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December 2018

Staying calm and open to the world

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I'm sitting watching the world go by. I see it change second by second as the mist moves along the valley. I hear sounds in the distance...a car...a magpie...the wind in the trees. I’m reminded that mindfulness is not relaxation (where we need silence, or quiet at least), but meditation (where we are trying to cultivate a calm relationship with the world).

In the meditative state of mind one is simply aware of being conscious at the very moment, or, to be more precise: one experiences oneself as this very moment of consciousness.

There are many definitions of consciousness and the simplest is simply ‘being aware’. 

So, as I sit here my mind flits from one silliness to the next, the same as the bird in the tree next to me flits from branch to branch. It can do nothing else. The main thing is not to feel stable on any one of them. Our minds need transitory certainties, just as birds need branches. 

I am aware that I (the real ‘me’) sit behind the voices in my head, silently listening. 

The Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, ‘Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.’ This serene encounter with reality cannot be had to order. We must consciously use our breath to calm ourselves and patiently examine our experience of the moment, with gentleness and determination, even if that experience is painful, complicated and confused. We just keep on breathing and looking into ourselves. We accept that which we do not clearly understand or control, but we keep on feeling and observing. In this way we learn to look more clearly outwards, at this world that is also painful, complicated and confused. We learn to think better, more accurately and clearly. If we were all to test these fleeting thoughts we have against interdependence, emptiness and impermanence, we would suffer less, and cause others less suffering too.

And so I stay calm and open to the world.


We are nature

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“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”  Albert Einstein.

In a world that is becoming increasingly noisy and fast-moving, with technological advances promoting virtual worlds, fast food and sedentary lifestyles, I believe that a new breed of human is developing and countering this way of life. They are part of a movement that invites us to reclaim our place in the universe and remind us that we are organic rational beings who influence, and are profoundly influenced by, the natural world. They recognise our essential quality as a part of nature and that any separation we have from nature is no less than a separation from ourselves, leading to a sense of disconnection and feelings of loss and loneliness. 

For all our sophistication we are nature, we are still wild, and I believe that the recovery of that vitality will itself set us right in the world.

The interdependence of everything reminds us that nothing on earth has absolute existence as a fixed, isolated entity. I don’t exist as an autonomous subject, independent of my environment. I owe my life and its continuation to an infinite number of other people, along with many other natural phenomena including plants, the sun, other animals, the universe. The acts and judgements I call mine and which seem to me to stem from my own will, are in reality determined by many other factors. There is a dance between dependence and interdependence as my impulses and initiatives, in turn, influence the world around me. Unless I can understand and recognise all these relationships of interdependence, and embrace them, I will be unable to see things clearly and will regularly fall into the traps of ego, pride and suffering. Accepting them will teach me humility in relation to my own undertakings and beliefs.

 
Many aspects of modern life have distanced us from the natural cycles within and around us. Technology has reduced the amount we have to do to adjust to, for example, the seasons. Our lives have become more consistent over the course of the year with food that used to be seasonal now available all year round, central heating and heated cars meaning we barely have to brave the elements, and online communities making us feel that we no longer need face-to-face human contact or time in nature. While this might seem to make life easier in the short-term, in the long-term it can cause problems with both our mental and physical health.
 
Rediscovering our ‘natural self’ and recognising our dependence and interdependence on the world around us can nourish our mind, body and spirit, and Nature can be our wise teacher on this journey.

A brand new day

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“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” Marcus Aurelius.

I love the early mornings when things are very still. I stand outside my door and look out across the fields, over the house roofs and treetops, at the glorious colours in the sky. Behind all the worries we have, the things (and people) we complain about, and the disapproval we have in our minds, the sun is always coming up in the morning, it always moves across the sky and goes down in the evening. The birds are always there collecting their food and flying overhead. The grass is always being blown by the wind, or it is still. Even now, in wintertime, flowers are blooming in my garden. There is so much abundance all around us. As I breathe in the early morning air I appreciate being alive. Some people overnight will have taken their last breath. They will not have realised at the time that it was their last, but their lives will have silently ebbed away. We are so fortunate to have another day here on our beautiful planet. 

The Navajo teach their children that every time the sun comes up, it’s a brand-new sun. It’s born each morning, and each evening it passes on, never to return again. As soon as the children are old enough to understand, the adults take them at dawn and they say, “The sun has only one day. You must live this day in a good way, so that the sun won’t have wasted precious time.” 

Acknowledging how precious each day is, is a good way to live, a good way to reconnect with our basic joy and appreciation.

“The fastest way to bring more wonderful examples of abundance into your personal experience is to take constant notice of the wonderful things that are already there.” Esther Hicks.


Just breathe

Nothing is happening. There’s no message, no story, just the wind blowing the blades of grass. We feel the breeze catch our hair and the fine strands moving in unison with the grass.

Nothing is happening. We hear the rustle of crisp fallen leaves. On our skin we feel the movement of the early morning breeze that is tossing the leaves as they float down from the tree. Soon they will be on the ground, but for now they are high in the sky valiantly fluttering and soaring.
 
Nothing is happening. Wind. Emptiness. But this passing moment makes our mind breathe a little easier. The wind is present, yet invisible. Like our breath, present in our body, but invisible.