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.


Teddy. No more. No less.

http://firstolympian.tumblr.com/post/61590796969/a-break-from-beard-oil-time-to-focus-on


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


Too many cooks

I was in another room.

This is what I heard.

“No, you can’t have any more! You had loads on the last one!”

Uh-oh.

That’s like the starting bell at the beginning of a round at a boxing match.

I’ll set the scene.

It’s breakfast. Which on a school day is big American pancakes made, thanks to various dietary anomalies, with spelt flour and rice milk. They’re eaten in various ways, but the most popular is with golden syrup, which I now buy in bulk 🙂

Bertie, aged 6, coming in at number four of five boys, and possibly the most audible member of the household, applied his own syrup this morning. But the plate is small, had two pancakes on it one atop the other and, once the first was consumed, the second looked tragically bare.

So he’d come back for more.

Only to encounter two older brothers, who had their own opinions on what he should or shouldn’t have, was or wasn’t allowed… With, it appears, no regard for Bertie’s breakfast.

It would only have taken imagining the paucity of their own pancake under similar circumstances to ignite a little compassion, wouldn’t it?

Control.

It’s not the first time, either.

With an age range of children under this roof from 3 to 13, we have a wealth of books, something for every ability. They wander, these tomes, between bedrooms according to who wants to read what and when.

At bedtime the other evening, Bertie was trying to choose something to read. He bypassed a whole pile, and when I questioned him, replied: “I’m not allowed to read those ones. I’m too little.”

Of course, it emerged that he had wanted to try, but been told not to by an older brother. I had become quite cross at this point, and asked said older brother how he was to learn if he wasn’t allowed to try?

I am a firm believer that we learn from our mistakes. Perhaps a more positive way of expressing that is that we learn from what we do that works, and what we do that doesn’t. But that does, of course, require our being allowed to experiment. It’s no good trying to mould yourself to fit someone else’s idea of what life is, means, requires of you, or someone else’s idea of who you should be, no matter their status in your life, perceived or biological.

The way I see it is that your need to control others is directly proportional to the necessity to learn self-mastery. The more you learn to control yourself, the less you feel the need to control anyone else.

The questions for these big brothers are Why does it matter to you? Why is it important to you how much syrup your brother has? Why do you mind what books he reads? Teaching them to turn that spotlight inwards and examine their driving forces…

I am also aware of the necessity to avoid making assumptions or ascribing motivations, such as “Are you jealous of his ‘extra’ syrup? Is it because you didn’t get more?” It is all too easy to make terribly ungenerous assumptions about people’s motivations. I read yesterday something that was rather synchronous, given the various lessons on autism going on under our roof just now, too. Don’t assume: ask questions. Make sure you have it clear. And try to assure that your questions themselves do not contain evaluation. Keep your mind entirely neutral as you seek the truth.

It’s going to be a lengthy process attempting to pass this wisdom on. After all, if we teach by example, and these are all lessons I am still very much needing to practice…

And lest we are feeling overly sorry for Bertie, he is unfortunately already learning by example and is capable of giving as good as he gets.

Self-mastery. It’s our lesson du jour. (…du mois… de l’annee… pour la vie) 😉


Built on sand

I found one of my boys on the stairs today. He looked… well, actually, he looked sulky. He has a great line in sulky looks. But, being his mum, I know that this is something that can often work against him. Because, very often, it isn’t hiding sulkiness at all, but some other rather difficult emotion. And he can find himself getting short shrift for being moody when in fact what he actually needs is to talk to someone.

So, once I’d told him off for being moody, walked away, and had a little flash of mumspiration (I take no credit for those. They seem to pop into the head at the right moment by way of MotherAid, and I’m always surprised and delighted that they have appeared in the nick of time. Of course, sometimes they occur after the event, which is not so useful…)

I went back. He had started to shuffle slowly up the stairs, shoulders slumped.

“OK…” I tried again. “What is it?”

It turned out that all his friends hate him. (I didn’t mention he’s also prone to exaggeration, did I? 😉 )

So we thrashed it out a bit, and it’s actually his best friend he’s having trouble with. Funny, since there wasn’t a day last week he wasn’t in and out of our house after school… But I’m not so ancient that I don’t remember those particular growing pains. The love/hate relationships. The intensity of the ‘best friend’ and apparent ease with which all that can be flicked off, like a switch.

I spoke to him about all that of course. But I remember precisely how much importance I attached to my own parents’ reminiscences of those ‘days of yore’. They didn’t understand, naturally. They weren’t me. I sighed with exasperation as I rolled my eyes and tried to listen. (I also love the cyclical nature of these things…)

But the bit that got to him, I think, was this:

“If there’s one thing I want you to know about life, to really understand, to remember, it’s this: Everything Changes.”

He nodded slowly.

“Of course, that’s pretty rubbish sometimes. After all, it also means that happiness doesn’t last forever. It comes and goes, just like sadness. If today is difficult, it doesn’t mean that tomorrow will be. If it’s raining today, it doesn’t mean that the sun won’t come out tomorrow. If you’re finding today, or your friends, or life, tricky, it won’t last.”

The trick, I suppose, is to try not to get too attached to any of those states, ‘good’ or ‘bad’… Which, I am very well aware, is easier said than done!

He seemed to take it all in.

The whole gang assembled, had their supper, got on with rather over-zealous larking. Walking past me, he stopped.

“I don’t think he really hates me.”

Impermanence. More a blessing than a curse? 🙂


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!

 


Leave the earplugs at home.

I’m in a bunker, hunkered down, eyes squeezed tight shut, head between my knees and hands over my ears.

I’ve been here for a while.

I’m not thinking, hearing, listening…

And then a little voice starts the pep talk.

“You know the drill…” it says, rather incompassionately, I feel. “You talk the talk. But it isn’t enough to talk the talk. You need to walk the walk, too.”

And therein lies the Practice.

“I’m busy being stressed right now!”

Then stop.

“I’ll stop when I’ve got this really stressful thing out of the way.”

No. Stop now.

“I’m not listening to you. I’ll listen to you when I’m good and ready, and not feeling stressed any more.”

No. Listen now.

“I can’t. I’ve got lots of things to finish, or I’ll just feel more stressed.”

How will that help?

“Stop telling me it won’t help! You’re not helping, telling me it won’t help!”

Then a third little voice chimes in: “But you know she’s right, don’t you? You’re just choosing not to listen. Why are you choosing not to listen? It’s okay. It’s your journey. It’s your choice. And when you choose to listen, you will have chosen to make it easier for yourself…”

*Slump*

That Inner Voice can be a bitch. She doesn’t corroborate your victim story. She doesn’t put an arm around you and tell you to go back to bed and only get up when it’s all gone away. She just, oh-so-calmly, tells you the truth. And you can choose whether or not to listen. And some days, it’s really easy to listen. And other days, it feels damn-near impossible.

And those are the days to practise walking your talk.

Everything changes.

Except the reality that everything changes.

That doesn’t change 😉

“Muddy water

If let to rest and settle

Always becomes clear.”

LAO TZU


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.


Eureka… ! (Phew)

I just had an epiphany. 🙂

I’ve been in a shocking grump since yesterday evening.

Yesterday morning, the sun was shining for the first time in what feels like forever. I was beginning to think we had moved to Narnia – the land of interminable winter. But the sun didn’t so much stream as positively gush through the window and I stretched into it and felt instantly energised. I was positive, buzzing, happy… But by the evening, the grump of the previous day had returned.

I can list my grievances: the cold is back, it is snowing again, I have two very poorly people at home and feel rather run ragged, I’m tired (when my alarm went off this morning, I was more asleep than I have been in an age). And on a bigger scale, my family situation is more screwed up than any I have heard of, other than in books giving extreme examples of how wrong families can go…

So, I was hanging out the laundry this morning, with that catalogue of disaster running through my head. On loop. Again and again and again. And above it all I clearly remember these two sentences registering:

“I feel like I’m on a fucking rollercoaster. I hate it.”

“So get off. “

Now I read and listen to people I admire and respect speaking about the power of thought all. the. time. And intellectually I get it. I totally understand that your thoughts can change your life. That what you think is what you become. After all, the man in my life had begun to cower in a corner as I quite literally became my grump. My head was aching, my brow knit, my shoulders slumped.

But I’m not kidding – when I heard those words (which I guess I thought to myself anyway, huh?) “So get off.” it was as though a lightbulb had switched on over my head.

I got off.

The headache lifted that instant.

I straightened up, smiled. It had gone.

I remember reading both Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie talking about moments of total turnaround. I suspect theirs were much more profound and life-altering, and permanent. I’m not claiming for an instant to have cracked it.

But for today, at least, my world has changed.

And isn’t today all we have?


Give it away

I came across this today:

startliving

It made me laugh.

I sit here, surrounded by my family of seven and the seas of ‘stuff’ we possess, with more tidal waves coming into the house every day, and dream of a minimalist, non-cluttered life.

But that’s all it is. A dream. Because with five children (and a terrible yarn habit), I have resigned myself to being surrounded by these oceans for years to come.

There is a pertinent observation to be made, though – when the decks are clear(er), the energy flows much more creatively around this house. It takes an enormous effort of will; one that I don’t often possess, preferring to focus instead, rather myopically, on the work in progress and feign ignorance of the chaos around me. But on the rare occasions that I actually do it, I confess to feeling much more positive about life and much more energised.

Nor is there much difference between the physical and the mental junk we carry around with us. I sometimes think of it as a kind of Marley’s Ghost of a situation, with ropes and chains dragging around from our ankles, each lugging some past incident; with present anxieties flapping like Hitchcock’s Birds around our heads, and with future fears throwing tree trunks across our path, slowing us down and distracting us from where we are in this very moment, from making the most of now.

It’s a neat trick to let it go, to ‘give all your shit away’. But in the same way that a physical clearing of the decks makes way for an unfettered focus on what is here, and important, a mental and emotional letting go is the quickest way to take the first step towards actually living.