Dazzled and delighted by life

Nov17

BY JANE REDFERN JONES

The Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, “Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.”

I set out early this morning, before dawn.

Walking through the woods I had not a care in the world. The sound made by my boots, the rhythm of my heartbeat and breathing, and the regular pace of my footsteps all filled my mind with soothing input from my senses. At times I was assailed by thoughts about challenges I faced in the week ahead, but when this happened I just opened my awareness more widely to the present moment: my walking, the sounds around me, and the glints of light as the sun rose behind the trees. Then the thoughts would disappear, only to return and disappear again, no more solid than a leaf floating on the wind or the mist hanging over the river below.

If I feel overwhelmed by this world I call home, I open my mind to all that is here: the magnificent trees, the purity of the air and the sound of the wind.

With each in breath I feel that I am taking the whole woodland into myself. With each outbreath my body and soul dissolve into it.

I feel relaxed and totally, absolutely at home.


Growing our internal mother

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BY JANE REDFERN JONES

The relationship we have with ourselves sets the tone for every other relationship in our lives.

Practicing self-love means showing up for ourselves daily, celebrating ourselves and our successes daily, and understanding that whatever we feel we need from others we have the power to give ourselves.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, the author of Warming the Stone Child, says that internally we all have a light that can never go out. There are many beliefs about this light, and one of the sayings is that any type of wood that is half burnt always has a spark or ember in it that can be fanned by a very small wind into a gigantic flame, and this is also true about the internal flame of those of us who lacked parental guidance as a child.

Even people who have endured terrible things must realise that surviving is not enough. We must learn to thrive. That is what the little flame inside us is all about. Fanning that flame into something that’s sturdy, something that doesn’t waver every time someone gives us a funny look, disapproves of us, or is angry with us. We can become resilient so that our flame burns brightly. That’s what healing our inner child is all about.

In terribly unhealthy families children are damaged in many ways, including the destruction of the child’s belief that he has any purpose and value. Without that belief, it is difficult to succeed, difficult to take risks. It may even seem foolish to them to take risks, “knowing”, as such people do, that they are not up to the task. Estes talks about how we can suffer from a syndrome she calls ‘collapsing’. When someone is angry with us we go into a psychic regression with feelings of being worthless, wishing to be invisible, collapsing instead of being adult and stable and present in the moment. This causes the flame to waver.

We can look back and try and analyse everything that has happened to us - the neglect, the put-downs etc - but that will not help fan the flame.

The tender, the keeper of that flame, is the internal mother and if things had happened properly to us as a child that flame would already be burning bright and stable.

In order to grow the internal mother, you have to be willing to be decent and good to yourself. You must be willing to accept self-love and self-respect. You must realise that the only things holding you back are the faulty illusions and beliefs from your past. Nothing can stop you so long as you believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter if you are overweight, too thin, too short, too tall, it is all to do with caring about all the things that you are. That is what develops the internal mother. You can feel and see her grow before your very eyes if you are willing to develop your self-love, self-respect, and self-regard for yourself.

Many people who have this deep sense of being unmothered often feel that they are searching for love, that if they were just loved enough, everything would be so much better. But, it doesn’t matter how much love you have lavished on you, it won’t be enough. What will work, is to have the guidance of intuition, the guidance of consciousness, the guidance of common sense.

Consciously knowing what we are capable of, what our good points are, what our bad points are, and guiding ourselves through life with that knowledge is the deepest internal mother that you can have.’ And if you are an unmothered child, that is what was missing in your upbringing.

Take heart, no matter what happened to you, that light still lives inside you.

Take the focus away from what you look like, take time to get to know yourself – both your strengths and your weaknesses. Know that whatever has happened to you, you are enough. Nourish your body as a celebration of all it does for you.

And, as we pour love into ourselves, that love will spill out into the rest of our lives.

“Beautify your inner dialogue. Beautify your inner world with love, light, and compassion. Life will be beautiful.” Amit Ray.


See ordinary things

Mindfulness Meditation

BY JANE REDFERN JONES

You walked along the path and you stopped. There was something special – the light perhaps? After the rain the sun appeared and the land looked brightly illuminated against the dark storm cloud sky. Or was it the smell of petrichor, the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil? Or the dark wet bark on the trees all around you?

You notice the minor detail of a flower head and some leaves that someone has placed on a fallen down tree.  The dandelion head strangely anchors your attention. You wonder why is it there and who put it there? And now you are present to all the rest of this banal, ordinary moment. You become aware of the scent rising up from the young wild garlic leaves crushed beneath your feet, and the dog barking in the distance.

There is nothing special about this moment that touches you, and makes your body and mind still.  You don’t need beauty or strangeness to stop the flow of your movements, thoughts, and plans.  You stopped because this moment is unique. Never again will you see exactly what you are seeing now. Because never again will you experience exactly what you are experiencing now. This is it. You’ve stopped because you realise what matters most. You are living this little bit of life. How can you take this for granted so often? You forget that life is a miracle, that every moment is a gift, snatched from night, darkness, the stars. How can you forget that? Find joy in small moments.

Never forget to live. Look up and see everything around you as if you were a newborn, as though you never before had seen what you are seeing now. Just be aware that we are here, alive.

“It never failed to amaze me how the most ordinary day could be catapulted into the extraordinary in the blink of an eye.”  Jodi Picoult.


Using mindfulness to focus on ourselves

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BY JANE REDFERN JONES

When I feel upset or worried I remind myself that I must not look elsewhere (a glass of wine, food, other people) to free and soothe myself. On the contrary, I should observe what is happening inside me. What is this emotion that inhibits me? Which way is it pushing me? This may seem simple, but of course, it isn’t. Our emotions are as inescapable as our thoughts. In other words, they don’t appear as subjective phenomena but as obvious facts – indisputable reality. So I shouldn’t try either to change what I feel or to console or calm myself. I must just be present to it. I must breathe properly and not try to do anything other than focus on my breathing and observe what’s happening inside me.

We can use mindfulness to focus on ourselves as well as the world around us.

Mindfulness is different from relaxation because it runs counter to our natural tendency to retain what is pleasant and reject what is unpleasant. In mindfulness, we notice negative and painful feelings and simply allow them to be there. Instead of trying to get rid of unhappiness and worry, we start by accepting their presence.

Allowing sadness or worry to be there means observing how we feel, but not necessarily believing what sadness is telling us, “I’m not worthy, life isn’t worth living”.

People who are anxious or depressed don’t like being told to start by allowing their feelings to be there because they are used to always trying to do the opposite. They find it frightening and fear becoming overwhelmed. They hope that getting a prescription from the doctor will take their pain away. This isn’t what happens.

Think of your negative emotions as being like animals or people you want to calm down. The more we try to drive them away, lock them up, sedate them, or tie them down the more they fight back and can hurt us.

Likewise, if pain is chased away or sedated it just returns another time.

So it’s better if we make space around our emotions and allow them to just be. This also allows us to observe them. Ask yourself ‘how do they make me feel? What thoughts do they lead to?’ This way, we are not inside the emotion, but noticing and experiencing it so that we are less dominated by it. Sometimes this in itself is enough to calm us and enable us to decide what to do.

The habit of calm, curious introspection begins in moments of calm and rest.

Observe your feelings several times a day, between doing other things. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next and feeling stressed,  take time to feel what is happening inside yourself, and gently connect more with your emotional state.

“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” Hermann Hesse.


Gratitude is the key to happiness

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When gratitude is practiced regularly and from the heart, it leads to a richer, fuller and more complete life. If you focus on things you are grateful for then suddenly you'll start seeing things to be grateful for everywhere. Take the time to acknowledge them all. Start small - a smile, the sun breaking through the clouds, the breeze on your cheek. Gratitude also opens your eyes to the limitless potential of the universe, while dissatisfaction closes your eyes to it.


A billion years in the palm of my hand: Gratitude Stones

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By Jane Redfern Jones

Where did this strange stone come from, all pockmarked with little craters? Did it fall from the moon, or maybe from a star like you and me?

This stone sitting in the palm of my hand could be anything from several million to a few billion years old. That’s hard for me to comprehend. Our time here on this earth is so short in comparison. It seems crazy to be worrying about the past or the future. It reminds me that it is not time that we should worry about, but that the ‘Now’ is the most precious thing.

“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.” Eckhart Tolle.

Stone Meditation

We may think that we are only made of our bones, organs, blood, and muscles but we must remember that we also have our consciousness, emotions and many other things.

I will often choose a special stone to help me return to my breathing and body and connect with the world around me.

Gratitude stones are so simple yet so effective. I find they help me enormously. They are a simple way to remind ourselves to be grateful for what we have in our life.

Stone meditation is very simple and can be done anywhere anytime (to meditate is simply to think about something).

You may want to assign certain qualities to your stone such as gratitude, love, compassion, joy. The stone could also represent a loved one such as a mother, father, sibling or anyone close to you. Holding our stone we can send our love to that person as we breathe in and out three times.

The idea is that you put the stone in your pocket or bag and through the day you keep finding it there and do a little meditation. When you do it reminds you to be grateful for all you have in your life. I find that it serves as a reminder to keep my spiritual focus.

We have such busy lives it’s easy to forget how good our lives are and how lucky we are.

Any stone will do and it doesn’t have to have any writing on it. I collect stones from special places that have happy memories.

Pop your stone in your pocket with a quick ‘thank you’.

Alternatively, try putting it on your bedside table, so that you see it before you go to sleep at night and when you wake up.

Each time you see it or feel it in your pocket, pick it up and say a quick thank you for all you have, for someone special, and for the good things you experienced that day.

Don’t forget about your stone. Aim to use it every day. It will help you stay focused on the spiritual aspects of your life. After using it for a while you might find that you don’t even need to feel or see the stone because it becomes such an integral part of your day to be grateful for what you have.

A positive attitude can change our behaviour and thinking in a way that can bring peace to our lives.

So go out in your garden, down to the river or beach and find yourself a stone. Choose one that isn’t too big – ideally, it should sit in the palm of your hand.

If you would like me to send you a stone...

If you’d like one of my stones, message me with your email address, a short paragraph about yourself, and how much you’d like to give for it (including postage) and I’ll set up a Paypal transaction. I’ll choose the stone which I am most drawn to for you. I’ll put the word ‘gratitude’ on it unless you tell me you’d like something different (just simple words such as ‘love’, thank-you, or someone’s name). I’ll also add a little note.

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Facing a challenge and personal growth

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When something in my life takes a turn for the worst I have come to see it as a challenge rather than a disaster.

My boiler broke at the weekend and we had no heating or hot water. It was cold and inconvenient but it also reminded me: ·

How much glossier my hair is when washed in cold water. 

How nourishing to the soul a pure wool blanket feels.

How much deeper I sleep when I breathe cool, fresh air. 

The previous weekend my car broke down and that reminded me of how good I feel after going for a long walk.

Sometimes we come to see things as ‘luxuries’ that we can’t do without and our minds become closed to other realities.

"We are nature for all our sophistication...we are still wild, and the recovery of that vitality will itself set us right in the world." Thomas Moore.


There is something simply beautiful about the light of the moon

Full Moon
Tempted by the almost mystical light shining through my window I go into the garden. I feel a sense of awe and gratitude as the moon floods the garden and calm fields beyond with light.

I marvel at the magnificence of the full moon, but find it hard to fathom the magnitude of the universe that surrounds us.

We may have a tacit understanding of how our solar system works, but watching the full moon disappearing over the horizon reminds me of the vastness of space and the enduring mysteries of the universe we inhabit.

The sense of gratitude we have when looking skyward at night – where does it come from and to what or whom is it directed? Nature? Luck? God?

Teilhard de Chardin, a twentieth century palaeontologist and mystic, wrote in an essay ‘The soul of the world’: “There can be no doubt that we are conscious of carrying within us something greater and more indispensable than ourselves. Something that existed before we did, and could have continued to exist without us; something in which we live, and that we cannot exhaust. Something that serves us but of which we are not masters…”
It is to this unknown entity that we give thanks, whether we name it or not.

Our lives are transitory. We look up at the night sky, and we respond by giving thanks for the gift of the moment. It is good to catch that glimmer of gratitude, which is a lovely state to be in, and to fan its flame.

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Walking mindfully

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I’m walking through the woods.

Or am I?

Who is it that is walking?

I’m thinking about something someone had said to me earlier, worrying about something I'd forgotten to do, and I have fleeting thoughts that undermine me.

But my feelings and thoughts come and go like the dark clouds I can see in the distance.

It is a great relief to realise that none of them are ‘me’.

Science tells me that the ‘self’ is just a ‘construct', an invention of the brain working to hold together all of our experiences in a meaningful way.

I find that going for a good walk is a great way of letting go of the burden of ‘me’.

It gives me a rhythmical time for sorting out my thoughts; for coming to terms with my humanity - mortal, afflicted with doubt, feelings of vulnerability and clouded with confusion.

I don't walk away from my problems, I simply put them in perspective. I see them for what they are, and don't allow them to dominate my life with guilt, worry or anxiety.

When walking mindfully I can sometimes find it to be a challenge to let go of my thinking. 

So I concentrate on just walking, one foot after the other.

So long as I let my head and heart become clear I know that, later, things will begin to sort themselves out naturally, without effort.

I look outwards, noticing the sounds around me: the rustle of leaves as a squirrel searches for food on the ground; a barge on the canal revving its engine in the distance.

I stop and watch a robin flit from branch to branch.

My head and my heart become clear.

I consciously breathe the air and feel it give life to my  body.

The practice of mindful walking, says Thich Nhat Hanh, is a profound and pleasurable way to deepen our connection with our body and the earth. We breathe, take a mindful step, and come back to our true home.


Thoughts floating by...

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I’m out walking and I stop. In doing so I silence the sound of the heather and dead bracken being crushed by my feet, the almost soothing, familiar sound as I walked. I stop near a lake and watch the movement of the clouds reflected in the water. I think about how it is getting dark and that I should get back to the car.

I’ve stopped and I’m thinking...no...it’s not me that’s thinking...my mind is chattering to itself. I listen and notice this chatter: ‘Beautiful scenery’, ‘The colours are lovely’, ‘What’s the time?’, ‘I must remember to call at the supermarket on the way home’, ‘What time do they shut?’ ‘I should’ve brought my coat, it’s very cold’.

Gradually my jostling thoughts fall silent. I become aware of my own breathing and heartbeat. My attention is held by a cloud reflected in the water. I simply see it. I also see all the other clouds. I have no desire to move. I just stand there. Every now and then a new thought crosses my mind. I hear it in the same way as I see the clouds. Presence and distance. One thought whispers “Your thoughts are like the clouds, there are a lot of them, let them pass you by and float away, that’s fine. This moment is perfect. You don’t need or expect anything more than what you are experiencing here and now.”
 
Then my thoughts fall silent.
 
A glimpse of eternity.