Wednesday 29 July 2009

Being or merely doing...

"The essence of doing must always be being. That is root and that is the heart of all doing. So the question is not what must you do, but rather who do you choose to be."

Tuesday 28 July 2009

The last day: Finding the beginning

Acceptance is one of those terms that get bandied around in spiritual circles. Compassion. Surrender. Peace… There are many others.

But it is acceptance that intrigues me. I’ve heard the word and understood it. But I’ve never experienced it. I’ve never lived through it. I’ve never allowed it to lead me.

This whole retreat has introduced me to Acceptance in a radical new way. In a life-transforming way.

As I said in my last post, it is impossible to bring care and attention to something that I don’t accept: something that upsets or annoys me. Acceptance comes before care... Before surrender... Before transformation...

But what does this actually mean? To me, acceptance means allowing whatever is happening to happen. Sounds simple: it ain’t! If you’ve ever tried to accept something that really annoys you, you’ll know what I mean!

So, like all marriages, we have those little issues where we are different, where I flat out reject what Dirk is doing because he 'shouldn’t'... Ha ha!! Why shouldn’t he? Because I wouldn’t do it? That’s hardly a good enough reason.

This weekend I noticed that things that I used to comment on before, that I used to nag him about, seemed to matter much, much less.

Have you ever been in such a great mood that everything is good, no matter what happens? Well, it’s like that – without the great mood! It is just easy to accept what is regardless of what is happening around me.

Acceptance used to mean ‘he’s pushing my buttons with that damn joke again: I’m furious but I won’t react’ But it’s still inside me, because I’m consciously trying not to get annoyed.

Real acceptance, it would appear, is deeper than this. It is, ‘ah there he is, cracking that bad joke again.’

That’s it. End of story.

The thought goes through me, but I’m not thinking about it later. In fact, I’m barely registering the joke. It’s not pushing my buttons at all.

Perhaps it is because I have been practicing the first kind of acceptance with some degree of commitment, that I have glimpsed the second level of acceptance – at least some of the time!

In case Dirk is reading this, I would just like to be clear that this is a work in progress; I’m not entirely there yet, as he so patiently knows!

Thursday 23 July 2009

Day 27: My Aha Moment

It’s rather like putting a jig-saw puzzle together: I faff around with little pictures, a few of which fit together, but the overall image is a blur. And then, out of nowhere, it all falls into place. All the fragments suddenly make sense.

It happened this morning in the gym, I suddenly understood the missing piece…. Maestro, drum roll, if you please….!


I’ve spent a month attempting to imbue more of my life with the qualities of care and attention. I’ve found that it has definitely softened my character, challenged my ego and brought greater rigour to my thinking, as I’ve attempted to share the journey. But there has been something nagging in the background.

There have been some areas of my life where care and attention just didn’t stick. Issues that aggravate and frustrate me. And the reason is simple: how can I put care and attention into something that I haven’t accepted? Something that, with the best will in the world, I resent doing? It just doesn’t work: because I’m fighting what is, so there’s very little emotional space – or goodwill – left to create care and attention.

So, for example, finding a job that inspires me, where I feel that I can make a real difference and a meaningful contribution is proving to be incredibly difficult. And I’m angry inside myself because I feel a failure for not finding a job, for not settling for adequate jobs… (we’ve covered this ground before!)… so I’ve found it really challenging to bring the essence of care and attention into this aspect of my life. It melts as soon as I try to think about this in a caring manner rather than an angry manner.

Having children is another example. I’ve had to realise that that doesn’t happen when I’m ready – there are other forces at play! Again, all my internal thoughts have been of frustration, annoyance and disappointment, tinged with fear that it may never happen. And I’ve tried to skim care and attention over those gapping cracks. It didn’t work because my underlying thoughts were not of acceptance; I was locked in an unconscious fight with my own reality.

But now I get it… the anger, frustration and disappointment seem to have genuinely melted away (or at least diminished) when I just stopped fighting what is. When I accepted that this is how it is right now. Not how it may always be, but just for now. Perhaps now care and attention can begin to flourish there now, as they have in the areas of my life where I feel at peace. The key is feeling at peace and that, I now realise, only comes when I accept what is.

So, as I approach the end of my month, I have finally identified the first step!

Acceptance: not fighting or resenting what is.

Simply acknowledging that it is – without judging it as good or bad.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Day 26: Nurturing our inner kitten

My friend Jane has just been adopted by a two week old stray kitten. It needs to be hand fed every two hours: 24 hours a day... Jane is one of the most loving women I know, but for many of us, this would just be too much hassle.

It got me thinking that this really could be seen as a joy or as a burden.

If it is seen as a joy, then the nurturing, care and attention that is lavished on the kitten really does come back to us immediately. As she loves and cares for the kitten, she is bathed in those emotions in that present moment. By loving and caring freely for another being, she is also loving and caring for herself, her inner child...

Each of us has an inner child, a part inside us that remembers the fun of playing barefoot, of the simple joy of being able to move our bodies, of side-splitting laughter and naughty treats! We also have memories of moments when we were let down by others, forgotten or treated more harshly than we deserved.

I finally ‘get’ that as we love and care for another - whether it a person, an animal or even a plant - we generate emotions of love and care that wash through us, nourishing us in the present moment and healing the scars of the past.

If we treat the opportunity to nurture, care for and develop another as a burden, we create harder, colder emotions – like resentment, anger and frustration. They too wash through our bodies, but their legacy is very different. They reinforces the negative and can even intensify an emotional tapestry of pain and anguish that is also part of being human.

In every moment we have a choice about how we respond to any event. Is it a burden or a joy?

Even if it is not joy-full, it can cease to be a burden by the mere fact that we accept it and work with it.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Day 25: Preparing for change

I started this journey to get a clearer understanding of my purpose. That has definitely come, in so far as I have developed a real love for this blog. It is the embodiment of care and attention for me.

Even if no one reads it, I feel it is a contribution to the question, 'how can we combine ordinary life and a spiritual life?' Spiritual life is no longer locked away in monasteries, it must be lived in the mundane, in the simple actions of every day life, in the confusion and chaos of every day life. I love exploring how we can combine the ideas of an 'ordinary life' and 'spiritual life'.

But back to my opening paragraph, this journey appears to be going beyond my remit! It has taken a quantum leap in a direction I didn't expect...

To be honest, it's not even something I can describe clearly. At best I could say that I feel as though there is something stirring deep within … I've tried to write about it for three days, but I lack the words and the concepts. I can only describe it as a rumbling, a sense of impending change and, hopefully, of break through.

Perhaps being aware of something is enough, we can get hung up on concepts, labels and theories, thinking that they give us some control over life. And all the best teachers say that control is an illusion.

I just hope it won't be too traumatic... Well, you can’t blame a girl for hoping!

Friday 17 July 2009

Day 21: Simple

There is an elegance and gracefulness about simplicity. There is something so captivating about simplicity... It is its honesty.

There is nothing to distract me from 'what is', for nothing is hidden. It cuts all that is superfluous to reveal what is essential.

I can understand how simplicity can seem bare, but it is not austere.

Simplicity lends itself to care and attention. It requires some discernment…

If I am to keep things simple, I then choose to let go of everything that clutters and confuses.

What people lift my heart?

What is that I truly love having around me?

What activities bring me greatest joy?

What do I really want to say?

I can get lost in irrelevant detail… but these questions leave me with some food for thought… Rather than more, the simple things are often the easiest, the simple words are often the truest, and the simple recipes often taste best!

What creates simplicity for you? Where does your love, light, laughter and delight reside?

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Day 19: The marriage of yes and no

It is said that we can never fully say ‘Yes’, until we are able to say ‘No’. I’m not the world’s best at saying no. I worry that I won’t be liked: I could glamorise that, or say that I worry that I will hurt or offend the person who is asking, but let’s face this bald fact head on. It’s all about me! Or my ego to be exact!

My ability to utter that single word has improved over the past 10 days. I have an on-going commitment to the gym: whether I like it or not, I got at least 2, and normally 3, times a week. Last week, I said, ‘No’. I choose to stop going for 10 days and to not feel guilty about that decision.

This may not sound earth-shattering, but I was an overweight child, teen and young adult, so the gym is my ‘slim-person’ lifeline. Choosing not to go is a major step forward, because it was a moment when I released control, when I showed my body care and attention. I had been feeling exhausted and physically over-stretched; my body needed a break and I needed to put the time into meditation to redress the balance.

It was Susannah who pointed out not exercising is as important as exercising. Being able to say no at the point where you need to pause is what gives you the ability to continue saying yes in the long term. Suddenly not exercising became a part of the exercise: what lazy person wouldn’t love that?!

But it got me thinking, ‘What would happen if I put more care and attention into the word ‘No’’? I might move beyond my ego’s desire to please everyone …. and even I know that’s impossible, even if my ego flatters itself that it can somehow achieve this by saying ‘yes’ all the time! I may even have more time for the things I want to say ‘yes’ to… And that ‘yes’ may be worth more because it is said with 100% honesty.

Monday 13 July 2009

Day 18: TOuché - The Ouch Zone

“A man's errors are his portals of discovery.”
Irish novelist James Joyce (1882-1941)

Going beyond Joyce’s observation, I would add that through our errors we can transform our lives. I began this 30 day Care and Attention Retreat with the intention of finding my purpose. While that has become clearer, the process of this Urban Retreat, which I have done many times in the past, has been as transformative as ever. Each and every time, something pops up during those 30 days that significantly alters the way I am.

And it is always my own errors, my personal weak points, which have given me the doorway into that transformation. It is not with any great joy that I admit that one of my personal failings is rising Dirk. Some days it resembles a fencing match – a battle of wits in which each of us is determined to prove we are sharper than the other!

While it can be very amusing on the surface, I have always had a nagging sense of unease around this dynamic, but I haven’t paid much attention to it. Well, no more! The transformation came when my future sister-in-law held up a mirror to my face: “it’s cheap one-upmanship”, was all she said, but those four words hit me in the Ouch Zone!

The Ouch Zone is that soft spot (often a defensive spot) where we see our weak points, that which is less pleasing in our characters. She was so right. No wonder I’ve felt bad about that dynamic, it flies against the very notion of developing harmony, care, trust, beauty or genuine humour in a marriage, or any relationship.

I thought about ‘trying’ not to do it. But I realised that really isn’t good enough. When something is so antithetical to whom I wish to be, I think it calls for a total commitment. So I’m committed to completely stopping this behaviour.

And this brings me full circle, because I realise that in order to achieve this change in behaviour, I will have to invest more care and attention into my spoken words. Rather than responding with the first thought to cross my mind, I now need to think before I speak. And that can’t be a bad thing at all…

Friday 10 July 2009

Day 17: Neat packages

Over curried pumpkin soup, a friend pointed out that my blogs are little stories that are always resolved by the end of the piece. And it got me thinking: I do write self-contained stories.

To be honest, I think there is a lot of vanity in this: it makes me feel that I've achieved something when I have an insight worth sharing with others; it avoids exposing my soft under-belly on the themes swirling through my life where I lack any clear insights; and finally, I have wondered the value of sharing confusion.

In some ways, we live in a world that is very confusing. Stories help us make meaning and sense from over-whelming and often conflicting data. Stories that are incomplete may be more interesting in some ways, because life is never complete. As soon as I gain enough insight into one issue that I feel I can leave it go, another issue comes to the fore...

Life is like that, a constantly evolving kaleidoscope of colours... and I'm often so worried about my inability to figure out the pattern that I lose the joyousness of the colours and shapes [read: life events and emotions!]

So I'm open to input... self-contained and/or on-going themes that may never become clearer? Answers on a postcard please!

Day 16: Fault lines

Between the plates that make up our planet are massive fault lines; these are the earth’s weak points where the plates rub up against each other. When there is stress, these fault lines erupt, spewing lava, ash and noxious gases. It strikes me that humans are rather like the earth, in that we have fault lines too,

I've felt under increasing stress recently: feelings of shame at not finding a job; guilt at being a financial burden; some surface-level frustration at not finding a home, and trying to start a family – a complex mix indeed…

This week I realised that I was eating chaotically, refusing to go to the gym, becoming sarcastic, and generally feeling fat and unattractive. Ah, how well I know these feelings! These are my personal fault lines. I imagine everyone has there own personal 'fault lines', the unhealed pains and personality traits that we can ordinarily moderate but that erupt when we feel under sustained stress.

When all is well with my world, I feel fairly secure, optimistic and I'm able to see the funny, compassionate side of life. When I start to feel old, fat, unattractive and lazy, I know there's something else going on:* my fault lines are beginning to spew out noxious gases.

I've seen this pattern many times, and yet I always miss the early signs: I see the noxious gases but I only ever stop and reassess my situation when the lava starts to flow... Well, I suppose, on the positive side, at least I stop then, I haven't had a Krakatoa moment yet!

So yesterday, after talking it over with Susannah, I realised that I was sinking under my own lava. I needed to acknowledge that I was feeling this bad, rather than ignoring it. And here's the magic bit - I woke up this morning and I felt amazing! My weird, insatiable eating pattern has disappeared; I'm able to look at myself in the mirror and not hate myself, I feel optimistic.

Nothing has changed, and yet everything has changed. ‘Simply through acknowledgement?’ I’m tempted to ask. Is it that simple sometimes? Just because I focused some care and attention on a deeper pain I had ignored?

If so, this stuff really does work!

*Note: I have noticed that these are also deeply embedded, socially constructed evils in a world where we are under constant pressure to remain eternally slim, young, attractive people who are very busy indeed. But that’s another series of blogs…

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Day 15: Through fear or through love

I was walking through the underground yesterday. There was a young woman in her late teens walking in front of me. She was very pretty. Yet she also had false eyelashes, false toenails, false fingernails... and she had obviously put a lot of care and attention into her appearance.

What struck me was that much of the care and attention she put into her appearance must have - at its root - come from fear. But she was already pretty. There really wasn't a need for anything more. In fact, the artificial additions even took away from her beauty.

It is abhorrent to me that all of us, men and women alike, are under so much pressure to conform to impossible, unrealistic standards of beauty; to the point that we obscure what truly is of beauty within us.

What would happen to society if we didn't fear how we looked? If we could just accept ourselves? What would we do, say and be if our care and attention was channelled through love not fear?

Monday 6 July 2009

Day 13 - The woman in my mirror

I washed the windows. Nope, still angry. I hovered. Nope, still angry. I ironed. Nope... I went outside to talk to Dirk while he was working on his tomato plants. Nope, still there. I prepared food for the BBQ. Still angry...

As I did each of those tasks, I kept thinking, 'Care and attention'. I was able to see myself as angry, but I was unable to get any further. I couldn't find the pathway out of anger into care and attention.

And the reason for this anger? You won't believe it ... an ice cream. Or the lack of an ice cream, to be exact! For weeks, Dirk and I have been saying we must get an ice cream cone at the weekend. As weekends come and go, we singularly fail to achieve this tiny objective!

But this time, I was really hopeful that he would stop the car and we'd get an ice cream. It didn't happen. And look at who I became...

Below the surface, this isn't about ice cream. This is about the fundamental difference between men and women: I take note when Dirk mentions anything he would like so that I can find a way to incorporate into his day somehow. It might be big or small, but I do try to do things that would please him or make his life easier.

That's not unusual - I've seen countless women do the same thing over and over again, for partners, family and friends. It's how we 'make community', how we weave caring into the fabric of daily life, so that daily life has a few more sparkles in it.

Where I went wrong was expecting Dirk to be a woman! He's not. Yet, it's so easy to forget... to project onto him the expectations of how I would act. And it's unfair, because in those moments what I am really looking for is for him to be me, not who he is. And look where it got me: an afternoon of frustration and annoyance: the only person it hurt was me. The irony is, Dirk is a very kind, thoughtful man who, had I just articulated my desire - instead of hoping he'd read my mind on that particular leg of the journey - would have immediately stopped for ice cream!

Looking in the mirror, there is so much I could learn from this – the power of [unfair] expectations, my passivity in not telling him, how stubborn anger can be… but most of all, I think it’s humility. It was such a tiny incident yet it took me hours to find my way out of that morass and back to feeling loving and open.

Friday 3 July 2009

Day 11: The ripple effect of stillness in chaos

I was working with a group of teenagers today. I started with one teen, then 15 minutes later two more arrived, so I began. Fifteen minutes later, another two teens arrived. So I started again… Fifteen minutes after that, another teen arrived: at that point we had 10 minutes left, I did not begin again!

Teenagers are great at pushing boundaries. Although that doesn’t always feel so great when I'm trying to work with them. Yesterday, I got to a point where I wondered how I was ever going to get the group to focus on the work in hand and I could feel myself beginning to lose my patience. As my inner dictator was beginning to emerge, I noticed that I was blindly reacting to them. They were in control, not me.

So I took 2 seconds to remember my mantra, ‘care and attention’. In that moment, I felt a little inner stillness… I calmed down. I then changed from reacting to responding, which has a qualitatively different tone. To react is passive and unthinking. To respond is active and reflective. I was inwardly pleased, because I so often forget to recentre when I’m in the middle of an intense situation.

But what surprised was that, a little later, I realised that they had calmed down too. At first I didn't even notice it, until I suddenly realised that they were concentrating on the sheet we were working on. They unconsciously picked up on my inner shift and it affected them too.

Yet another triumph for the 'care and attention' principle!

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Day 10: Sometimes silence says more

As you may have noticed, there are days when I don't blog. Quite simply because I have nothing to say. I could prattle on, but what would be the point?

We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with noise: from sounds, writings and opinion columns to images, advertising and news... the layers of noise in our society are almost endless. But how much of it is meaningful? How often do we hear something that changes how we view the world? How we understand ourselves? Or the acid test: how often are we transformed by this incessant noise?

Words can transport us... transform us... Yet they are often treated carelessly I would rather use them as a tool that can be finely crafted into meaning, into stories that capture a value, an essence, or a soul-full moment.

This blog is my gift to myself, and I treat it as hallowed ground, where I nourish my soul and my heart. And I hope that a little of that nurturing passes through to you too. If I write thoughtlessly, I dilute that the essence of that intention.

I treat your time here as sacred and I hope that when you visit, you stay for a veritable cup of tea! That you find some morsel that restores and replenishes you, that lifts you up and maybe even lets your heart dance in wild abandon … on a good day! To me, that is one way of showing care and attention in action.