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Those dreadful glasses

Posted by Simon Parke, 20 October 2021, 4.25pm

If we’re given inappropriate glasses for our eyes, it’s difficult to see.

We’ll have impaired vision, probably blurred and we’ll end up with a headache.

In this state, we’ll neither view the world clearly nor feel well-disposed towards it.

It is the same with desire, which daily seeks to guide our eyes. Seeing the world through the lens of desire, we miss a great deal; and hurt a great deal.

We are so absorbed with what we want and what is best for ourselves, that we see little else. With our view cluttered by personal agendas, it is like looking at a beautiful room through a dirty keyhole.

In this state, we are constantly hurt, angered or disappointed by events which don’t suit us. Everything feels personal, like an attack on me.

So, today, notice when you feel these glasses closing over your eyes… and remove them.

What will happen?

You will see the whole world rather than a distracted fraction; and find deeper breath in your lungs.

The headache of offence lifts wonderfully when you release your claims on the moment and accept what is, without pre-condition.

Those glasses never suited you anyway.


This meditation is taken from my book, ‘One Minute Mindfulness’, published by Hay House.

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When do you feel most safe? And when most alive?

Posted by Simon Parke, 13 October 2021, 2.26pm

Here are two questions:

When do you feel safe? And, when do you feel most alive?

They might appear similar questions, almost inter-changeable, but it may be they are quite different. We’ll see.

Starting with safety, it’s helpful to know when you feel safe. In Maslow’s famous pyramid of human need, safety comes second, after our physiological needs of oxygen, warmth, food and water.

When people are asked what makes them feel safe there are many different answers, like ‘Financial security’ or ‘shutting my front door’ or ‘sitting on top of a mountain’ or ‘good relationships’ or ‘the holy scriptures’ or ‘knowing what’s happening’ or ‘being alone’ or ‘being in control’ etc etc.

But what matters is not what other people say, but what you say. There is no right answer; just your answer. There are some who feel safe alone; and others, for whom solitude is the least safe place on earth.

But safety matters for us, we need to find safe places; here there is restoration, calm, deeper breath, grounding, anchoring; here our cortisol levels can drop.

Some never feel safe. Both their internal and external worlds are a threat. Solitude is frightening but so also is the crowd. They cannot find a place of safety either inside or outside themselves; and their physical and psychological bodies suffer.

So where do you feel safe?

I’m not sure we always know the answer; or rather, our first answer may not be true. One woman told me that closing the front door, and being with her family was her safe place; but it transpired the home was a place of considerable stress for her, sometimes involving breathing difficulties.

I’m not sure she has a safe place.

For myself, something about ‘knowing what’s happening’ is important, so I feel safest alone, because I know I’m not going to hurt me, no fear of invasion.

Safety is crucial to our well being, as Maslow observes, but we won’t make a god of it because some of our best work is done when we don’t feel safe.

I know someone whose life is geared to the avoidance of conflict and challenge; whose life is geared to the familiar, to their (imagined) safety. And though they are entering middle age, their emotional development is probably frozen around the age of eleven or twelve. It is difficult for them to move on.

But there is more to life than sinking ever deeper into our nest.

So, now our other question comes into play: ‘When do you feel most alive?’ And this may well be outside our comfort zone, in a place of apparent unsafety.

This describes our adventures in the world.

So where is it you feel most alive? Is it a place, a time, an activity or a person? Is it rock climbing, sewing, painting, meeting people, gardening, teaching, running, tai chi, in your home, in your work, in prayer, in the sun, in time spent alone?

Without safe places, our adventures will lack tenderness. We become brutalised adrenalin junkies, driven, anxious, restless, who may crash and burn.

Without adventures, we lose vitality; we lose connection with the world, becoming ghosts, adrift in an ever-diminishing existence defined by fear.

Safety and adventure are vital if we are to be fully human. They are a partnership.

In safety we are restored, anchored, grounded. We discover our stillness.

In adventure, we are challenged, spontaneous, risk-takers. We discover our creativity, which has so many different shapes. There’s no safety in creativity…

So when people speak of a balanced life, this is a place to start. They are wonderful together; dangerous if separated.

And I finish with a footnote: If we have an internal sense of safety, if we do not fear solitude, if we like ourselves - it makes a considerable difference to our adventuring.

The outside storm is OK if we’re not afraid inside.

But if we’re not safe with ourselves, if there’s no internal safety – perhaps stolen by guilt, shame or anxiety - then even the smallest adventure can break us.

So, where is your safe place?

And where do you feel most alive?

Your answer may be the same to both; or they may be quite different.

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This is my house/Can therapy help?

Posted by Simon Parke, 11 October 2021, 10.06am

In therapy, I describe my house to another

‘This is my house.’

I tell them about the space, the clutter, my favourite room, difficult times, good times, people who’ve passed through, all sorts of things, really; things I never expected to say because – well, I didn’t know they were there.

It is strange how liberating this can be, to get things out. 

I’ve lived in this place all my life, but never really talked about it.

It can be like opening a curtain on a big dark room. And there are a few of those in my house.

It’s so nice to be able to speak of these things and not be judged. I expect judgement, it’s how life is, and it can keep me silent - but not here. Here, I am free; here, I am just applauded for my honesty.

‘Honesty heals,’ they say.

In the first few weeks, I move some of the furniture; in time, I may even decide to get rid of some of it. So much clutter! It can get in the way; this becomes clear as we talk.

I have even known people knock through walls, to let in light; walls which serve no purpose now.

I always thought the walls in my home were forever. But this is not so, apparently. Who’d have thought?

Strange things do happen when, feeling safe, I describe my house to another.

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Not relaxing by the pool

Posted by Simon Parke, 06 October 2021, 10.05am

RELAXING by the pool is not as easy as it sounds. First, there are the ‘towel wars’; and then the dreaded ‘entertainments’ team.

For 50 weeks of the year, your towel is an innocent puppy in your bathroom. But, for the other two weeks, it is a growling attack-dog, sitting in snarling defence of your poolside sunbed.

Towels on sunbeds are about territory: ‘This is mine, this isn’t yours.’ We all need places we call home, but, believe me, home thoughts can get nasty round the pool. Not content with our own room, we want more. We want to mark out our territory in the public space: “Sure it’s public - but not my bit of it.”

Freedom of movement among sunbeds is not helped by towel law: that is, once your towel is on the sunbed, it is yours for the rest of the day. Which mountain this 11th commandment appeared from no one knows, but it is written in stone.

The sunbed is yours for the whole day, whether you are there or not - and some are hardly there at all, after grabbing their place at 6 a.m. They are not using it, but it is still their bed; and the snarling towel ensures it stays that way.

As the week goes by, people arrive ever earlier, with their guard dogs and resentments building as the sun beats down and people sip their strangely bitter iced coffee.

And then just when you are finally finding peace by the pool, the entertainments team arrives in wacky yellow costumes. Ye Gods!

And, interestingly, what transpires is this: while we do not need them, they seem to need us. They need us to help them feel worth while. They perceive themselves as bringers of fun, and we are the hapless fodder for these needs.

First, there is the pushy young man with the over-loud microphone, telling us we should all get in the water for the aerobics. Should? ‘No excuses accepted!’ he declares with jokey menace.

Formerly contented people now look uncomfortable; pressure is being exerted.

As life goes on, I feel it less and less of a good idea to give people microphones - whether poolside, in trains or pulpits. It bestows brief but inappropriate power.

Certainly no one should be giving one to the screechy young woman exhorting harassed holidaymakers to ‘Get happy!’. (To which the obvious reply is: ‘I think we will be when you go.’)

Like all of us, she has her needs. But when we impose our needs on others, we become abusers.

And on reflection, it turns out most of our virtuous activity is about our own needs; helping us feel better about ourselves. It is only pretend virtue.

And in noticing this, what joy! We discover someone truer in ourselves who no longer has these needs, and thus become much less dangerous in the world, more charming.

We become less like the entertainments team with all their desperate and needy ‘shoulds’...

...and therefore much more fun by the pool.

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How to listen

Posted by Simon Parke, 01 October 2021, 9.04am

As well as being my son’s birthday, Sunday October 10th World Mental Health Day 2021.

In response to the latter, I thought I’d write briefly about listening.

As you’ll know from personal experience, good listening makes a huge difference to our lives. But it’s something many struggle with; not a skill many of us were taught.

As someone said to me yesterday, ‘I’ve got some really good friends – but none of them can listen.’

So here are three basic reminders when it comes to the listening game.

Reminder 1: Stay with their story.

This is difficult; our first reaction when someone opens up to us is to link what they say to our life and start off about that. Something like:

‘I don’t know how people can be so uncaring.’
‘I know how you feel. There was this bloke on the bus the other day…’

No, stay with their story. Your story about the bloke on the bus is for another time. For now, it just tramples over theirs and leaves them feeling hurt/unheard.

Let them tell their story in full. Sometimes that’s all they need to do.

Reminder 2: Do not judge their story.

If someone begins to unburden themselves about something, don’t respond in a judgemental way. Don’t say, ‘Well, that was a bit silly!’

They probably already know that; and even if they don’t, it doesn’t help at all.

As soon as someone feels judged, they close up. It might be a huge risk sharing something with you; a significant act of trust. If they hear judgment in your words or tone, they probably won’t be back.

The judgement could take another form. Something like:

‘He was so rude to me, I started to cry!’
‘Oh, that’s nothing to cry about!’

But it was something to cry about, because they did. So what was it that made them cry? Telling them it’s nothing to cry about is simply trashing their feelings.

This is common in childhood. Were you ever told ‘That’s nothing to be sad about!’?

Good listeners help people to feel safe. Nothing good happens unless people feel safe. People don’t feel safe when they feel judged.

Reminder 3: Don’t try and save them.

When someone tells you their story, it doesn’t mean you have to save them. You are not responsible for finding a solution. Often, simple listening is all they need.

How often people have said to me, ‘I feel such a weight off my shoulders!’ And really, I have hardly said anything apart from ask one or two questions.

Some people like to find solutions; and these folk need to be super-aware of this when listening. It tends make them too keen to impose advice on the speaker, or tell them what to do, to find a solution.

But this is their need; not the speaker’s.

As listeners, we’re merely helping people to find their own answers. I cannot save you; I can only save myself.

So, the listener takes their place in the healing process; but they are not responsible for it. We leave our saviour-complex at the door; it does less damage there.

Good listening, which gives space to our story, is like an oasis in the desert of life.

I hope you have oases to drink from along the way.

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World Mental Health Day 2021 - bothered?

Posted by Simon Parke, 30 September 2021, 3.14pm

Sunday October 10th is World Mental Health Day and why should I be bothered?

Because it could be the start of something.

Maybe it’s a chance to learn; to reflect on our own story; to engage with other people’s stories; to spread the word, to speak out; to become the change we’d like to see.

(Or at least one of the above; we won’t get ahead of ourselves.)

Statistics can cause our eyes and minds to glaze over. But they can also throw light on a situation – and here are one or two interesting ones, provided by Mind

Take, for instance, the effect of life lived on benefits. 58% of those receiving benefits said their mental health was poor. That’s high. And it is these people who will find support hardest to find. So what are they to do? Why do we punish the poor?

Black people are four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act than white people. Why would that be?

Young people in the lowest income bracket, (and therefore the most vulnerable) are four and a half times more likely to experience severe mental health issues than those in the highest. Is this fair?

The Mind charity uses the slogan, ‘If we all do one thing, we can change everything.’ So what’s your one thing?

It may be to take the first step in attending to your own mental health; this can be postponed for many years in the rush and demands of life. And it may presently be destroying you and those you know.

Or perhaps it’s opening our eyes to the health inequalities around us and helping to make something better for those whose struggles we’re aware of.

We can’t save anyone by ourselves; but perhaps we can be part of something, an angel on their journey, among other angels, giving practical help.

What’s possible for you?

If there is one thing we can do in response to World Mental Health Day 2021, let’s do it.

It could be good; could be the start of something.

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Will the messiah arrive today?!

Posted by Simon Parke, 27 September 2021, 10.48am

The cleaner had finished her work just in time; the venue made clean and lovely for a much-talked about Saturday conference.

Well, hardly a conference – more, a messianic gathering!

As the hall filled, many here were convinced that the messiah would show himself here today at 11.00am.

This had been the word they’d received.

‘I will come in my glory at eleven.’

‘But how will we recognise him?’ one asked promoting much laughter. ‘I think we’ll recognise the messiah!’ came the reply.

He didn’t come at exactly 11.00am, which was a disappointment, though the cleaner did bring in some coffee and biscuits - a poor substitute but consumed nonetheless.

Some wondered about the time and said so: ‘I thought he said 11.00am. It is past 11.00am.’

But they were told ‘eleven’ was probably symbolic, ‘elevenses’, meaning a time of refreshment. ‘He will come when we eat, a messianic meal!’

So they took lunch early; but still no arrival.

Another group thought the number eleven could signify the faithful disciples, excluding Judas, of course – twelve minus one. ‘He will come when the faithful gather – which is us!’

(Some privately wondered whether everyone there was faithful. Was that the problem? How faithful did you have to be?)

But whatever and why-ever, the messiah still didn’t come, despite several sermons, prayers and exhortations offered.

And at 4.00pm, when all day conferences must finish, they left with some irritation and a little confused.

‘Maybe he means he will come not at 11.00am but in the 11th month – November!’ They began to make plans.

Meanwhile, the cleaner got on with clearing up, there was quite a mess, wondering why they hadn’t recognised her.

She had come at 11.00am, just as she said.

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Space is not just for astronauts and billionaires

Posted by Simon Parke, 22 September 2021, 10.02am

Conan Doyle is remembered as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, the most popular detective ever.

That’s success in anyone’s book, and most would be pretty pleased about this achievement, cracking open a bottle - but not Sir Arthur.

He wished to be remembered as a writer of historical fiction and as a trail blazer of the spiritualist movement. Sherlock was almost an embarrassment and he killed him off as soon as he could.

(The success of Poirot was a similar source of embarrassment to Agatha Christie.)

Why is this?

I remember listening to an actor who had played a significant role in a long running TV series. It had made him world famous. But he regarded it as a prison.

In interviews, he’d prefer to talk about other, less famous, roles. He felt boxed in by his success, he couldn’t receive it as gift in any way at all; in fact, though it had opened many doors for him, it appeared to make him angry.

I suppose we all have an image of ourselves; an image of how we wish the world to see us. And maybe we get angry if the world doesn’t obey.

‘This is how I want to be known!’

I had a friend at university who said that when he walked into a pub, he wanted people to see him as ‘an enigma’.

This was how he wished to be viewed, the fantasy he cherished, and while it appears rather needy, he’s not so different from the rest of us.

So, what is your dream in front of the bathroom mirror?

Sometimes people say to me, ‘I like to think I’m a caring sort of a person’ or ‘I like to think I can be relied upon’ or ‘I like to think I’m pretty self-aware’ etc etc.

What we ‘like to think about ourselves’ is almost always a delusion. It may be a delusion that is keeping us going; but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

For this reason, I think it’s healthy to stay clear of all labels, whether wished for by ourselves or given to us by others.

They appear to offer us some sense of value in the world but they are dismal companions and punish us constantly.

Instead, we get up in the morning and we are space; a blank canvass awaiting fresh colours.

Our genius lies in being nothing – or no thing. The more space we bring to our adventures the better. 

Space gives no scaffolding for the ego to play on; and allows gratitude and openness a hundred doorways into our day.

So, we breathe deep into space.

When we are not protecting or promoting an image, when there are no pre-conditions concerning how we are perceived or received - then we are free.

I am sad to this day Sir Arthur couldn’t be grateful for the marvellous creation that was Sherlock Holmes…

... but wary of similar behaviours in myself.

 

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Apples

Posted by Simon Parke, 20 September 2021, 6.00pm

Today, I picked some apples from a small and buckled tree I planted two years ago.

I thought it was dead last year. It had nothing going for it and I decided to uproot it; but then thought, without much hope, ‘Well, give the failure one more year.’

I’m glad I did; and glad also for the reflections those apples have set in motion.

Sometimes I plant things and they bear fruit.

Sometimes I plant things and nothing seems to occur. Sometimes it is difficult to find meaning in anything I do.

Has any fruit ever grown?

And then I pick an apple, a shiny royal gala, from a little tree I planted.

Though this is about you, not me; and it certainly isn’t about apples, not really.

I’m sitting here, in the autumn sun, celebrating all your planting, and the harvest – known and unknown – that occurs in the world because of it.

It is sad that you see so little of it; harsh even; though beyond your sight, there’s a store house full of the most beautiful yield.

And it’s all down to you.

So keep going; get up and carry on. Don’t tire of goodness, truth and honesty.

You own and work an orchard of such mellow and magnificent fruitfulness…

... and sometimes you catch a glimpse.

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Between stimulus and response

Posted by Simon Parke, 06 September 2021, 5.12pm

And can it be true what they say?

Can it be true that the only time we are free is between stimulus and response?

Something provokes us and we have a choice, a moment to decide: which way do I jump?

Sometimes it’s a milli-second between the two, and we’ve reacted with something negative, something needy, something insecure, pouring fuel on the fire.

‘Not my finest hour’ – we’ve all had a few of those.

But sometimes a few seconds can calm us and we can offer something strong in response.

Sometimes in those holy seconds we actually grow, I’ve seen it happen, and become the bigger person and speak from a spacious place.
Now there’s a miracle.

With certain stimuli –stimuli with resonances from my past - I have to leave the room, physically exit; my response is all the better for it when I return.

And it may be no response at all; all pressure to retaliate, to attack, now dissolved.

That’s a luxury, though; we can’t always leave the room.

But we can always breathe, and breathing is good in the face of a negative stimulus.

A few breaths help us remember who we are - and who we are is much more than judgement, thwarted ego and attack.

Which is why breathing helps, it creates space when we need it.

It reminds us that amazingly, retaliation is not the only option.

Giving people’s words back to them can help sometimes: ‘Do you mean to be as aggressive/negative/uncaring as that sounds?’

Or, ‘I wonder where that came from?’

Or maybe it is not the speaker, but me who needs attention.

The words may be harmless, with no aggressive intent – but their effect on me is significant; they have found a crack in my defences and I am overly- sensitive.

And breathe.

Between stimulus and response, there is a brief, but intense, eternity.

And it is a good day in eternity when we are free men and women between the two.

 

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