Category Archives: Buddhism

Lemons

You know that expression, right?

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”

Or alternatively:

lemons

Well, it struck me just now that there are basically two camps you can fall into when you hit a bump in the road and fall off your bike. It’s probably obvious and it’s sure to be something I’ve written about before, in another guise, some time ago. And I don’t want to get all verbose about it, since it’s really just the simplest equation in the world.

When life throws you a curveball, you have a choice.

You can add it to one of two lists.

You can add it to your victim story list: “And then, poor me, this happened.” You know the one, right? And you know when you’re on that kick because you’re not focused on what actually happened, or how best to deal with it, or how to fix it, but you’re reciting in your head how best to tell it when you next meet someone who’ll listen. And you know that you’re learning to kick that habit the moment it begins to feel less than comfortable reciting the same tired old lines; when, and I know you know this one, you’re actually beginning to bore yourself.

Or you can add it to your survivor list. You can add to the strings on your bow. You can hold your head up and say (to yourself because, come on, who else needs to hear it anyway? Whose opinion of you is more important than your own? Seriously. Whose? The number one person who needs to love and approve of you is… uh-huh… YOU) “I survived that, and this is what I learned.”

Victim consciousness is a honey-trap. You think you’ll feel better telling someone how unhappy you are and how it’s anyone and anything else’s fault other than your own. But you don’t. You never ever do. It just perpetuates the misery.

But when you take responsibility for your own happiness, it can change in a heartbeat.

Last night, watching a film with some of my family, one of my sons was, frankly, bloody miserable. From an objective perspective, I had grasped the storm in the teacup, I could see how simple it would be to forget it, to get over it, to let it go. But it isn’t something you can do for someone else. They have to do it for themselves. And it isn’t always easy. And unless you’re Buddha, you’ll still have times when you struggle with it.

In a lull, I leaned over to him:

“The only person unhappy in here,” I whispered, “is you. And you don’t have to be. You can choose to let whatever the perceived grievance is… go. Just let it go.”

He guffawed, somewhat sarcastically, but I know how it works with him. Plant the seed, walk away and let him think.

Shortly afterwards, during a particularly heavy and gruelling scene, and as though nothing had happened:

“If you close your eyes and listen to Tom Hanks in this film, it’s like Woody’s swearing. I can’t be the only one to think that, right?”

The rest of us fell about laughing and the entire atmosphere was diffused.

Because he chose to let it go.

Small example, simple principle.

Massive life lesson.


Perfection? Pfffffft!

I was talking to some friends online today, about parenthood, its quagmires, minefields and opportunities for guilt and self-doubt. We were discussing the fact that, however hard you try, however much you put into it, however you beat yourself up, you’ll never get it ‘right’. You can do it well. Or sometimes you’ll do it badly. You will have successes and failures. Some things will make your heart sing, others will feel like total defeats. And when it goes well, you will file that lesson away for future use in similar circumstances. And when it bellyflops and leaves you scrabbling in the dirt, you’ll file that away, too. And try not to do it that way ever again 😉 That’s not to even mention the decisions we make for ourselves that impact our children, and the hours, days and weeks of agonising over them… Being a parent is a part of our journey, of our learning experience through this life and it is as much about teaching us to be a more compassionate human being as it is about guiding them through their own pitfalls and giving them the tools to be independent and compassionate adults in their own rights. Where and if at all possible.

Because our children also have their own paths to follow. They will have issues they have to deal with when they are older, and we cannot avoid that. We cannot make it perfect for them. “Perfect” doesn’t exist! I had a long conversation with my eldest son a while ago, during which I explained that I would always do the best I could for him, but that I knew very well that some of the decisions I make during his childhood will translate into ‘issues’ when he’s an adult. Our issues come from our experience, and for the longest time our experience is our childhood, no matter how perfect our parents were or how hard they tried. And that isn’t their fault (I don’t find that especially easy to write, by the way, but I do know it’s true). It’s the nature of the beast.

Ah. “Perfect doesn’t exist. It didn’t feel right writing that. Because, actually, I don’t believe it. But not in the way I meant it. Not that I mean to tie you in knots.

What I mean is that you, and your child/ren are perfect. You are the perfect tools by which to learn… whatever it is you are here to learn. Each of you. Your combination is perfect. I know. I know this sounds controversial. But it isn’t really. It’s easy to get bogged down in horrific specifics but that would be to misunderstand the point. If, for example, you found yourself in an abusive situation, you would learn from it. Whether that situation had an ultimately positive or negative outcome, it would still be a learning experience. And the younger you are, the more helpless and dependent you are, which is why these ‘issues’ have to be tackled when we’re older. So, just because it’s a simple equation, that doesn’t mean it isn’t unbearably difficult sometimes. Does that make sense? I hope so.

In slightly other news, I found this today. I loved it. An extremely healthy lesson in empathy:

Walk a mile in my shoes

Walk a mile in my shoes


A life’s work. A gradual dawning. Acceptance.

He bit someone today.

She loves him. But he bit her. Not out of spite or malice. But because she was trying to get him to follow the rules. Rules that he, in his little autistic world, didn’t want to follow. Rules that, if he broke them, would cause anarchy in the nursery school. So she carried him away from the wet, slippery, tyre playground. And he bit her.

Broke the skin on her arm and bruised it.

Even as she told me, as she showed me her arm, she told me how well he is doing, how brilliantly he is adapting to nursery school, how fond she is of him…

Being given an autistic child is, without a doubt, the toughest challenge yet. I’ve been through divorce, estrangement from my family of origin, house moves to different parts of the country… All processed and accepted.

But this is all new.

It is unconditional love at its purest and simplest. I don’t know what he thinks, how he feels, what he can process, what will set him off. I can guess at all these things, but I don’t know. Any given moment could be a ‘good’ one or a ‘bad’ one. He may throw his arms around me for a ‘big cuddle!’, or kick out at me, pull my hair and knock my glasses off.

He struggled as I strapped him in the car, kicked. Lunged for my hair. Reached for my glasses.

I drove home weeping. The sadness threatened to overwhelm me.

I parked the car, turned on my phone, found this:

“The 9th principle of Buddhist psychology in The Wise Heart: Wisdom knows what feelings are present without being lost in them.

From the perspective of Buddhist psychology, each sight, sound, taste, touch, smell or thought will have either a pleasant, painful or neutral quality – one of the primary feeling tones. Then, born out of this simple feeling tone, there arises a whole array of “secondary feelings” – all the emotions we are familiar with, from joy and anger to fear and delight. It can be quite a lot!

This stream of feelings is always with us, and yet we sometimes have the mistaken notion that life is not supposed to be this way… When a painful experience arises we might think we have done something wrong, and we try to get rid of it by ignoring or changing it.

As we become wiser we realize that fixing the flow of feelings doesn’t work. Primary feelings are simply feelings, and every day consists of thousands of pleasant, painful and neutral moments, for you, Condoleezza Rice, the Dalai Lama, Mick Jagger and the Buddha alike. These feelings are not wrong or bad. They are the stream of life.

Jack Kornfield

The low gives meaning to the high. The sad to the happy. The ‘bad’ to the ‘good’.

And vice versa.

So often I repeat these words to friends: this too shall pass.

This time, I say it for me: This Too Shall Pass.

I am grateful.

I am grateful for the love she showed my beloved son even through the necessity of showing me what he, through no fault of his own, had done. I am grateful for his ‘big cuddles’ and for his love.

I am grateful for the unlocking of my heart that loving him is giving me. For having him in my life.

And today. Today, I am sad.

But, with the help of Jack Kornfield’s timely reminder, I will not get lost in it.


Wisdom

 

Synchronicities abound once again.

I hear something.

I like it.

Maybe I make a note of it.

I move on.

It snags my attention elsewhere, in a new guise.

And I smile to myself, grateful for the signpost. 🙂

wisdom

So, (you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve read this sentence before) I was listening to Wayne Dyer: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life. At times of increased stress / distress, I find his gentle voice and helpful interpretations of Lao Tzu’s Tao Teh Ching have the power to ground and balance me more quickly and efficiently than I can manage alone.

He quoted Henry David Thoreau, including the line from the photograph above, and it got me thinking.

It’s all about worry, really, isn’t it?

And, like all ‘spiritual tenets’, voicing it aloud puts you in danger of being thought naive. But I’ve long given up caring about others’ opinions of me – that one is a lesson well learned (remember our mantra? “What you think of me is none of my business“) 😉

While you are forming in the womb, after you are born, in your early months as a baby, you don’t worry. You’re not concerned where your next meal is coming from, or if it’s coming at all. You don’t lie awake at night hoping you’ll still have a roof over your bed the following night. Frankly (and sadly) even if you are born into a horrendous situation, you just accept. You expect your next meal to arrive when you’re hungry and, for the majority of us reading this post (and the person writing it), it does.

If you translate that to your life now, the vast majority of us, again, have made it – we’re still here; nothing we spent hours, days, weeks, months or even years worrying about actually killed us. We wake up to embrace, fight, love, struggle, soar, work through another day. The things we wasted so much now worrying about, have become a then we can barely even remember.

worry

But there is more to it even than that.

When you’re a baby, and your hunger is being alleviated through the next meal that didn’t fail to arrive, and your tummy is full, you turn your head away. You don’t stockpile your food in case the next meal doesn’t come. You don’t demand more, regardless of those around you who are also hungry, simply because you believe that your needs are greater than anyone else’s.

And then a friend posted this (click to read it):

greed2I love this guy’s intensity. 🙂

He’s right of course. We all need just what we need to survive, in comfort is nice but not necessary; in luxury is fortunate, but not necessary. The pressure we put on ourselves in desperate pursuit of the ‘more’ that we feel we need can only lead to suffering. We lose sleep. Our health – both physical and mental – suffers. Our relationships fail.

Is it worth it?

I remember listening to another of my favourites – Jack Kornfield – some time ago. He told this story (cut very short here):

Two friends attend the funeral of a wealthy man.

One whispers to the other:

“How much did he leave?”

His friend, visibly surprised, replies:

“Why, everything of course!”

Follow your path, keep your integrity, work steadily towards your goal, and you will be okay.

Finally, for today, this too is one of my favourites (there is some debate about who this quote should actually be attributed to, but I struggle to care about that either – it’s the meaning that is important after all):

the-endPeace out 😉 x


Alchemy?

I’m constantly amazed by the way life works.

In awe, really.

I’ll start as I so often do: a few things have been tumbling around my head lately 🙂

I suppose what it really is is an amalgamation, a sort of alchemical process by which several truisms, so often bandied about, posted on facebook (guilty as charged) and generally thrown casually into conversation that they have become cliches, have all become one big ole realisation somewhere deep down. Like dried yeast in warm water, it has bubbled up and popped on the surface of my awareness just in the last day or two, and I’ve been trying to find a way to express it.

Putting it into words is tricky – it’s much more a feeling, or… not even that… a kind of new part of what I have come to know, I suppose. Eek, you see? I’m already tripping over myself! I guess I’ll start by listing the four main components of this one new whole:

1) Orange Juice

This is the patently obvious truth that if you squeeze an orange, the only thing you’re going to get out of it is orange juice. You can’t squeeze it and expect a sparkling Pinot Grigio, or a glass of milk. In just the same way, if someone squeezes you, you can only react with something that is already inside you. Or, put another way, you can’t give something you haven’t got.

2) Hatred and Love

“Hatred cannot cease by hatred, but by love alone is healed.” Originating from the Buddha and used by such noble fellow beings as Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

3) Fear

Fear paralyses. Fear of the future (and what is a ‘What if…?’ if not fear of a future calamity?) is a waste of the present, leads to negative, defensive and angry pre-emptive behaviour, escalates animosity, perpetuates hatred… And the rest!

4) Boundaries

Accept no abuse. Value yourself more than that. You would not sit by and watch someone you loved being abused, so why allow it for yourself?

In some way or another all of these lessons have been kneaded and melted and moulded and shaped into a single way of being, of looking at myself and the world of my fellow human-beings.

First off, eliminate the fear and hatred, both of which we are all too easily seduced by. Like pretty much everyone else I have known the paralysis of fear, and I can categorically say it served no purpose whatever, neither in preparing me for what I had to face, nor in helping through it. We live through what we live through. We take the lessons from those situations that they had to teach us. And we carry them into the next.

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

– Helen Keller

Or indeed:

“I’ll tell you a secret about fear: it’s an absolutist. With fear, it’s all or nothing. Either, like any bullying tyrant, it rules your life with a stupid blinding omnipotence, or else you overthrow it, and its power vanishes in a puff of smoke. And another secret: the revolution against fear, the engendering of that tawdry despot’s fall, has more or less nothing to do with ‘courage’. It is driven by something much more straightforward: the simple need to get on with your life.”

– Salman Rushdie

The point I am trying to get across is this: if you can drive fear and hatred out of your heart (and I am not suggesting for a moment that a) this is easy or b) I have cracked it), then when you are squeezed they cannot come out. And if they cannot come out, there is more chance of healing both at a personal and a universal level. But this, too, is an affirmation of healthy boundaries. Because if there is no longer fear and hatred inside you, and you are squeezed (abuse is attempted), and a compassionate response has no discernible good effect, you can walk away with your boundaries intact and your inner life undisturbed. Nor, happily, are you likely to have made the situation worse. We cannot control others or their reactions, after all: only ourselves.

It’s all part of the process, and there are no shortcuts, but each milestone is an enormous liberation, containing enough lightness to propel you to the next. I’ve listened to a few of my favourite gurus today: Dr Wayne Dyer and Jack Kornfield being two of the most influential in the help with shaping my thoughts. Jack Kornfield described his return from years away, meditating and practising as a Buddhist monk. His mind was trained, he was an unflappable spiritual being… Until he came back to the States and discovered that he was really rubbish at relating with his fellow human beings. So his message must be that it’s all well and good understanding what this Practice is, what these lessons are, the path of least suffering, and it’s pretty easy to get a hold of, excel at even, when you are alone in a room, or meditating, or…

But using it in everyday life – there’s the challenge!

 


What next…?

Bertie (a whopping 6 years old) is… well… I guess boisterous is the best word to describe him. A little like Bagpuss (do you remember that kids’ programme?), when Bertie’s awake, the rest of the house is awake. He wakes up hollering, goes to bed hollering and does a fair bit of hollering in between. There’s no volume switch, no brakes. Bertie hurtles, headlong, through life, stopping only when he meets resistance, and even then only if he has to. And his demeanour is almost invariably one of noisy cheerfulness.

But just of late, as so often happens at around this age, he’s pondering the bigger questions. I guess Easter throws this up a little for children – they’ve been talking about it at school – death and resurrection. And it got me thinking about how confusing, and a bit scary, these big questions can be for our smallfolk.

“Can you ask god to give you a new body, when you die, so I can see you again?”

You see, one of his favourite bedtime stories just now is “The Mountains of Tibet” which is a rather surprising choice for one so apparently oblivious to the deeper potentials of his surroundings. “Gumboot’s Chocolatey Day” is far more up his street, you’d think. But the Mountains has obviously struck a chord somewhere. Resurrection at school, reincarnation at home… It’s beautifully written and illustrated, and provokes rumination on all sorts of levels… for an adult at any rate, I’d thought.

After all, his previous command had been far more in keeping with one his age:

“Be a boy. Then you won’t have to lay babies.” 😉

I’m not afraid of death. I don’t want to die, you understand. But I’m not afraid of it. For myself. (My feelings around pain are much more ambiguous…) I have young children, so naturally I have concerns about their well-being were their mummy not around to look out for them. And I see and feel compassion for their fears when they talk about it themselves. I want to tell them not to be afraid. That it’s just a transition. That it’s all part of the design. But I know they’re a little young for all that, and that they’ll have to work it out for themselves a bit…

“I don’t want you to die, Mummy” said my 8 year-old at breakfast this morning. One introduces a theme, another runs with it…

“I don’t want to die either, darling.” I tried to explain that these days people tend to live a good long time, although we can’t rule out accidents or illness. We can’t know when we’re going to shuffle off. And I tried to tell him that if I did, I hoped he would be thankful for the time we had together, and would show me what a good job I’d done being his mummy by living as full and happy a life as he could. At that he nodded, and smiled again for the first time since the conversation had begun.

But by now I was worrying. I had this terrible vision of a young man slogging his guts out trying to be happy, to prove to his dead mother that he could be, that she had been a ‘good mummy’! 🙂

It’s a minefield, death, life, happiness, spirituality, purpose… And it’s a sticky wicket when it comes to sharing it, too. I don’t subscribe to the theory that I have the right to tell my children what to believe. I can tell them what I believe, but to my mind they have no obligation at all to feel the same way. What they do believe, they will work out in their own good time. When they are ready and the time is right. They will, most likely, embrace, reject, struggle, and make peace with all kinds of channels of thought.

And that, as it is for the rest of us, is simply their journey.


A Light in the Darkness

Destiny

I saw this text the other day and it struck a chord.

And got me thinking.

I’m not a believer in ‘fate’ as such, in its simpler definition. I don’t believe that on a certain day at a certain time you are destined to meet a certain person. Nothing quite as prescribed as that.

But I do believe that we are all here with something specific to learn in our ever-onward quest to be the best we can be, heading toward that ever-elusive enlightenment, following our path. And each of us is born into this life with specific challenges to overcome and learn before we can take the next step, climb the next ladder-rung. But I should make even that a little clearer. It’s all about energies, really. You’ll be born into a particular type of family, with a particular type of energy, in order to figure it out. And in not figuring it out, you’ll carry it with you into the world, where you will attract more people and situations who will challenge you to figure it out. And in avoiding those people and situations, you’ll encounter yet more who will challenge you to figure it out. Keep avoiding, keep encountering.

Until you figure it out.

And it isn’t going to be easy. In fact, shining that light into that dusty old corner will probably be one of the hardest things you’ve ever had to do, because you will find your own ego there, staring back at you, and you will have to face it, and then let it go.

But however hard it is, it is made all the harder in the avoiding.

Fear, too, has been pottering around my mind the last few weeks. The way it prevents us from taking the next step, following our hearts, evolving as human beings, as souls. And, of course, the two go hand in hand. There are, I believe, two types of fear that stop us taking the action we need for our souls to evolve. The first is the human fear: what will everyone else think? And the moment you stop caring what everyone else thinks is the moment you are released from that fear. The second is the soul fear of what we will find in the dark that stops us shining the light in there. But if we don’t shine that light, then we simply continue to live in fear. And only the development of faith in the process, and then taking its leap, will drive out that fear.

So, to live without fear, your light must be shone.

First inwards, where you can face yourself, and then outwards, for the world to see.


Detachment: Let it go!

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Keep going…

I heard this today:

The person who is really on the way, falling upon hard times in the world, will not as a consequence turn to those friends who offer them refuge and comfort and encourage their old self to survive. Rather, they will seek out someone who faithfully and inexorably helps them to risk themselves, so that they may endure the difficulty and pass courageously through it. Only to the extent that a person exposes themselves over and over again to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found within them. In this daring lies dignity and the spirit of true awakening.

Karlfried von Durckheim

Food for thought.

If, like me, you subscribe to the understanding that 1) everything is as it should be and 2) everything happens for a reason, then it follows that, if you are going through hell, the fires of the forge will leave a new, purified you upon your emerging.

In the simplest of terms, adversity teaches you who you are.

I have long loved the maxim:

If you are going through hell, keep going.

Don’t turn back and decide it wasn’t for you; you’d rather sit and stagnate where you were. Don’t berate the universe for your terrible lot. Don’t run for the cover of old, tired, fruitless patterns of behaviour.

Remember this: Nothing is permanent. Everything changes. Life is a journey, with all the requisite bumps in the road: sometimes it takes you through the roughest part of town, and sometimes through breathtaking scenery. Joy and sorrow each have their part to play.

So, if you’re going through hell. Keep going. Don’t lose sight of your true self. Don’t sacrifice your integrity. Stay focused, don’t attach to the story, believe in yourself, believe in the bigger picture. Hold onto love, don’t give in to hate.

And one day, basking in the light at the end of that tunnel, a little older, a little wiser, the sorrows assimilated, the joys welcomed, you’ll look in the mirror and recognise the you that has always been.

And head off into the next unknown.

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A few more thoughts on forgiveness.

Today, I have been listening to the dulcet tones of Jack Kornfield. He has the most soothing and calming voice, which helps a lot, but it is the content of his talks that is the most enlightening. For anyone who hasn’t heard of him, he is the author of such excellent books as “A Path with Heart” and runs the Spirit Rock Meditation Centre in California.

I was pottering about my kitchen, everyone else in the family occupied, listening to his guided meditations. Possibly not the best way of meditating, but better than not at all, to my mind anyway 🙂

And, in his inimitable fashion, he fed me some gentle food for thought.

The way it works for me is this:
I’m washing up, listening, drifting away, my mind snags on something. I stop what I’m doing and focus better. This is what snagged me:

“Stand up for yourself.
Tell the Truth.
It will be okay”

Which was just what I needed to hear at that moment. (Another fabulous way this universe works).

But he went on to do a lovingkindness meditation, which led me down the forgiveness route again.

I often write about the same theme many times. Sometimes I worry about that. About repeating myself. But here’s the thing:
These themes are things that we, as human beings, can struggle with our entire lives. I can’t write about it once and just ‘get it’, like flicking a light switch. It is tidal. The tide comes in and you have it. It ebbs away again and you struggle to hold onto it . But the difference here is that it never goes out quite as far as it did the first time, and eventually, instead of a turbulent and stormy ocean, you find the water has stopped at the shoreline, and you have a still, peaceful lake.

You have it.

So, forgiveness.

Forgiveness is vital to the healing process.

But it isn’t a sticking plaster. You can’t paper over the hurt with it. You can’t force it, even. And this is important.

You cannot force yourself to forgive.

It is a process.

And there are many stages to this process, not dissimilar to the stages of grief. For those unfamiliar with the five stages of grief, the Kubler-Ross model is this:
1) Denial
2) Anger
3) Bargaining
4) Depression
5) Acceptance

And anybody who has been badly hurt will experience most if not all of these stages. My understanding of it, though, is that it is not until you get to the Acceptance stage of the process that you are able to forgive; it is not until you have worked through it all, and truly understood and assimilated, that you are able to let go.

I have said before that we have this perception that forgiveness lets your aggressor ‘off the hook’. In fact, the person being let off the hook is you. You no longer have to dwell in that world of holding on with hate, of clinging desperately to your injustices., of being locked into a cycle of vicim consciousness, which is disempowering to say the least. You are free to move on, unshackled from the ball and chain you’ve been dragging behind you for too long, empowered and in charge of your own life, responsible for your own happiness, no longer at the mercy of someone else’s responsibility for your unhappiness. From victim to conqueror!

Many victims of abuse become angry at the suggestion that they must forgive in order to move on. It has often taken such an enormous effort of will to stand up for themselves in the first place, that they fear that forgiving will set them back into a vulnerable position, that they will have to go through this all over again. And at that stage you are not ready. Your anger fortifies you, stiffens your resolve not to allow such things to happen to you again. It is natural, healthy and in the order of things that you feel it. But it is not a place you can live healthily in forever. The time has to come when you have strengthened yourself enough there to shed the anger and move on with your life, the lesson learned, the boundary strengthened, your happiness lying ahead, and not behind.

Anger, hatred, all those negative emotions are a chain around your heart. They may be protecting it from past (or present) abuse, but they are also preventing you from letting love in, from future happiness, from freedom.

So, when the time is right – and only when the time is right – cut the chain and let your heart fly free.

You cannot lose.

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