The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Greetings from very snowy Devon, where I've a huddle of up to 35 birds at a time clustered on or near my doorstep, and the least-timid of the five robins in the immediate vicinity leaps to my hand as soon as it sees me draw it out of the birdseed tub.
I should have been leading a two-hour mindfulness walk and session at National Trust Greenway today, a brief continuation of my residency there; but to walk at zen-snail-pace in this extreme chill seemed an unfair hypothermia risk for participants: after all, we're not actually Zen monks (who in traditional monasteries often die young from the extreme endurance required). If you might like to come (it won't be extreme, just gentle), it's been rescheduled to 14th March. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/events/ef5f6f5e-6c5b-4c83-935b-3b0b41da7c73/pages/details
There has been little let-up for me in the last decade of illnesses, deaths, and general Hard Things. This week brings another hard thing in the family, on the heels of the death of my best beloved dog on 12th.
I remind myself that this is simply how it is, sometimes, and my power and equanimity both depend on my response to how it is. I can respond, or I can react. As I've written so many times on this blog before, 'we can't stop the waves but we can learn to surf' (I think that's Jon Kabat-Zinn: I had a poster on my wall as a teenager with an image of a guru in full robes surfing a big break, captioned with that phrase, which I've never forgotten).
This is the Two Arrows teaching of Zen practice (the first arrow is what happens and is unavoidable; the second, over which you have control, is how you relate to it).
Well, I've done my share of reacting, but I am also remembering the choice I have. Any life to be well-lived requires some self-examination, and in my brighter moments I chuckle at the embrace of hard stuff by G K Chesterton: 'Oh good, another obstacle.' I can relate to that.
Well, maybe it's my Catholic upbringing. I prefer to think, though, that I love freedom, and anything that expands our awareness leads us towards freedom.
So it was apposite that a Buddhist friend asked me (among many other Buddhist practitioners) to supply for her three quotes, slogans or aphorisms that helped my practice for her blog.
I thought for a day or two. There are so many! (And I forgot the one mentioned above, which is perhaps my key go-to quote.)
But I came down to these three, which I post here in case they're of interest to anyone else. Interestingly, only one is Buddhist.
The first, to my intense surprise as I blame him for a lot of our cultural ills, comes from Plato:
'Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.' Hard – and crucial – to remember that when you're so embedded in a reactive situation with another that you've lost perspective.
The second is from T S Eliot's The Waste Land (the burial of the dead):
'And I knew nothing. Looking into the heart of light, the silence.' I chose this because I find it incredibly stilling and in some way that I can't articulate quite reassuring. I've repeated it to myself over and over for maybe 40 years.
And the third is a Buddhist precept. I can't remember but I think this version comes from Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh:
'Practise non-attachment to your own views in order to be open to be to others' views.'
This is perhaps where I find the reassurance I wrote of above. There's a freedom in letting go of what one thinks one knows (and yes, it's hard).
I'm SO opinionated. I've spent a great deal of my life thinking about the world and examining my place in it, my lapses and failures (yep Catholic burden of mea culpa), my contributions and responsibilities to self and other, and after my training in psychotherapy and being in psychotherapy myself I consider myself aware and self-aware. I mostly am aware of and take responsibility for my own shit and expect others to do the same. This also makes me self-righteous and idealistic, and I forget I'm human and sometimes wrong (though I also forget I'm human and sometimes right, far too easily taking the blame for others' shit, too). But I also forget to let other people be human.
I also think I know it all.
Like most of us, I fall into thinking of my own response when someone is offering a challenging perspective, rather than really listening and gently trying to understand their perspective, detaching from my own firm beliefs in order to give another's credence, even if their conclusions are very different from my own. (I don't mean ignoring critical thinking; I mean allowing for the fact that actually I don't know it all.)
So this one, perhaps, is the most significant of the lot. After all, surely most wars (or smaller domestic battles) begin because we think another's perspective is simply wrong?
Which, of course, is also another way of identifying with ego. But that's a whole different blog.
Back to feeding the birds, then a bit more online mentoring.
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