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.
If only wee could see the impact we have. If only we could see how we touch those around us. If only we knew what each little act we do (especially with love and with selflessness) brings to the world. I met a young man many years ago who was brilliant (he really shined) but he was troubled and couldn’t see how much he touched those around him. He gave me a CD of his beautiful, self-composed music – divine. He may never know how much that gift was able to accomplish. Today, my heart is open and I listen to the piano soothing and stirring my heart with it’s melodies of love. I can feel his love, his joy and his pain encouraging my own heart to speak. So now I share these words, we are so kind, so incredibly kind, our nature is kindness.
If only Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild) or Amy Winehouse knew their kindness and ability to touch others. Maybe they would still be here now with us or, maybe, their deaths were their greatest kindness, revealing the tragedy of not knowing how loved they were or that they really touched those around them in profound ways. We can learn from the tragedy of their stories. May no one die without knowing how very kind they have been.
If only you could see how you changed the world when you opened your heart and did something courageous because your heart told you to or because you had nothing left you let someone help you. If only you could see the chain reaction of interactions and events, the ripple that followed. If only we could see how good we really are.
Sometimes others can see this goodness and we can’t. If only others would point out what is good and kind. We are all teachers. We are all touched by the love of others and feel it. If only we could reciprocate or express our gratitude, reinforcing the kindness shown to us and pointing out to others how wonderfully kind they really are. Imagine what our world would be like if we could do this. We would be met with love and joy wherever we went.
Maybe we can be shown how we touch the world? Maybe we only need ask? A yearning request from the heart to be shown how we touch the world and who we really are. Maybe we can try.
We can spend our whole lives in the void of loneliness and isolation, never seeing that we have these gifts within us – each of us. Sometimes, as my teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche, would say ‘it’s like we’re looking for our glasses but they are already on our heads.’ We already have so many qualities but through our pain and self-rejection we just can’t see them. They were always there and everyone else can see them but us. Imagine if we could see them and own them, be them. Imagine that. We could cultivate them because we would be able to see how much happiness they bring to others and, in turn, to ourselves. We could see that real happiness comes with sharing these qualities with the world and developing them further so that they become limitless. We would see that our insatiable appetite for satisfaction and consumption will never fill that hole left from the lack of our own self-love and self-recognition. We would see that celebrating the joy, beauty and meaning that we, as individuals, bring to the world is not arrogant but merely acknowledgement of the truth. We all have this heart of goodness. It may be hiding right now but it is there and we each have tiny moments of recognition throughout our lives. If only we could cherish them for what they are – precious gifts with the potential to reveal to us who we really are. May we be able to receive this love and acknowledgement when it comes our way rather than rejecting or doubting it.
As these qualities are expressed in relation to others. It is through their kindness that we can begin to see them. We can’t love without an object of love and we can’t inspire without an object to be inspired. Therefore we can also acknowledge the tremendous kindness of others, giving precious opportuniti to shine.
I would like to thank a very special person that has entered my life and, day by day, holds up the mirror to me with such kindness, revealing to me the beauty in my own reflection. How wonderful! What kindness! What I can see I can identify with and own and, therefore, become. Ballet dancers learn in front of the mirror so that when they dance they know how beautifully they move and do so with confidence and without hesitation. I am learning to dance. May we all teach each other, mirroring back our own unique beauty to each and every one around us. I encourage you, today, to share with someone something they do well, something that touches you (even if only a little), something they may not see and then rejoice in how wonderful you are for showing such kindness.
May we all awaken fully to our good hearts.
Free. Spiralling. Unravelling. A breath. Relief. When hard work finally bears fruit. The joining. Entering the stream. The ocean is close – I can smell the sea air and taste a pinch if salt. Effortless. Flowing. All downstream now. No longer I clutch at the banks and stable rocks. The current draws me on faster and faster. ‘Come with me. That’s right – jump straight in! It’s easy, right?’ ‘I don’t know what they were talking about? Just urban myths’ you say. ‘I concur.’ I always like saying that. ‘The water is warm, just right. How you like it. There is nothing hiding down below. Just keep your eyes on the sunset. That is where we are going, just like every other time.’ ‘Oh yeah’ you say. ‘I forgot.’ ‘That’s alright’ I say. ‘That’s why I’m here to remind you.’ ‘Is it time to let go?’ ‘Yes, we’re about to arrive.’
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.
So we all know about laziness, right? Well, in Buddhism there is something called ‘active laziness’ and, in the west, we are experts at it. It sounds almost contradictory as, in the case of active laziness, you don’t usually sit around slothfully but, rather exert huge amounts of energy in distraction, endlessly avoiding the most important things – being still and healing ourselves.
Have you ever noticed how hard it can be to just sit still without daydreaming, planning or ruminating about times past? It can feel so foreign just sitting, just being without any specific purpose. To some this would seem a complete waste of time. However, from the Buddhist perspective, engaging endlessly in activity is a waste of time. After all, how much of our movement and thoughts actually bring a meaningful outcome? Could we not be more efficient, purposeful and conscious in our actions? Too often we are swept away by half-cocked ideas and a never-ending torrent of discursive thoughts. However, it doesn’t take much effort to see how deluded we can be when we actually listen objectively to what they are telling us.
I think the story of the Mexican Fisherman summarises active laziness really well:
The Fisherman Story
A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village.
An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.
“Not very long,” answered the Mexican.
“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.
The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
The American asked, “But what do you do with all your time?”
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs…I have a full life.”
The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you!
You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.
Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant.”
“You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise.”
“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.
“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.
“And after that?”
“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stock and make millions!”
“Millions? Really? And after that?”
“After that — and this is the best part — you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, catch a few fish, take a siesta, and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends!”
Our whole lives can fly by us through busy-ness and distraction, grasping after the next ‘hit’ of some ‘thing’ that will somehow make us complete. Maybe if we are still and at ease the true clarity required to successfully navigate our way through life can dawn.
I’ve been a little quiet recently, living in the void, befriending uncertainty. It’s been an interesting time full of fertile ground for working with my mind. Let’s face it, it is s&*t when we don’t get what we want! I guess I’m quite used to getting what I want but I’m learning, at present, that life doesn’t always work that way. This is not to say that I always get what I want but, I guess, it is usually pretty clear what the outcome will be. This means that I can accept what comes to me and move on from it. Recently, I have been living in the void though; not really knowing what the outcome will be. It seems that every time I think a particular outcome has manifested, it changes. It’s kind of like I’m being told ‘here you go again, you got comfortable and complacent so the rug will be pulled out from under you again now until you learn.’ Learn what? I guess until I learn that nothing is certain and that the Hollywood ‘happily ever after’ conclusion to things is a myth. There is no end point. It will just keep on changing.
So what does one do when living in an extended period in uncertainty? My response has been to want to rush through it to some kind of conclusion but, this time, it’s just not working that way. I’m doing what I can but I can’t rush.There is nowhere to go. I just have to wait. However, I have discovered that waiting on the edge of my seat, chewing my fingernails while the butterflies dance manically in my stomach is no way to live and my adrenal glands certainly don’t like it! This has forced me to review my situation and my entire world view to some degree. It has taught me a lot.
Firstly, what makes those happy people happy? The wordpress prompt that I responded to in my last post got me thinking about this as I contemplated the cheerful delivery man. If I think of myself being a delivery man, I think I would be a miserable, surly delivery man – I expect too much out of life. I want too much. I’m always seeking after something else, something new, something big to fulfil my ambitions (ouch! it stings even writing this!). I’ve always been one of those people who have wanted to do something great. But I haven’t. Well, not at least in any way obvious to me. So I need to face up to that. Not in a way that says ‘why haven’t you?’ but rather in a ‘why would you think you could?’ and a ‘what is your motivation to do so?’ kind of way. I’ve realised that always seeking something ‘Big’ means I’ve been missing the ‘Little’.
So I’ve been appreciating the Littles more this week and it has been quite surprising. I’m taking more note of the small kindnesses that are shown to me and that I show to others. It’s nice. It’s enjoyable. It’s a lot less effort than striving after Big things all the time. I can relax a bit.
How does this relate to uncertainty and living in the void? Well, I don’t know how long I’ll be in the void and there may not be a foreseeable end point so I need to work with what I have got. The alternative is depression and anxiety and I’ve done those to death – I’m through with living like that. I want to be happy (or should I say, deeply contented, accepting and joyful) and if I expect that state of mind to emerge out of struggle and resistance to what is, then I am always going to me at the mercy of external circumstances and who knows what is around the corner. I, for one, certainly know of many, many people in far worse situations than my own – they would think I am mad for not being grateful for my situation and rightly so. I wish I wasn’t such a finicky, fickle and ungrateful personality. In fact, I’m done with that too!
I do need to be gentle with myself though. I’ve been a certain way for a long time (at least this life-time!); it’s a habitual way of thinking. I can and will change it though. Today the sun is shining, the air is nearly still and I am amongst the mountain tops. I have a flicker of joy and contentment warming me from within. I can feel it. It is there. I will nurture this small flame and feed it with presence and stillness and guard it from the winds of fear and grasping. In gratitude I thank those who have shown me where to look and to those who have shaped my world and co-create those moments of happiness. And a ‘hats off’ to the void. Of course you are always there.