Underneath the knowledge

To discover anything new, we have to start on a journey.  So often that journey starts with searching for facts, knowledge, belief, anything that tells us this is the right thing to be doing and that we are heading in the right direction.

I remember when I first started out on this journey of meditation and mindfulness, I was eager for knowledge, eager to know more and more, to fill my mind with facts.  It was like this for the first few years of practice.

There was nothing wrong with this, it got me started on a new path but I did start to notice something.  As I started to fill my mind with more and more facts and knowledge, I started to close off from anything new. The accumulated knowledge started to form my experience and started to act as an impediment to anything new forming.

Sometimes, in order to create we have to destroy.  To take down brick by brick the walls we build, seems counter productive. To seek the truth, to see the true reality this is what we have to do sometimes.  What is left is something underneath the accumulated facts and knowledge, something  that depends on non of this stuff, beautiful simplicity.

Maybe this is it, just a continuous building and destroying, a constant cycle. I know less now than when I started and that to me is just beautiful, for underneath all of that stuff is a natural stillness, a peace and happiness that is nothing to do with the accumulation of knowledge.  Ordinary, honest and genuine. A true reality that is underneath the story the mind tells us and the self projection that knowledge can create.

I leave you with this Haiku from Basho, which sums it up. Beautiful simplicity, life in all its vitality, incredible in its ordinariness. I wish you a wonderful week ahead.

“In the dark forest a berry drops, the sound of water.  On a withered branch a crow is perched, in the autumn evening”

Basho

 

 

 

 

Let the battle end

This moment

I look out of the window, across the rooftops.

The sun slowly sinks, setting the sky on fire with its orange hue.

As the week draws to a close, part of me wants to reflect on what has been and what is to come, part of me wants to be right here in this moment.

The past and the future all flicker through my awareness, vying for attention.

I look at my feet. Oh good, they are still there firmly rooted to the spot, I am here.  I look out of the window again, the sun sinking further.

It is okay, it is okay.

I remember we can hold it all lightly.  Just thoughts passing through.

There was a time, I could spend days and days lost in the past. Re-living hours and weeks. Meanwhile the sun sank as it is doing now, without me seeing it.

There was a time, I could spend days and days in the future, worrying, planning, making up scenarios, playing them all out in my mind.  Meanwhile the sun sank as it is doing now without me seeing it.

Something has changed

Backwards and forwards my mind goes.

Like I was talking gently to an old friend I have known for a long time, I address my mind.

“its okay my friend you can look back, you can look forward but let’s try it here for a while, here in this moment.  Rest here in this moment for a while, watch the sun set, look at the colours, take it all in, breathe gently my friend”.  

No matter how mindful we are, our mind will go back and forwards, it will wander, why battle to stop this.

Ending the battle

There was a time, I thought I must not be doing this right. My mind is still wandering.

Haha, who was I to think I could stop the mind from wandering.

I know (I thought), I will put the mind on a tight leash and try to spend every moment in the present.

Did that work, umm no way.   Layer, upon layer of thought would be built, this isn’t working, I am not doing this right, turned into I am useless, turned into lets dwell in the past and so on and so on.

So lets cut the mind some slack, give it a long leash.

Whoosh, of it went, back and forwards, ruminating, thinking.

The middle way

So maybe there is something in the middle, a middle length leash.

We can observe the mind wander, and gently bring it back, wander again and gently bring it back, wander again and gently bring it back, over and over. Just enough slack but not too much.

No battle, just a gentle but firm awareness of what is going on. There is some peace here.

This is the practice, the middle way, gentle but firm.

Forever changing

So here we are. The end of another week, we can look back, we can look forward, it really is okay.

We don’t have to stay in the past or stay in the future.

There is somewhere else, right here, right now.

Gentle but firm, come back.

Plant your feet firmly into the floor, look out take it all in.

Know that there is some peace right here in this moment. Let it be what it is. Know that this moment is forever changing, evolving, moving, like the sun setting on the horizon.

Let the battle end.

 

 

A beautiful place

 

There is a beautiful place, underneath all the judgements and the resistance.  A place of quiet stillness, where we can just observe with a gentle curiosity this thing we call life.

A place where we can hold life as if it was a little bird in the palm of our hand. Lightly held and observed with curiosity.

A place where we can just hold it all in awareness and let it be just what it is, not manufactured but authentic and real.

A place where we can see that everything changes moment by moment.  The simple, the profound, it all changes.  From this place we can end the pushing and pulling and just let it change and evolve as it does and as it always will.

A place where we can greet ourselves like an old friend, with open arms, an open heart and a big smile and drop the judgements, end the fight and say lets rest for a while.

A place where we can hear our inner wisdom, our intuition.  In the stillness it speaks to us, telling us what we need to hear.  A place where we can learn to trust this voice.

A place we can breathe, I mean really breathe, to feel the air going in and out of the lungs and to know we are fully alive in this very moment.

A place we can meet the resistance and just experience what we are feeling, beyond good or bad, not grasping or rejecting, just simple experience.

A place we can just watch our thoughts come and go, like clouds in the sky or ripples in the stream.

A place that is with us all the time even in the chaos, in the busyness, know it is there just quietly waiting, whenever you need it.

Nothing we need to become, nowhere we need to go.

A beautiful place, right here, simply in what is.

 

 

Back to the beginning

“Go back and take care of yourself. Your body needs you, your feelings need you, your perceptions need you. Your suffering needs you to acknowledge it. Go home and be there for all these things “

Thich Nhat Hanh

I am going to take a step back today and take a bird’s eye view of things.  I think it is crucial to do every now and again in this practice of mindfulness meditation and life in general.

It is a wonderful thing just to zoom out every now and again.  You could see it as a meditation in itself. To pause and zoom out so you can see clearly all the little nuances of the practice and life, the twists, the turns, the forks in the road.

I hope you would like to come with me, take a flight and take a look, here we go ….

Beginning again

As I look down from a bird’s eye view, I can see that this journey is far from linear but more a series of returns to the beginning.

This is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow.  In a world where we are taught that forward movement, progression and striving are the norm, to think that you might need to start again is a tough one. For the practice of mindfulness and meditation to be effective it is something we have to get comfortable with.

In the beginning, we know nothing, we are just there taking it all in.  As we take information in, we start to put judgements to it, this works, that doesn’t work etc. Soon we are making preferences, we start attaching to the thoughts and before we know it, we are only able to meditate whilst sat on the top of mount Fuji.

I believe this is such a crucial point in the practice.  If we can cultivate the ability to constantly return to the beginning, we can let go of those thoughts, those judgements and those preferences.  What this opens up for us is peace, stillness, an end to the pushing and pulling and an ability to see a new approach and endless possibility.

We can strengthen this in our meditation practice, simply by pairing it back, always bringing it back to the beginning, bringing it back home, back to the breath.

Simply just sit. Sit with no intention other than just to be there.  Just breathe in and out.  A thought will come along, let it come and go like a cloud in the sky or a leaf floating down a stream, you don’t need to chase it or grab hold of it, let it float on by, simply return to the breath, return to the beginning.  Sounds will come to your ears, just let them, let the sound in, listen to it come and listen to it fade away, back to the breath again, back to the beginning over and over, a pure and simple meditation.

I say simple, it is not always so simple.  When our minds are racing away it can seem far from simple but gently gently, we don’t need to come at this with a hammer.  Some thoughts may slip through.  We may realise after ten minutes that we have been lost in a thought, that is okay it really is, this is not a race to the end. Gently come back to the beginning, back to the breath.  We don’t have to strive to be a great meditator. We just have to show up, keep returning to the beginning and keep coming back home.

As we practice this returning, we can see it start to ripple out into our life.  We may start to see a little more peace even in times of chaos. We may start to be able to separate useful thoughts from thoughts that serve no purpose (let them drift on by).  We start to see that the practice of meditation and our life are not separate from each other.

That constant returning to the beginning, is far from failing, it is where the magic happens, where we can grow and transform.

See it rise and fall in awareness

There are times in the practice when things come to the surface. Feelings and emotions that we may have suppressed for years start to be uncovered. We see our desires, our ego, our habitual patterns and addictions clearly. The image of the ‘self’ seems not as solid as it once was.  It can be far from peaceful.

I was lucky to have a teacher that alluded to this early on into my journey.  I also read an amazing book by the late Charlotte Yoko Beck “Everyday Zen”.  An amazing teacher, I recommend her books.  Challenging but very practical, no non-sense, just as it is. She describes the processes we may go through with the practice.

It came to me on a silent meditation day not that long ago, all laid bare, emotions that had been suppressed, rising to the surface.  I didn’t ask it to, we really don’t need to force this. This is the practice at work, shining its light on the dark, hidden places.

We have to have great trust in the practice at this point and lean into our own kindness.  When what we thought was our ‘self’ for many years comes under attack, it can be a little unsettling.

With patience and determination and a continued intelligent practice, the light of awareness shines bright, gradually we start to see more joy and more peace, a release almost.

We see that we don’t have to fight this, we can use what we have cultivated in the practice up to that point.  We can just be with it, observe it, and feel it, non judgementally, bringing forward our innate compassion and kindness.  To just let it rise and fall in awareness. By acknowledging it, it can pass. Not suppressed, but released. Then a return to the beginning, back to the breath, back home.

It is not always peaceful but this is where the changes happen. If this happens, have trust in yourself and the practice.  Be kind, be strong and be patient.

Back to the ground

It helps every now and again, just to rise up, take a birds eye view, to look down and reflect, so we can return with a beginners mind again. Grounded and solid, open to the new possibilities and wonder of it all.

 

“Gently, gently, get comfortable with starting over, come back to the beginning, come back home, no rush, no race, your life seen, acknowledged, felt. This is it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindfulness – Listening

Twists and turns in the journey

As I journey into this life with meditation and mindfulness, it becomes harder to put my experience into words.  As the mind becomes quiet, so does the stories, the self and the reasons why.

This is meditation doing its work, unseen, without glory. Creating space, immense and timeless.  A space where the pushing and pulling stops, where the influence of experience and knowledge has no power. Where the motives of the ego mind diminish.

The demands of the mind still come, the fears, the judgments, the attachments, but from this space created by the practice, they can be acknowledged, felt and allowed to move through freely, with ease.

I believe it is from this space we can see change and transformation.

The road is full of twists and turns.  I know less now than I did when I first started out and I am happy to rest with that.  The knowledge that got me here did just that, it got me to sit on the cushion, to search for the space. The practice turns this all upside down.

I came to this practice seeking change, security, happiness and peace.  What I was really seeking was satisfaction and reward, all from the ego mind.  All my efforts were based around this.  My ego mind had played a trick, a self projection, it showed me a little picture of what life would be like in the future, an illusion, totally unreal.

From this place of still mind, free from the known, no true or false, no should be or should not, the illusions fall away.  In this rawness emerges something new, peaceful and still.

Listening

I will often just go and stand in the back garden and listen. Just listening to the birds singing, trying to pick out the different calls (it’s usually Robin, he has such a lovely tune).  Then I listening to the far away sounds, the traffic on the road, the kids playing on the park, the dog barking, the plane passing by overhead.

Just listening can be a meditation in itself, opening up the space in the mind, away from the narrow channels of awareness we build. Just allowing it all in, not wanting it to go away or be different, just listening with curiosity.  There is a great beauty in listening this way, it is quite extraordinary.

Our ears are so often blocked up with projections, opinions and thoughts that we rarely listen at all.

The more we truly listen, the quieter it becomes, the more the space opens up.

Generous Heart

We must keep an open and generous heart in this practice.  There are times when I have closed my heart on this journey, becoming hard and stern with myself.  In that tight-fisted, closed down mode of thinking, the space closes in.  A day or week may go by, little things start to niggle you, you start to push away noise, fear may arise in the belly, be aware of it, this may happen.

Go gently, breathe, soften, sit back, sink in and root our feet to the floor.  Things may go awry, that’s okay, we can always come back, always.

Go to a quiet place, close your eyes and drop into your heart. Just listen, the heart knows what you need, no words are required.

Just listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gently, Gently

 

Go gently into this life. 

Hold it gently in awareness.  Everything is going to be ok.

Observe with gentle curiosity this thing we call life.  Let it evolve and change as it always will, moment to moment, day by day, year by year.

Underneath the pushing and pulling, the resistance, the judgements is a beautiful place, a little piece of solid ground.  A place of stillness and peace where we can see it all unfold.

A little piece of solid ground in an ever-changing world, it is right within us.  In the breath, in our eyes, in our nose, in our hands, in our feet, in our hearts. It is right there whenever we need it.

A gentle strength, a gentle courage.  I never thought those words would go together, but they do.  Gentleness is strength and courage.

Gently we can lean into our discomforts without battling with them. We may see them for what they are, unmasked.  Like a cloud floating by in the sky, like the ripples in a stream, it comes and it goes.

With this gentleness we see the space between stimulus and response and wow how lovely that space is. The space that affords us a birds-eye view without being caught up in the moment.

From this place we can feel sad when we are sad, angry when we are angry, happy when we are happy.  We don’t have to sugar coat our natural emotions. Our true emotions need to be felt, not pushed away, not resisted.  Gently we can acknowledge the truth of how we are feeling, to gently be with it, without knee jerk reaction, authentic and real.

Somehow the spirit of gentleness tells us what we need.

Go gently into this life, hold it lightly in awareness. It’s all going to be ok.

 

 

 

 

 

Meditation – Awareness

 

There is a space between the thoughts, a pure moment of awareness, silent, still, peaceful. A quiet calm of nothing, just awareness.

 

In that infinitesimal gap between the out breath and the in breath, there is just awareness, pure and simple.

 

When we drop the I, what is left? Walk, talk, work, eat ,sleep, etc. Just awareness.

 

When we see through our mental patterns, those little stories we tell ourselves, the judgement, I am not good enough, the should haves, the should haven’ts. When we smile because we recognise it for what it is, just a thought. Just awareness.

 

When we finally realise that we are not always in the driving seat and don’t need to be. Knowing that there are some things we simply cannot control and simply return to our breath, the anchor. Just awareness

 

When we open our eyes and look at a flower as if seeing it for the very first time, the colours, the scent, the shape. Just awareness.

 

 

 

Like the clouds parting to reveal a clear blue sky, we will get glimpses of these spaces of awareness from time to time.  When they come, be curious, ponder them, explore the space around the thoughts and between the breath.  Awareness, pure and simple.

 

 

 

 

 

Change

“A walk in nature, walks the soul back home”

Mary Davis

This morning, as me and George tromped across the fields on our morning walk, I could feel and see the subtle shift in the seasons.  The smell of damp earth, the misty sky as the sun broke through, the vivid colours in the trees, reds, yellows all just starting to change.

I remember a time I used to dread the end of summer, I would mourn for it, cling on to its memory, those long summer days and warm nights.

This time it feels so different.  As we stand in the middle of the recently ploughed field, my feet firmly planted into the earth, rooted right here in this moment, I look up and see the changes happening, I can smell and feel the clear crisp air, the mist flowing over the field, nature at work, a new beginning.

How strange, it is as if I have never seen this happen before, never before witnessed the subtle changes of seasons and how beautiful it is.  Maybe I was always too caught up in mourning the passing of summer, stuck in the past, worrying about the future and forgetting the present.

There is a sense of deep peace here, just here in this very moment, not clinging, not grasping, not reaching out.  Just letting these changes happen and witnessing it all unfold in awareness.

Just a little moment in time.

Beautiful nature, the greatest teacher of all.  Nothing is permanent, everything changes.

 

 

Back to basics – Meditation and life

In walking, just walk, in sitting, just sit. Above all don’t wobble

Yun-Men

Balance

The simple beauty of those words, just walk, just sit.  Just saying them can bring a sense of peace, a relief almost. Several times a year I attend a sesshin, a day of intensive meditation and most importantly, a day of silence, no talking. I used to find the silence a bit awkward, now the relief of silence is priceless.  I adore those days of just walking, just sitting, just nothing, just being. It’s just lovely.

If you wobble, don’t worry, don’t fret, take a deep breath, remember you’ve balanced before you can do it again

It is a fine line we walk in this practice of living (mindfully).  To strive to be our very best yet at the same time grounding ourselves into this very moment, to reach out but not hold on, to be curious about life but not over think it. It can sometimes feel at odds with the world around us.

Although I try my best to walk this line with care and attention, I still sometimes feel myself being thrown off-balance at times. This is normal, it really is okay. It is simply life and a reminder that it is time to go back to basics again.

Peel back the layers again – meditation, back to basics

Simple Awareness

When we feel off-balance it is easy to use meditation as an escape, to withdraw from our life.

When we start to feel like this, it may help us to be reminded of this one thing:

Meditation is about being fully present, awake to what is.  Simple awareness.

The practice of meditation is about cultivating the ability to be awake in our life, not separate from it but awake to life as it is.  By doing this we can start to be more curious about what is happening, “ah I feel off-balance, time to go back to basics” is just one example.

Intention

Setting an intention can be good but I find it can also sometimes get in the way with meditation.  Before you even sit for meditation, notice what your intention is, are you looking to get something out of the meditation? Are you looking to change something? are you coming to sit with an “okay let’s get this over with” attitude? whatever it is, notice it and then let it go as if it was a cloud floating by in the sky.

Posture

Going back to basics means also checking your posture in meditation.  I often notice myself slouching a little, especially when I am feeling a little off-balance and out of sorts.  Posture is important, it sends a message to your inner self “hey, I am here, I am aware, I am returning to balance”

Whether it’s on a chair, cushion or stool, visualize the most beautiful and ancient tree, its roots deep in the earth, its trunk upright and straight and its leafy canopy reaching up into the sky.  That’s our posture. Our feet, legs, knees, rooted to the floor, our backs straight and upright.  Just allow your body to be still, sitting with a sense of dignity, a sense of resolve, a sense of being complete.

Attention

It is easy to over think what we are supposed to be doing in meditation.  It helps to pair it back to the basic placement of your attention.

My anchor or placement of attention is the breath. That simple life-giving thing that we take for granted.  Of course, there are other things we can use as an anchor, but the fact that the breath is so normal and so beautifully simple, helps us when we are needing to just come back to basics, back to the real core of the practice.

Our mind will wander.  A bit like when I was teaching my little terrier George to walk at heel.  He would wander off or pull ahead. Gently, I would bring him back to my heel, over and over again. Over time he learnt that it was quite nice to walk next to his dad (plus his dad usually had some treats in his pocket haha!)

The same in our practice, our minds will wander, when you notice, just label it as thinking and gently come back to the placement of attention, the breath (or whatever your anchor is) over and over again. The essence of the practice, over and over. Simple placement of awareness.

Over time, this strengthening of awareness starts to spill out into everyday life. Look out for those times when you see it working.

The beauty and simplicity of the practice – back to basics

Awareness – Being awake

Intention – Notice it and let it go

Posture – Be a tree

Attention – Your anchor, your strength



Hold your life in awareness, encounter it, feel it, honour it, know it for what it is.

Just walk, just sit, just breathe.

Just be you.

 

 

 

 

Turn up the love

I make no excuses, unashamedly I write an awful lot about the heart in this blog.  My mindfulness and meditation journey seems to be taking me more and more into this area, into the heart centre. Compassion seems too light a word for it, it is like tapping into our very being, our very essence, our inner guide.

Listening to the heart

The voice of the heart is quiet, our mind loves to barge right in and drown it out.  It takes time, everyday I just listen a little more.  In silence and solitude, the heart will start to speak.

Connect with the breath, the anchor.  Put your attention to your heart centre and breathe deeply into that area. As you breath in, visualize light going straight to your heart, as you breath out visualize darkness leaving your heart, just listen.

Being the light in the dark

However hard we try, we really can’t escape the fact that there is injustice and harm in the world. We will at some point have to face our darkest hour, I am not trying to be a doom monger here, it is just a fact. We can face this with fear, anger, rage even. Or we could try to up our level of kindness, respect, humility, compassion and integrity to others but first and foremost ourselves.  We have a choice.

Maybe the most bold and courageous thing we will ever do is to be a light in the darkness for ourselves.

Put your hand on your heart, breathe into that space, give yourself the love and compassion you need. Know that its just fine to be yourself. We are unique, there is only one you and only one me. Follow the inner guidance of the heart, just listen.

Strength

When I look back in my meditation log / journal to when I started heart meditations, there is something that stands out from the page. STRENGTH. It is repeated no less than 5 times on the page.  Heart work has the ability to give us strength to face whatever situations crop up in our lives. To head into the dark, trusting the light within, to stand on our own two feet.

At the bottom of that particular page in my journal, just underneath the title “loving kindness meditation” is a little sentence that will forever stand out for me on this journey we call life…

“I can be my own father”

That’s the kind of strength I mean.

 


May you be well

May you be happy

May you be free from suffering

May you be the light in the dark