Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Tradition

"No one behind, no one ahead.
The path the ancients cleared has closed.
And the other path, everyone's path, easy and wide, goes nowhere.
I am alone and find my way."

Octavio Paz was awarded the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature "for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity."

Good Thing

"Nothing has changed though everything is different,
Maybe just the ways to get high....?"

Lyrics from REBECKA TORNQUIST'S 1995 album, Good Thing.

Rebecka is a Swedish jazz and pop vocalist that i've liked for a while. Pop with a heavy jazz influence. Coincidentally, I discovered the other day that she grew up in Africa, where her father worked for a Swedish foreign aid organisation.

I like the words at the top because they reflect the internal change that happens to so many of us once we make the decision to step onto the path of self-realisation. The point when everything else drops away, that is, and you are bound to turn in the only direction that makes sense....inwards.

My friends and family were very used to seeing me dash about, looking for the next best thing to heaven...

I was either hiking up the highest mountains in a remote corner of the world, or training for a cycle race, or on the tennis court competing, or in a rowing boat speeding up and down the Thames. Or in my earlier days on a rugby pitch (ugggh), on the netball court, playing squash, then tri-athelon was the thing, then half-marathons, then, then, then....

In all cases I was not hearing my screaming joints, my aching muscles or my feelings. Feelings which were there sitting at the front of the class, with arms stretched high in the air, fingers wide, eyebrows raised in anticipation, bottom hitched half off the seat, just crying out to be heard.

The mind was pretty strong, vision was tunnel, and life was about physical action.

Although fun up to a point, (it was certainly my best coping mechanism at the time) the action had become obsessive. A cover up.

Movement was a way to hide my underlying discomfort. It was not so easy to stay still in those days - best keep moving, keep 'doing', keep acheiving...

When we come from a place of scarcity inside, for whatever reason, the focus is on what we can collect, be it degrees, money, houses, cars, people, children, experiences... Life is a series of unconscious reactions as we seek to fill an illusory void.

Finally, perhaps, we are brought to our knees, asking, "why, after these efforts, am I still not enough?"

And so to yoga, where strength and flexibility gradually builds up enough energy to be still. To stop. To face the music. To enquire.

As one of my first yoga teachers told me, "don't just doooooo something, sit there!"

Internal change begins with the ability to be silent and still and to observe reality as it is, without shirking away. (The underlying principle of Vipassana meditation...).

Externally, to the untrained eye, nothing has changed, but to me, everything is different.

Good Thing.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chickens
will stare out of the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
Catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say,
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Spiritual Life is a SLINKY

One of my favourite christmas presents ever, alongisde a Wendy House, a set of 'Jacks' (remember them?) and a hammock.....was a SLINKY. It appeared as one of the last presents to emerge from the end of my father's long, thin, green and white striped rugby sock. Left over from 'his days at Oxford' it gave Father Christmas more character somehow. The idea of him using all his old socks for stuffing presents into I mean....

When most of my girlfreinds got soft, pink, flowery pillow cases to delve their arms into, I was shoving my hand entusiastically to the bottom of a scratchy old, darned rugby sock. I was happy with this though. It appealed to my tomboy tendencies, along with climbing trees, sitting with my legs open (completely inappropriate in my mother's eyes but so obviously comfortable in mine) and wittling wood.

I remember the feel of that slinky...

The strong wire spirals and the way that, even the small ones, walked confidently down the stairs, often with an occasional wiggle.

I would sit there at the top, heels drawn in to my bottom, arms hugged tightly around bent legs and chin resting on knees, watching it as it moved downwards........again and again and again. I suppose it was slightly diferent each time or I was a child very easily pleased.

Sometimes the momentum would overtake the coils and it would crash and bump down to the bottom of the staires making a loud bang on the parquet flooring. Sometimes the slinky would halt, all the spirals closed, small and immovable, one on top of the other... When that happened i'd hop up and start the movement off again, pulling the spirals apart in a wide semi-circle and dropping them down onto the next step.

Like the coils of a slinky, more often than not on the spiritual path, we find the same lessons keep coming around again and again. We think we've 'got it' only to find that 6 months later, BOOM, we are reminded of the same thing. Each time we begin to appreciate on a deeper level whatever the lesson is. We start to feeeeel in technicolour rather than just intellectually understand in grey.

One of the 'wires on the slinky' that keeps coming around for me is the idea of surrendering to all that life has to offer. In fact, one of the mantras that I work with regularly is "there is nothing wrong." It is one way to stem the ego's constant but niggling attempts to convince me otherwise.

To follow is an extract from 'A Return To Love' by Marianne Williamson. (A book detailing her own personal reflections on the principles of 'A Course in Miracles' and is beautifully clear).

For women with more than their fair share of male energy, it is an inspired description of the need to balance the masculine and feminine principles. Sun - Moon, Shiva - Shaki.

"We've basically been taught that it's our job as responsible adults to be active, to be masculine, in nature - to go out and get the job, to take control of our lives, to take the bull by the horns. We've been taught that that's our power. We think we're powerful because of what we have acheived rather than because of what we are. So we're caught in a Catch 22: we feel powerless to achieve until we already have.

If somebody comes along and suggests that we go with the flow, maybe lighten up a little, we really feel hysterical. After all, we're total underachievers as is, as far as we can see. The last think we can imagine doing is becoming any more passive than we already are.

Passive energy has its own kind of strength. Personal power results from a balance of masculine and feminine forces. Passive energy without active energy becomes lazy, but active energy without passive energy becomes tyrannous. An overdoes of male, aggressive energy is macho, controlling, unbalanced, and unnatural. The problem is that aggressive energy is what we've been taught to respect. We've been taught that life was made for quarterbacks so we exalt our masculine consciousness, which, when untempered by the feminine, is hard. Therefore, so are we - all of us, men and women. We've created a fight mentality. We're always fighting for something: for the job, the money, the relationship, to get out of the relationship, to lose weight, to get sober, to get them to understand, to get them to stay, to get them to leave, and on and on. We never put away our swords.

The feminine, surrendered place in us is passive. It doesn't do anything. The spiritualization process - in men as well as women - is a feminisation process, a quieting of the mind. It is the cultivation of personal magnetism.

If you have a pile of iron shavings and you want to arrange them in beautiful patterns, you can do one of two things. You can use your fingers and try to arrange the tiny pieces of iron into beautiful, gossamer lines - or you can buy a magnet. The magnet will attract the iron shavings. It symbolizes our feminine consciousness, which exerts its power through attraction rather than activity.

This attractive, receptive, feminine aspect of our consciousness is the space of mental surrender.

The right relationship between male and female principle is one in which the feminine surrenders to the masculine. Surrender is not weakness or loss. It is a powerful nonresistance. Through openness and receptivity on the part of human consciousness, spirit is allowed to infuse our lives, to give them meaning and direction. The female allows this process and is fulfilled by surrendering into it. This is no weakness on her part; it is strength."

It feels so great to surrender to the masculine in such a way.

Perhaps one should do it more often...?