On Day 17 I also went for 2 walks, a short one up onto the moors and a longer one with the Sangha through fields and down the back of the village, up into woods and down a treacherous muddy slope. Great fun!
Day 20 - Did the movements outside in the garden this morning, facing the sun, with the birds chirruping away in the background. What a great experience!
Day 21 - Mindful Movements twice today as I did them with the MBSR group in the evening as well as by myself in the morning. (Same again tomorrow with the next MBSR course)
And so it comes to the end of 21 days and how do I feel?
I'm glad I started this and it now feels solid enough to just keep going and continue with them every morning. It's not like giving up chocolate for lent and thinking, phew I can eat it again, but then this was about starting (or renewing) rather than stopping and it just makes sense to keep going, especially with the warmer weather I can do them outside.
It's been a good experiment and I'm glad I did it as a way of re-establishing this back into my daily routine. :)

Wednesday 7 May 2014


The Gardens have a storytelling space
created in a faery ring
with stones from St Mary’s Abbey as seats.
Here in the twilight the space is silent,
only the trees holding the secrets
of what was shared in the day.
The animals and birds creep in
once the Gardens are closed and
the humans have left,
to share stories and antics
they have seen from the day.
The mouse twitters nervously
about its adventures through the tulips
and meeting giants with
hefty boots and booming voices.
The blackbird shares its success
in digging for worms.
The squirrels argue over whose nuts
are buried under the oak tree.
The pigeons coo a lullaby
to send everyone to sleep.
The drama of each life echoes
through the storytelling space and
the trees hold the secrets
of what has been shared.
© 6 May 2014

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Twenty-one days to create a new neural pathway - part 2

Day 8 (30th April) - didn't have time for Mindful Movements before leaving the house this morning but was presented with a fairly short but brisk walk through town as I had to park further away than intended. at this stage it doesn't seem difficult in finding something to do and I wonder why the mind presented so many objections previously. Did the Mindful Movements in the evening with a group of University students. That was interesting as one of them was visually impaired and so I had to think much more carefully about what I said to describe each movement. It made me realise how much I rely on people being able to see me when I lead them with a group.
Day 9 - feeling a bit achy from the movements yesterday so I noticed some of the old reluctance creeping back in. But I did do the Mindful Movements after morning meditation and really got into the flow with the last one, watching the hand as it sweeps from the hip right up into the sky.
Day 10 - Mindful Movements after meditation this morning. On a retreat for the next 3 days so confident there will be at least the Movements each morning and a meditative walk after lunch.
Day 11 - Mindful Movements with the group and a bit of 'yoga for softies'. On the walk after lunch we went the wrong way and got told off by a fisherman that we shouldn't be there! But still managed to appreciate the connection of the feet with the earth and how bringing the attention down there naturally brings it away from the mind.
Day 12 - Mindful Movements and a bit of yoga then an hour long hike up on Pendle Moor, not finding the path but instead hearing and seeing a Skylark ascending, a newborn lamb and a deer that didn't run away when it spotted us!
Day 13 - Mindful Movements and a bit of yoga. It is starting to feel natural now, part of the daily routine.
Day 14 - (back home) started with the Mindful Movements but it became clear as I did one movement (touching the earth, touching the sky) that the connection with the breathing was already leading towards meditation. This related to a practice of conscious breathing we did over the weekend being aware of the space between the in-breath and out-breath. So I moved from this into meditation and then concluded the movements and some yoga afterwards. It felt very natural to do it this way and easier to meditate!
I'm already considering what the next habit is that will be addressed through a 21 day programme. It is going to be giving up playing games on the computer which I had been using as a break from the Ph.D. work but it has become more addictive and something that I tend to do each morning before starting work, a good means of procrastination! I don't think this is going to be so easy to address as the movements but having already had 2 days of no games after being on the retreat I'm off to a good start!

Twenty-one days to create a new neural pathway - part 1

Talking to some MBSR students last night we were discussing creating new neural pathways based on good habits and positive thinking rather than the 'worst case scenario' survival mode. Someone asked how long it takes and whilst I don't have any research to back this up I do remember Sister Chan Khong (Thich Nhat Hanh's right hand person) saying if you practise something every day for 21 days it forms a new habit. We also discussed mindfulness being part of a holistic programme of well-being, including diet and exercise. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with this in theory, I find the exercise part particularly difficult to implement. Since giving up playing hockey at school in place of drama I have had little interest in exercise. Now my husband is an avid walker, and tries to go out for a walk every day, but he can rarely persuade me to go with him! There is always something more important to do inside.
But having considered what I was talking about with my students last night I feel it is time to put this into practice, and implement a 21-day programme where I will do some exercise every day.
Day 1 (23rd April) - didn't quite go as planned as I didn't have time to do any Mindful Movements (my exercise of choice) before going out this morning. So the exercise today has involved a brisk walk uphill trying to get back to the car before getting a parking ticket (and failing!) and some gentle gardening. Well at least it's something! And I was reminded that being outside is a good way of stopping feeling sleepy and tired, which had been the case indoors. Funny how I always seem to forget that!
Day 2 - two lots of Mindful Movements ( today. I got up and did them firstly before meditating, then with a graduate MBSR group in Ilkley this evening. Practising with other people is always a good motivation. I also did a bit of gentle gardening so today has been a good day.
Day 3- Mindful Movements before morning meditation.
Day 4 - Mindful Movements after morning meditation. Got into a lovely flow with the breathing and enjoyed extending the number of certain movements.
Day 5 - did some yoga stretches and Salute to the sun this morning for a change.
Day 6 - Salute to the sun and Mindful Movements after morning meditation. Although it doesn't feel in place yet the idea of regular movements is no longer so daunting and it does feel good to stretch and get the body moving gently.
Day 7 - Mindful Movements and Salute to the sun after morning meditation. I wonder what will happen when the habit energy ebbs and I don't want to do it? The body is feeling the ache of being stretched in unused ways, but it is not unpleasant. An afternoon stroll round the garden is an added bonus and the sun makes its presence known.

Monday 5 May 2014

An offering to the world

Here are my dreams, my beliefs
my thoughts, my opinions.
I no longer have any use for them.
I lay them at your feet
as the dancer lets rose petals
fall through her fingertips.
Make of them what you will.

Here are my dreams, my beliefs
my thoughts, my opinions.
I release them to the wind,
scattering them in ten directions.
I am happy to see them go,
wherever they are blown.

As the rose petals cascade
from the dancer’s hands
I lay down my possessions
that I have been possessed by.
May them become rich compost
to bring forth healthy seeds of
happiness, joy, truth and contentment.
Make of them what you will.

© 4 May 2014