I stand before you raw and exposed, layers shed, heart bruised – authentic. I picked a flower for a Lama once.It was vibrant, full of sun and awe. On my way to give it to him, through mindlessness, the flower got bruised, petals bent and lacking its pristine lustre. I nursed the flower, gently unfolding the delicate petals. It was not the same but it was still beautiful. Nervously I passed the flower to the Lama, I felt sadness in my heart because it was no longer perfect.’How could I have been so careless I thought?’ I wanted it to be perfect. He took it. I feared judgement. He looked at it carefully all over. I felt exposed. He said nothing and walked away. I felt remorse.
The next day, to my astonishment, the flower sat in place of honour amongst the offerings at the foot of the Buddha. It didn’t need to be perfect. It was still beautiful and worthy of offering to the Buddha despite it’s imperfection? Could this be a lesson?
I’ve walked away from all my supports, built new ones and then burnt them down. I stand exposed but how else do I want to be? Have comfort and ease ever really served me? I fear they have kept me numb and from delving into my lifetime’s pain and fear. Now I have nowhere to hide. Today I had the thought ‘if I can’t face my own pain and fears how can I ever hope to help anyone else? How can I possibly help lift their load if I can’t even bear the weight of my own?’ So now I’m beginning to see that being happy means to embrace all my pain, fear and anger, to enter into it courageously and unflinchingly, to be happy in the face of my own personal suffering.
The nature of this world we live in is suffering. Every moment countless beings are being ripped to pieces, abused and abandoned; we’re all marching straight to the grave – this is so. How to be happy?To realise that happiness does not come as a result of escaping suffering but rather enjoying this precious journey that each of us makes – really soaking in every moment – and taking the suffering that accompanies it without hesitation as it comes. Seeing the stars and the flowers, the laughter and the warmth of people loving each other. To see how fragile this life is and how the precious moments we share with others are so fleeting – we never really know when they will end. To see the pain and confusion in ourselves that connects us so deeply and profoundly to others. This pain is shared pain. We flinch away from it but when we enter it and turn our minds from just ourselves to everyone (including ourselves) then we can really love and empathise and understand all the harm and confusion that we all experience. We can see that everyone is simply doing their best to be happy in a pervasive state of confusion. We all get lost. We all make mistakes. We all conceal aspects of ourselves that are beyond our understanding that become twisted and malignant in the darkness where love does not shine. How can we be angry? How can we blame? We’re all in the same boat drifting in the ocean.
What to do? Stay exposed. Feel. Embrace the pain and sorrow. Make mistakes. Embrace those aspects of ourselves that we fear. That is to say, get to know them for in the darkness that enshrouds them there is a core of light waiting to shine. Drop the self judgement and the judgement of others naturally falls away. Find a reliable reference point that will guide us to land. Cultivate a good heart. Learn the language of the heart and how it truly follow it fearlessly, crazily and without question. Do we really need to know why it yearns for what it does? Maybe we will one day we will if we can trust in that goodness within each of us. In the meantime it is enough to simply live an authentic, open, loving existence living each moment fully and fearlessly and with compassion for all the other seafarers also floating atop the great ocean.
Today I choose happiness. Now I choose happiness. In this very moment I choose happiness. But first we need to learn, to experience what happiness is, even if for a moment. The classic loving-kindness practices ask you to choose someone who has really shown you love, typically your mother. However, it needn’t be your mother and could be someone that has evoked a sense of joy and love in your heart; someone who has been really present with you, if even for a moment; someone that has seen you and your beauty. Remember that moment fondly, let the emotions of joy and love infuse you with a sense of worthiness – you are lovable; you are worthy. If you need to, bring in other experiences of other people or animals that have warmed your heart with their kindness. Like a tiny flame, billow it with the winds of memory, infusing your mind and heart with expansive warmth, joy and relief. Let the energy of this build. If tears come, really let them come but if they don’t then all is well – it is a practice and like running, cycling and any other endeavour and can take repetition.
Naturally you experience gratitude towards the person who has shown you love (and why not practice this now as you read?) Feel this gratitude flow out and connect you with them – how wonderful! Then you can think of someone else who has shown you a little kindness. Like you and your kind friend, they too seek happiness and wish to avoid suffering. Then you can think of a stranger, maybe the service station attendant or the person an the check-out. They too wish for happiness and to avoid suffering and, in reality, they could just as easily be a friend to you as the last person you were acquainted with. They too, in fact, were a complete stranger only moments before you met.
Lastly, you can apply this practice towards someone with whom you find it difficult to communicate. Ironically, they too may once have been a friend but things changed. They too wish to be happy and avoid suffering. Maybe they, like so many others, don’t have the skill or wisdom to actually know what it take or to be able to be happy. In their suffering and lack of awareness, they may have harmed others, including yourself, and are harming themselves. They, most of all, need our love, even if only from afar.
Feel your way into this practice, feel how your heart feels. Does it feel open and spacious or is it closing a little, maybe a little tight? When you feel tightness you can go back to those kind people who have shown you so much warmth and cared for you. Stoke the fire of warmth and gratitude in your heart – that is the key. Build it so that the flames can radiate to those with whom you find it most difficult to extend kind thoughts.
And, most importantly, don’t forget yourself. With a feeling of love imagine yourself in front of you and embrace yourself with this love. See that you ARE worthy and that you ARE good enough and that you DO deserve happiness, just like everybody else. As the Buddha said, ‘you can search throughout the entire universe for someone more deserving of your love and affection than yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody else in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.’
Lastly just drop the practice and rest the mind in the feeling of warmth and spaciousness that you have generated. Simply rest there as long as you can, without effort or strain. Then rejoice in a sense of accomplishment that you have taken this time to do something so precious for yourself and all those with whom you are connected – how wonderful!
This practice is amazing. The key is to apply it as soon as you are feeling a bit low, hard on yourself, frustrated or angry. I have been working with this a lot recently and it has changed me and been vital is keeping my heart open after Kalachakra (see post 23). I was feeling a bit anxious about my relationship with some people recently with whom I have regular contact with and could feel that the relationship had the potential to become problematic so I started including them in this practice and the shift was immediate. Not only has our relationship improved but I have had a glimpse of how powerful our mind’s are at being able to transform a situation without physically doing anything, simply by changing our mind and our attitude. What potential? How amazing! Where else can this be applied?
Of course, the key really IS in doing it. How easy it can be to procrastinate, get stuck and stagnate.Having been living my life in a state of semi-stagnation for the past who knows how long, it is truly liberating to have this insight into how I can take charge of my situation and actually choose to be happy. It really is a choice. If we allow the mood to stay and don’t apply an antidote to transform it into a more positive state of mind then we stagnate and we choose unhappiness. However, if we just make that decision that ‘I am NOT going to stay is this state. I choose to be happy. I choose to let go’ then this rapidly dissolves and we find (maybe not immediately) that something has shifted and our mood has risen. Every time we notice we’re feeling not quite right, we can do this. At least make the choice. Even better, apply the practice.
Another simple and transformative practice is to rejoice. Think of at least 21 things that you are happy about. For example, ‘I rejoice in these beautiful flowers. How wonderful that someone took the time to plant these and care for them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone were able to experience beauty in their lives.’ Another could be ‘how wonderful it is that I can easily and quickly buy this delicious coffee. What kindness that this is available to us. May everyone have easy access to delicious drinks.’ Or ‘how wonderful that I have a job that isn’t too hard that provided me with the resources to do the things I like. May everyone have the resources to do the things they like.’ This practice can feel a bit contrived at first but if you rejoice over at least 15 things (the exact number will vary from person to person) in this way you will begin to experience a change and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. This IS what it means to be happy; to train our minds in thinking thoughts that bring a sense of well-being, kindness and spaciousness and to avoid thoughts that are heavy, limiting and unnecessary.
All my love.
Well, a looottt has happened since my last post. I have teetered on the edge of change and release into authenticity for approximately 3 years now. In 2011 I experienced a kind of metamorphosis then promptly crept back into the cocoon – it wasn’t quite the same in there any more. What used to seem cosy and secure became tight and uncomfortable. I describe it like getting back in an old leather shoe that has experienced one too many puddles, has shrunk, is stiff and unforgiving. How do you maintain status quo when you know a little better?
So 2014, Leh, Ladakh. The Dalai Lama and 150,000 of my closest friends – what a scene! Surrounded by snowy peaks, the ice rapidly melting in the summer sun. Dust. The Indus. A new culture. 11 days of wonder, mystery and joy. My heart and mind reopened. This time I was prepared. I had rented my house and even removed my personal items from the office, just in case. In case of what? Another opportunity at personal transformation, contentment and a certain sense of freedom – freedom from the pervasive dissatisfaction that has occupied the background of my day to day existence.
I wasn’t prepared for how much I was about to let go of or how much I would find. I sat like a blank, open canvas and did my best to follow what His Holiness instructed us to do and prayed that I would receive the benefits. I certainly did. His extraordinary kindness pervaded everything – all were effected. How can you not be in the presence of a Buddha. The kindness of the Ladakhi people and all the other great beings who contributed to this truly amazing event can never be repaid.
So I changed. I changed everything. I left go of my house, my job and even my husband. The latter being totally unexpected. A fresh start and a leap into the void. I have found myself sitting in the stillness and unknown. What’s next? I don’t know exactly but what a place to be. The fear of letting go and stepping out of the norm has all but disappeared and with it, a large part of my identity.
I also discovered a magic mirror amongst the crowds. Something secret and unexpected. On the outside it’s not too dissimilar to many others but when our gazes meet there is an extraordinary magic that can’t really be explained. Something timeless and ancient, passed down through the years and the lives. A wondrous reminder of a pledge taken long ago, unbroken and deeply spiritual – something sacred. A rare jewel when reflected grants wishes and hastens growth. I am captivated. My heart is open and I am ready for change and learning. I am ready to let go.
So I look forward to sharing from the heart what comes because I don’t know what that will be. Planning has lost it’s charm. I’m free to evolve and grow naturally. I will make the most of this precious opportunity that I have been blessed with. I will nurture the flame that has been lit and shield it from the winds of fear and grasping. This has been my best experiment with happiness to date. If you’re teetering on the edge (and you will know what I mean if you are there), then take that step and soar. With the winds of wisdom and compassion beneath your wings you will surely fly.
All my love. May you be happy.
I heard a story the other day that totally transformed my mind and did something inexplicable to my heart. It was a story of the tragic death of a teenage girl killed in a car accident and the lady who found her and held her hand while she died. It was the girl’s mother who retold the story and I don’t think she was aware of how this image of her daughter and her own bravery for retelling this story publicly had such an enormous impact. I was transported there to that moment and experienced the complete surrender of the woman in that moment as she nursed the dying girl. I could (and do now when I retell this) feel the vast stillness of ungrasping love that pervaded. Time stood still and she just witnessed with deep presence and tenderness her last moments. Being able to hold her in that stillness, in that moment, was all that counted and the greatest gift that could be offered. Through that story my heart learnt how to be: to simply rest and give my full attention to someone in their greatest time of need. No words are required, there is no need to alter or change but simply be there witnessing and experiencing (to some degree) in stillness that absolutely sacred, completely vulnerable and pivotal moment.
The beauty present in that image is the naked reality of being completely helpless and unable to change the situation through resolving, fixing, trying or striving and the seeing that the only option is to stop, be still and allow oneself to be there fully for another in their time of need. Allow yourself to visualise that moment, be that woman, you are there and your mind transforms. The struggle stops, the sense of desperation and helplessness abates and all that is left is that vast, still, timeless moment of gentle strength, stability, knowing and something that goes beyond the word ‘love’.
This morning while I meditated I was able to bring a little of that atmosphere and presence to my practice. I sensed the pain and struggle of hope and fear in my body, the stress and dis-ease that I bring unto myself by constantly striving towards some place in the future where everything will be ok. I touched that pain and allowed myself to feel that vulnerability – that same vulnerability that was so starkly obvious as the young girl slipped away from this life. I stayed with that vulnerability and guided it towards all the tension, fear, struggle and expectation that I was holding in my body (especially around my chest). Compassion for my pain and aversion to life’s hardship softened and eased the tension and the perpetual ‘no’ to what is. Stillness prevailed, albeit only a little, but it was enough. I feel a little kinder to myself and a little softer, a little more at ease and able to face what the day presents.
I would like to thank that lady for the gift that she shared. She suffered for a long time before seeing the gentle ray of light amongst the ferocious, dark clouds of grief. May she find peace in that moment and solace in what she, her daughter and the lady inspired in others. Their story will stay in my heart and remind me of that vast stillness and presence that hides behind the appearances of this world and all its stories.