I wonder what will turn up.

I really do.  Because the truth of the matter is that I can never know.  Here I am, sat at my desk and my intention is to write something about perfection.  I caught myself not wanting to post on here until I had a fabulously perfect gem of an idea that would write itself and be terribly meaningful and worthy.  Don’t get me wrong, it does happen like that sometimes (although the jury’s out on meaningful and worthy – meaningful and worthy to whom, I wonder).  But only sometimes.  And sometimes I just want to say a tiny weeny little bit of something but I don’t because I don’t think it’s chunky enough or gutsy enough or any flaming thing enough.

Well – enough!  I am sitting here and have been momentarily distracted by a spider who’s made her web outside my window.  A fly just flew into it and out she came busying herself with the job in hand (detaching aforementioned fly, taking it to her lair) and now she’s settled in for some more hanging about.  Literally.

When we were in Sicily on retreat recently, we did a meditation together called Doing Nothing.  25 mins of being sat in the meditation space but with no agenda.  No meditation to do, no specific way to sit, no outcome required.  Just lounge about a bit.  Move a bit, stretch a bit, sleep a bit, dream a bit – whatever.  This can be more challenging to people than meditation.  At least with meditation we can kid ourselves that we’re doing it to get somewhere (oh, the irony!  There is nowhere to go and nothing to get!) but Doing Nothing strips all that back, because there is bugger all to achieve.

My teacher, Daizan, once told me about a practice that I love which is based on Doing The Next Thing.  A meditation with a different flavour, but a great practice nonetheless.

Put some time aside, 25 mins or so, just to do whatever turns up next.  Nothing planned or organised.  Just whatever turns up.

This is the game I’m playing with this blog.  There was no plan.  Just whatever turned up next.

And here we are!

 

 

The morality of food

I love this.  Mostly because it blurs the lines of traditional thinking and I’m a big fan of anything that creates curiosity and challenges any linear views  we may have of the world.  Plants are sentient species too!

In Zen, when we decide that we will formally be recognised as Buddhist, we take the precepts* (listed down the page).  The first of which is to refrain from taking life.   Any teacher worth their salt, and mine is (check out Daizan Roshi), will tell you that we take the precepts with the kind intention of keeping them, but also with the kind realisation that we’re likely to break them.  It’s not about sticking rigidly to rules and making yet ANOTHER stick with which to beat ourselves, it’s about holding an intention to be mindful in these regards and to do what feels to be the right thing.

Notice I use the verb ‘feel’ rather than ‘think’.

One of the gifts of a regular meditation and mindfulness practice is that we become more attuned to how our bodies feel moment by moment.  The body, 9 times out of 10, is a much more trustworthy barometer of The Right Next Action, than the slippery, justifying, argumentative, self serving thinking mind when it comes to ethical or moral decisions/choices, especially ethical or moral decisions that have some sort of potential pay off for us.  I’m not saying that the thinking mind isn’t useful, it is, we just need to know its place and stop placing the massive emphasis we do on it, culturally, in the West.

Trusting how we feel rather than what we think is a lifetime practice.  Sometimes my body is shouting and screaming at me not to go down a certain road, normally I feel it in my gut, but I zone it out and ignore it because the thinking mind has taken hold and is dangling all sorts of imaginary carrots (fantasy, desire, romanticism, looking ‘good’, appearing ‘spiritual’ etc) and I get lost in what I think rather than what I feel.  Welcome to the human race, Kim!  So any practice is an ongoing shift away from the incredibly compelling thinking mind and moving to a trust in the feeling body.  As I said, it takes a lifetime.

(I’ll post in a few days about what to do if you struggle to feel ANYTHING within, that was true for me, too, and still can be).

Back to plants.  We take the precepts knowing that we’ll likely break them.  A reminder of the first precept: to refrain from taking life.  As Daizan would say (I’m paraphrasing):

If we eat meat, we are ending life
If we eat fish, we are ending life
If we eat vegetables, we are ending the life of the plant
If we eat only nuts and seeds, we inhibit the ability of the plant that they were taken from to produce new life, thereby ending potential life
If we eat only fruit and vegetables that have fallen to the ground, we end the life of micro organisms that live on the fallen vegetation or any food stuffs for that matter
If we eat only a very narrow and specific diet, then we end up not giving our own bodies the nutrients they need, and so we end our own lives, over time.

So at any point on the scale, life is being taken, the thinking mind may start to say that one sort of life holds greater meaning than another.  Really? But that’s for another time…   Is this taking of life a reason to be sad?  I suppose it could be.

Or it could be your opportunity to give huge thanks and gratitude to whatever makes its way to you to be eaten.  Gratitude for the life that it is giving you, gratitude that we have choices in how to eat (if we do), gratitude to all the people involved in getting the food to you:
Who planted, cared for, harvested the food?
Who looked after the animals involved in your food, whether it’s meat or milk?
Can we be grateful for the sun shining, the rain falling, the earth turning – all of which are essential to our food production?
How many people and organisations were involved in getting the food to you?
How many families were fed on the back of the wages and profits made from the food?
Who built the roads, the vehicles, the aeroplanes, the shops that get our food to us?

You get my point, it’s a useful exercise in interconnectedness too!   The list goes on and on.

It might also mean that we take some responsibility for how our food is looked after before it reaches us and how it will look after us after we’ve eaten it, and those considerations might inform our buying decisions.  Some of us don’t have much choice in those regards but we all have a choice about using our intention and experiencing gratitude.

In Zen, we say that gratitude is the first step towards Enlightenment.  Regardless of your views on Enlightenment (it’s not what you think!) gratitude is a really worthwhile practice to undertake just for its own sake and being grateful for the life giving properties of our food and the sacrifices that are made to get it to us is an excellent way to start.

I love the video clip above with its sense of awe and celebration about the plants and slimes in our lives!  How amazing is this world we find ourselves in.

Thanks for listening 🙂

*The Buddhist Precepts as suggested by Zenways.

We are expected to refrain from:

  1. Taking life
  2. Stealing
  3. Lying
  4. Indulgence in abusive or inappropriate sexual behaviour
  5. Abuse of intoxicants
  6. Criticism of others
  7. Boasting of attainments and belittling others
  8. Being mean
  9. Harbouring anger
  10. Defaming one’s own or others’ teachers or spiritual paths

 

A beautiful acknowledgement of grief

Very grateful to Sue Holden for posting this on FB today and for making this point about the article:

“A very good article but for one thing about denial. Not many people deny what is lost as intellectually they know what has happened and there may be no going back. Initially I think disbelief is a better description. The heart cannot believe what had just happened, the mind can understand. A typical conflict that leads to the ‘freeze'”.  Thanks, Sue!

It’s very timely for me.  As some of you know, I’m going through a break up.  It was my choice but J definitely didn’t want it to end and he still doesn’t.  So I’ve had to be very firm.   The whole experience, though, is leaving me with some very sour tastes in my mouth and I feel hurt, sad and confused by the ‘farewell’ he gave me (he left me with bills to pay – I am complicit, I wasn’t firm enough with him when it came to money, too busy trying to be ‘kind’ and ‘spiritual’ and not using my common sense.  Lesson learned).  But mostly I’m noticing a huge sense of relief to be out of it and out of his drama and my body and spirit feel fabulously light and free and there is a sense of cohesion, internally.

BUT.

I’m noticing a tendency to want to ‘be done with it’, to ‘move on’, to ‘put it to bed’ etc etc, but I forget that my body has its own time scale for dealing with these things.  And so the bloody thing keeps coming up and biting me on the ass.   I’ll be doing something and then the memory of a note he left will pop into my head and I’m filled with fury.  And sometimes I don’t want to flaming well ‘be’ with it, I want it to fuck off and leave me alone and if that’s the best that I can do in the moment then that’s great (I just needed to remind myself of that).  Noticing that I am filled with fury and want it to fuck off is great mindfulness 😉

But then, I also KNOW that the only way to stop it from continuing to poison me (because ultimately, that’s all that bitterness and resentment will do) is to open up to it (AAGGGHHH) and to get right into the middle of the feelings and sensations of fury, doing my best not to fuel either by gathering evidence of his misdemeanours with my thinking mind and that, in this way (softly, softly – when I’m ready), in this way there will be dilution and everything gets to move through rather than remaining stuck, or even worse, buried.

I also know how frustrating that is to read when there is just no desire to ‘be’ with anything, there’s just a desire to dull, lessen, inhibit.  I have a lifetime of using those behaviours and I speak from experience when I say that yes, sometimes that’s our best and we can honour that, but that also we are putting off the inevitable and all that’s required in this moment is the willingness to STOP turning away from the pain.  Just the willingness – the rest will follow, even if that willingness is only for a second.

And don’t think that I’m sat here being all blinking Zen all the time, I’m not.  No, no, no.  In fact I’ve come back onto this post and edited it from yesterday, because yesterday I mostly wanted to throw the bloody computer against the wall, and the writing reflected that.  But today is a new day.   And that’s not the case today.  Everything changes.  This poo shall pass.

Thanks for listening x

About changing habitual ways of being.

 
When I was younger I had a reputation for being clumsy. This bothered me a lot. It felt unfair. It’s not to say that I wasn’t clumsy, I’m quite sure I was, but the problem with a label is that it becomes a convenient way of missing reality. So that with the label of ‘clumsy’ I didn’t feel as though I had the opportunity to be a ‘normal’ amount of clumsy because the spotlight was on me and so it felt that EVERY TIME I dropped, spilled or broke something there was sighing, or shouting, or unhappiness. I didn’t feel as though I could ever use my ‘this is just the normal level of clumsy, actually’ card.
 
Eventually I started to berate MYSELF for my clumsiness. The internal dialogue would start up: ‘Oh God, why am I so bloody clumsy?’ ‘Fuck me, why do I always break stuff?’ ‘Oh here we go again, dropping things, Jesus I’m an idiot’. And so on and so forth. Unsurprisingly it didn’t help the situation and this negative self-talk certainly didn’t do anything to improve my mindfulness around objects. It just made me hyper aware of my own shortcomings and hyper critical. It also had a very physical counterpart – heaviness, darkness and a feeling of sharpness somehow, all lurking in my body.
 
30 years later.
 
This afternoon, I was refilling a sugar container. I veeerrryyy carefully emptied the sugar into the container and was incredibly pleased with myself for getting the remainder of the bag into the pot. Right to the top. Didn’t spill over. That’s very satisfying when the amount left in the bag is exactly the space left in the container. Great spatial awareness.
 
I digress.
 
So, there I am, enjoying the satisfaction of the fullness of the pot and the emptiness of the bag, just about to screw the lid on and somehow I totally mishandled the pot and about a third of the sugar went all over the counter.
 
And do you know what I did?
 
I smiled to myself. A really genuine smile to myself about how funny it is that I was so proud of the exactitude of the measurements and how in the next moment that had all changed! So, smiling, I scooped up what I could from the counter and put it in the pot. I had to chuck quite a lot down the sink (obviously it fell into the only tiny wet patch on the counter – this also made me smile). No heaviness, no darkness, no sharpness. In fact there was a wave of golden something or other. Not quite sure, but it certainly didn’t feel cumbersome.
 
And in that moment I realised how my practice of meditation and mindfulness had changed my world. Just in that tiny example.
 
I realised that some of the habitual ways I had of speaking to myself, some of the old patterns of automatic negative thinking, some old discompassionate part of me had been transformed into a kind, gentle, and appreciative of life’s ironies, human being. I was practising compassion towards myself.
 
I couldn’t tell you when that change occured. I don’t know. I have noticed for some time that I am simply not bothered when I break stuff, knock it over or drop it. Or when other people do the same. It just doesn’t have the same emotional CLANG that it used to. I invariably SMILE when I do something like that. And it’s not a fake it to make it smile, it’s a beautifully gentle and loving smile. It’s making me smile just to write about it!
 
It would seem to me that this is a great example of the benefits of practising meditation and mindfulness. Nothing very showy or exotic. A tiny reconfiguring of my relationship with myself.
 
Acorns to oaks, my friends, acorns to oaks.

I Have Always Been Here

Fabulous piece by John Tarrant, author of ‘Bring Me The Rhinoceros’ and other Zen works and the Director of the Pacific Zen Institute.

I Have Always Been Here is a really lovely  article about making friends with ourselves, and as a bonus it’s a very pleasant read just for the sake of reading 🙂

 

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