Friday 30 March 2012

Moving mountains

Fifteen years ago, an angel saved my life.  A year later, I was standing on the pier watching the waves crash around me, when the same voice said, "You can do this too."
"What?" I asked quickly, afraid the voice would go and I'd never know what he meant.
"Move mountains", came the reply.

And there the conversation ended.  As the minutes passed, I began to wonder if I'd imagined it.  I asked for proof that it had really happened, I asked to see a perfect minature rainbow right in front of me. 

I waited and waited.  Eventually, I gave up.  Just as I was about to turn away, a huge wave crashed against the pier, creating a perfect minature rainbow.  Right in front of me.

I was deeply touched by this.  I felt I had a purpose.  My life meant something.  I didn't know what, but it meant something.  Over the past few months, I've been thinking about that event and wondering what it meant.  I've not moved any mountain.  I had thought I would achieve some great social good when I got that message.  Not the case.  Although I'm not dead yet either!

I was texting my sister in law about James' burns yesterday, when I realised I had lived it...  The mountains were internal not external.  When I had felt completely alone and helpless, doing what I could for James, I had prayed.  I had believed that I was not alone.  I was held in the arms of the universe.

I got many tiny affirmations that this was so: the peace that descended when I brought myself into second attention; the wonderful nurse who could not have done more for us, in an NHS system where inadequate care is a constant headline; the bandage from ambulance crew, for the next time(!).

Everywhere there are clues showing us that the world is as we think it is.  Even when something terrible happened, my son being hurt, and I was beside myself with guilt and fear, I had faith, even if just the 'size of a mustard seed', and that mustard seed moved mountains!

Finding meaning in chaos

In the ambulance, they estimated he had 5% burns and told me that we may have to go to the burns hospital.  I had overcooled him, his temperature was 35C.  The crew member who sat with me gave me one of their dressings from their supplies, because he said it would always come in handy in the future, I felt blessed by this moment of kindness.  It was a sign we weren't alone, my prayers had been answered.

When we arrived at the nearest hospital, we were among a queue of ambulances arriving.  We were brought straight through to the Resuscitation Room, and there was a team waiting around the bed for James.  It was like something one sees on television.

Once they gave James drugs for the pain, they had to wait for him to calm so they could examine the burns.  Again, we were blessed.  We had the most wonderful nurse, Michel, who was also trained in paediatrics.  He stayed with us the whole time we were in the hospital.  He even got me a tea with sugar, for the shock, and spent some time comforting me.

They decided James burns weren't life threatening and not so severe he would have to stay in, so we were transfer ed to the paediatrics Accident and Emergency, where Michel carefully began bandaging him up, just as Dirk arrived.  What a comfort that he had come back from work.

By now James was alert and calm.  We were discharged with Michel's words of comfort, 'the body is magical.  It has everything it needs to repair itself.  All he needs now is to be happy, so play with him and his happiness with create painkillers and everything else he needs to heal.'

The body is indeed magic.  James had so much bandaging on him that he looked as though he had put on 5 kg in one morning.  I worried for the pain he was in, the potential for scarring... the guilt I felt. 

James remained in good form all day, and required no more pain relief.  He slept through the night with no pain killers, which I couldn't believe.

It takes 24 hours to assess burns, so we returned to the hospital 24 hours later to change the bandages and examine the burns.  Joy!  It just looked like sunburn, with less than 1% burns.  He will be fine.  Our prayers were answered.  After 24 hours, I felt as though I could finally breathe out again.

For reasons we don't know, terrible things do happen.  But they do not mean we are bad, or the 'god' is somehow displeased.  What matters is how we respond, can we rise to the moment?  Can it bring out the best in who we are?  Can we trust that we are protected and comforted, even when it feels as though we are vulnerable and alone? 

This is my framework, it is what helps me make meaning of random, unexpected events.

Grace under pressure

James was rushed to hospital on Wednesday morning.  He pulled my cup of tea down on top of himself.

The moment it happened, I had turned my back to put another potential hazard far from reach.  I chose the wrong hazard.  His scream was piercing.  His top wouldn't come off quickly enough, it took several attempts, by which time his skin had blistered.  I rushed him to the bathroom and began putting towels soaked in cold water over his chest.  I felt so alone, I didn't know what to do and his screams were terrifying.  I rang my Dad (thank goodness for parents!).  It was 6.40am.  He said ring for the ambulance, which I did.  But we live in a house divided into flats, I forgot to tell them which buzzer to call.

I banged on my neighbours door, shouting for help.  James was still screaming lying on his changing mat covered in a cold towel.  I had to get back to him immediately.  Del went to wait for the ambulance in his pyjamas - there's neighbourly kindness. 

I kept apologising to James each time I changed the towel, which I must have done every two minutes.  As the minutes dragged out, the adrenaline began to slow.  A moment of grace descended.  I remembered to pray for this to turn out for the highest good.  I asked Raphael, the angel of healing, to protect and comfort James and prevent scaring, if at all possible.

I tried to ignore his screams.  I had to keep changing the cold blankets to cool the scald so that it didn't affect the lower layer of skin and leave him scarred.  That overriding concern subsumed my normal desire to avoid him crying.  Time dragged even more.  I calmed another fraction.  I brought myself into second attention, to the space between him and me, to that peace.  He stopped crying. 

He started again when I changed the compress.  Then he stopped.  He seemed to fall asleep.  He was shivering, his fingers were purple.  I panicked again.  Was he losing consciousness?  He roused when I called him and began screaming again, but would fall asleep between compress changes.  He was exhausted.

After what seemed like an eternity, the ambulance men arrived.  They were terrific: immediately comforting, calm and effective.  Exactly what one would like from an ambulance crew!  I had rung Dirk briefly earlier and said I'd ring him back when I knew more, as I thought they would treat him on the spot.  

They put a dressing on James and he stopped crying, we covered him in a blanket and headed for the ambulance. 

Tuesday 27 March 2012

The many faces of god

Yesterday, as I dragged myself through the day, the god I was talking to was the 'god with the whip'.  I was introduced to this god at the tender age of 6 when a teacher was brought in to the class to tell us of the wrath and vengefulness of god and hell, in preparation for our first holy communion.  Welcome to the Catholic Church children!

Since then, I have developed several different faces for god, each one a reflection of where I am in my journey at that time.  My god has had many faces, but two endure.  The first is always my most recent conception of what god is - be that a man with a beard, an energy form, an intelligence, all that is...  The second is the god with the whip.

When I feel bad, the whip god comes out.  When I feel good, the loving god is evoked.  It all says far more about me than about god.  For, as much as god is beyond human knowing, we will always strive to know it.  And the god that we create says more about us than we could ever say about ourselves.


What a difference a sleep makes!  A whole 6 hours and I feel so much better.  We are still sick, but it's not so hard to bear when I'm not exhausted.

My friend Susannah told me about a book called 'The Happiness Trap', a Buddhist title if ever I heard one!  But it did get me thinking - it's so easy to believe that life will be better when I feel happy, and that happiness is invariable pinned to some external event or circumstance.

I stagger from one side of the road to the other: on a good day, I remember that I can be at peace (which is my version of happiness), regardless of what is happening.  On a bad day, I scan the horizon for some glimmer of hope that 'god loves me', that he has thrown some little token from the heavens, some external event that will make me happy.

But what makes me happy today, will not be what makes me happy tomorrow.  Moving into this flat made me happy then, now the flat can frustrate me because it's too small for us.  In and out.  Up and down.

Events and therefore - externally dependent - happiness all depend on my perspective at any given moment.  Noticing my perspective may be a far wiser course of action than any other I may undertake at present.

Just noticing.  Not healing or hiding or hoping for something different.  Just noticing.

Monday 26 March 2012

The tide of life

Some days being a good person just seems like too much hard work.  In fact, at the moment, the spiritual path seems like far too much hard work.  Is it meant to be this hard?  Or have I wandered off the path and got lost in the undergrowth?  I suspect the latter.

I think I am trying too hard, being too earnest in my endeavours.  I keep noting my failings and shortcomings, vowing earnestly to do better and then berating myself earnestly for failing (yet again) to live up to my earnest desire to be better.  My life has become a very small, vicious circle. 

Recently I've been trying non-judgement (ah yes, another in a long, illustrious list of self improvement practices with which I have experimented) and it just ain't working.  I am constantly judging everything and everyone.  Even when I think I'm not... even when I pretend to myself that I'm not. 

Then I moved on to acceptance of judgement, as I couldn't pretend I was non-judgemental anymore.  At least it's more honest.  So now I'm back full circle to an insight I had three years ago, that everything starts with acceptance.  Acceptance dissolves judgement.  Yet it's no band aid, there is no easy fix-it. 

So this is the accepted truth.  I'm tired from trying so hard and constantly rejecting myself for my own shortcomings; I have some winter virus and I have lost my appetite; James is also sick and teething, and he doesn't sleep for more than 3 consecutive hours a night before launching into a protracted blood curdling screaming session.  I'm  not only exhausted, I'm deflated: we've been outbid on yet another house.  Our 'bijou' accommodation is home for a while longer.

Equally, the sun is shining, we are all pretty healthy, safe, warm, dry and well fed.  Sometimes I have moments where I realise that my body is not me - because it feels heavy doesn't mean I have to feel heavy and flat.  They are tiny moments, but worth remembering nonetheless.

That sensation I wrote of previously, of feeling God's complete compassion towards me, pointed to total acceptance of what is and deep non-judgement.  Perhaps I have been aiming to run before I can walk, trying to recapture that peak moment.  Perhaps it's time to slow down and accept myself, warts and all.  Then, perhaps, I can extend that acceptance and compassion to others.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Finding God

It's probably truer to say that God is created in the image and reflection of humans than vice vearsa. At least at the start of the spiritual journey.

Those who live in fear, envisage a punishing and often irrational God.  Those who live in peace envisage a calmer and more benevolent God.  Along the journey of the soul, a transformation occurs and the understanding of God shifts from an external 'person', to an intelligence beyond gender or personification, an intelligence of which we are a part. 

With this shift in perspective comes a shift in how we connect with that divine force.  We move from supplicating and interceding, and focus increasingly on developing a more direct and intimate connection.   That connection is not found in the words of prayers as easily as it is found in the silence of meditation, where our minds empty and we connect directly to the wisdom and creativity of the divine.

Moreover, we no longer experience ourselves to be subject to the whimsies of an irrational and incomprehensible God, but we begin to take ownership of our lives, responsibility for the events that unfold in our lives and, most importantly, our reactions to those events.  God is no longer beyond us. 

We have started to road of union, understanding at last that we are a part of the divine.  There is nothing in divine that is not also within us. 

Monday 19 March 2012

Second attention

'God' is not angry with me.  I've grown up a Catholic/Protestant blend and they have a pretty angry, punishing God that they troop out every Sunday, just enough to terrorise you into good behaviour for the intervening six days. 

My inner child is so steeped in this mythology - or cosmology - that although my understanding of God has changed radically, a part of me still believes in any angry God, whom I have failed, not once but repeatedly.  A few nights ago, I discovered that 'he' is not angry with me...

Intuition is our soul's mind talking to us, subtly guiding us for our highest good.  It's easy to assume that our link with our soul ends there, in practical terms at least, but it is also possible to touch into our soul's heart.

Recently I read about the practice of second attention.  First attention is what we are doing and thinking in the world - the level where we spend most of our time.  However, there is another, deeper layer available to us. 

Rather that focusing on the interactions in front of us, we can dip a level deeper, and focus our attention below the surface of these interactions. This is second attention, and it involves focusing on our hearts, on the space between ourselves and the people with whom we are interacting, not our head or our words.  

I've been playing with this since I read about it, trying to dip into my heart and then become aware of the space between myself and another or, more accurately, the energy between us.  What I have learnt is that this space is always at peace.  That is the overriding state of being I've experienced...even when my first attention was involved in a disagreement with Dirk!

A few nights ago, I was playing with the energy between myself and various other people and events, and each time I experienced peace and love.  I decided to bring my second attention to the energy between myself and God, expecting to feel love and peace.  Instead, I experienced a burst of pink light and wave upon wave of compassion rolled over me.  I was completely bathed in compassion.  I never knew God was so non-judgemental, that 'he' was kinder to me than I have ever been to myself, that he cared more gently for me than I care for myself.  And what is true of one of us, is true for all of us...

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Walking meditation

James has begun on a new path, he  walks outdoors now.  To walk with him is to rediscover the freshness of the world.  Everything is new and interesting.  What I ignore, he finds infinitely fascinating.  What I don't see, he notices.  For him, it is a walking meditation, where complete attention is focused on exactly what he is doing in that moment.

It may take him 20 minutes to walk I distance I cover in 5 minutes, but his journey is much richer.  He notices every cigarette butt and piece of discarded gum, brick walls are a constant source of fascination, as are tufts of grass growing in the mud, overgrown hedges tumbling out over broken walls, even the very holes in the walls are fascinating, as he sticks his fingers into cracks and crevices I  had never noticed.

How blind I have become to what is around me.  I follow my own channel of seeing and being, but I realise that I have locked out so much of my surrounding world.  Not that this is, in and of itself, a bad thing.  The mind has to dismiss billions of pieces of data every minute in order to focus on what does matter to it.  But what if I have dismissed the significant along with the insignificant?  Therein lies the opportunity.

My world is relatively ordered and predictable, yet it is only on the fringes that transformation takes place.  It is in the seemingly random events and acts that we have the opportunity to transcend our present moment awareness, and to transcend our present selves. How else can the divine connect with us, if not through the random, seeming erratic episodes in life?

In the most unexpected ways and moments, our higher consciousness opens up, connecting us directly to our infinite source, allowing us to touch the whisper of our soul, the minute fluttering of the divine breath.  Whether or not we are willing to accept the insight of those moments is a different question, but the fact remains, on the fringes of our lives, we are in communication with our divine source.

One could compare life to a walking meditation.  It's easy to forget we are wearing blinkers, ignoring the fringes of our own lives, the unexpected, random moments and events that open us up to our spirit, to an expanded, enhanced version of who we are.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Below 'I am'

If 'I am...' limits us, then how do we step outside the false boundaries that this phrase imposes? 

Certainly, it's not, 'I think...'.  If there is a verb that has as much power power to limit us as to set us free, 'I think' must be that verb.  But most frequently, it serves as our warden more than our liberator. 

Our thoughts have a tendency to harden into our characters.  While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, most of my thoughts are the result of partial information and subjective experiences.  They are the very opposite of the expansive, inclusive universal spirit with which I will, one day, re-merge. 

Emotions on the other hand, they are fluid, dynamic, and flexible. They flutter across our horizons, like clouds, changing, dissolving, disappearing and reforming eternally.  'I feel...' opens more spaciousness on the spiritual journey than 'I am...'.  The latter closes us down and limits us.  The former acknowledges that are constantly changing, evolving and becoming.

And what is the journey towards the light, the journey of the spirit, if not the rising arc of our souls towards the infinite universal?

Am I...?

If "I am..." reinforces our status as beings in a black and white, binary world, then it also reinforces the idea that we are seperate individuals.  This idea glosses over a greater spiritual wisdom, that All is One.

Every religion teaches some variation on theme of 'love your neighbour as yourself'.  At first glance, this is an injunction to be a good person, kind and considerate to others.  However, below that, this teaching expands into a truth much richer and deeper.  In loving our neighbour as ourselves, we begin to glimpse that what makes them happy, makes us happier.  Their lives are not as seperate as we first imagined.  There is a connection between us. 

On our spiritual quest, that connection is slowly revealed.  At first it seems that the mood and well being of another affect our mood and wellbeing.  As we good deeper, we discover that all things are connected, and so too are all beings.  We are one.  "I am..." is a powerful learning instrument.  But after a time, "I am..." begins to receed as it merges into "we are...".

I am (!) not there.  But the realisation increases, at a knowing level even if it is not a visceral, lived experience.  Yet.

I am...

As soon as we utter the phrase, "I am..." we limit ourselves.  We set ourselves in opposition to one characteristic and in alignment with another.  Yet the soul is beyond opposition and alignment.  It encompassess and surpasses duality. 

So deciding "I am..." forces us to become fixed, to become more rigid and less accepting.  And in every rejection, however morally justified it may seem, we create a distance between our egos and our souls. 

There is a point on the spiritual journey where there are clear terms and conditions for wrong and right.  The world is very black and white - as it often is for a child.  As we grow older, the world of black and white collapses into tones of grey.  Nothing is ever so simple anymore. 

So too it is with the spiritual jouney.  Beyond a certain point, the morality of right and wrong begins to fade.  In its place, comes an acceptance that the universe weaves a dance more complex and more just than we can fathom.  Right and wrong become illusions.  Duality fades, even if just a little, and with it, the realisation that "I am..." is the ultimate illusion.

Friday 9 March 2012

Simple isn't easy

It is the simplest thing in life: to focus on the present moment.  But it's not easy.  Too often we are lost in the past or dreaming of the future.  The quality we bring to the present moment is the very quality that influences both the past and the present.

In healing the present, we redeem the past.  By being conscious, gentle and forgiving towards ourselves and others, we reach beyond the confines of the ego and dip into the soul.  It is there, in the soul, that transformation occurs.  It is our soul that touches the quantum potential of the divine, allowing us to heal this moment, to lose our objections to 'what is' and slip into acceptance.  This is the past to healing and freedom.

In focusing our energy on the present, we create a future aligned with our highest good, with our soul.  This is a future that because it springs not from the limitations of the ego - the doing, having, wanting of the mind - but the subtler voice of intuition, it surpasses our expectations. 

The key is a gentle awareness of the present.  I find my ego gets carried away, even in simple conversations, but applying the Buddhist principle of Second Attention, I've become calmer in the present moment.  Second Attention is where we slip below the physical world - what we are doing in any moment - and focus on the space between ourselves and the physical world. 

In a practical application, I've been experimenting with this principle with James.  When I have to uphold boundaries ('no, you can't do that because...'), he doesn't understand or care.  But I have found that holding some awareness on the space between us reveals a silent, still, peacefulness.  When my words pass through this peace, James' behaviour changes.  He moves off to play with something else. As I come from a greater space of peace, he meets me there.  Or perhaps he leads me there!