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This fragile day

Posted by Simon Parke, 16 March 2018, 5.28am

When a fragile day appears

Don’t rush past it or drown it out

Some days are strong, confidently-filled

Some days are busy, carrying us unconscious

Some days are happy, effortlessly joyful

But some days are fragile, like thin water-colour, neither one thing nor the other

As if for a moment, we see behind the scenery

As if we don’t quite exist, not as fully as sometimes, not as fully as others around us

We feel a little alone, and out on the edge

And when the fragile day arrives, as sometimes it does

We don’t rush past or drown it out with mental panic or loud intentions

But breathe and listen for its different tune, caught on the quiet breeze

Eternity delivering to our door a vulnerable space, a dissolving space

Given to the beloved

This fragile day, this more agile day.

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Ken Dodd remembered

Posted by Simon Parke, 13 March 2018, 11.02am

Ken Dodd was very funny.

He must have been – he was idolised in Liverpool despite being a campaigning Tory.

He was, as Alan Davies said, a ‘relentless gagster’, who, with an audience before him, just couldn’t stop.

He really couldn’t.

His ability play ‘live’ for four hours or more, 360 jokes an hour - a phenomenal comic memory - was the stuff of legend; and also some irritation, for those who missed the last bus home.

The theatre staff left; Ken Dodd carried on - a wordsmith of the ‘suasage-knotter’ variety, who just wanted to make people laugh.

But it had to be a particular sort of laughter.

He didn’t like satire, it wasn’t his thing. He could see Chaplin was a genius, but didn’t warm to his assaults on bullies and authority.

He preferred Laurel and Hardy who only assaulted themselves.

‘Innocent laughter is the sound angels make,’ said the overtly religious Ken.

But laughter also needed to be studied. He’d have someone, usually his partner, timing the laughter backstage. If the laugh wasn’t long enough, the joke would be axed.

And on tour, he studied regional comedy, because what works wonderfully in Workington may leave Leicester limp

Wigan doesn’t like sex in its jokes, apparently – though plumbing and vulgarity are fine; whereas Brighton can’t get enough spice.

‘I’m not married really, I’ve always been round-shouldered ,’ was dropped after it died in Blackpool.

And in Glasgow, you must never tell a football joke, not even a good one, on Friday or Saturday.

Ken Dodd liked happiness; he turned down anything which might be a little downbeat.

Here was a boy, and then a man, who existed to please others. It was how he made his way in the world, even when he was a detergent seller.

Give him an audience, and you had to peel him away from the attention..

Here also was a man compelled to avoid sadness, which probably had its own story; while his difficult relationship to tax revealed a boy with survival fears.

But an endlessly inventive gagster, a joyful gagster, who drew so many - almost against their better judgement - into his happy circle.

The tickling stick – really!? Yet it worked, and it blessed, as Ken has done.

So thank you, Ken.

And as tributes pour in, and favourite gags recalled, I close with Rob Newman’s favourite Ken Dodd joke, and one of my own.

‘I knew there’d be war because I drove past Vera Lynn’s house and heard gargling.’

Wonderful…funny, and, dare I say it, a little bit sad.

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Look, weep, live!

Posted by Simon Parke, 13 March 2018, 5.54am

I don’t believe in guilt.

I don’t believe guilt changes people… but hardens them.

It sits like cold sick in our being, uncomfortable, unpalatable, unmoving.

I believe sorrow is more creative than guilt.

People who feel guilty tend to hunker down in private shame, seeking to off-load their negative self-evaluation onto others.

Guilt creates an outer shell to present to the world, behind which the perceived shame is hidden.

And in the half-light and gloom, eats away at body, mind and spirit.

Guilt hardens me but sorrow melts me.

Feeling guilty for my behaviour, I hide from myself, like Adam in the garden; I will probably become self-righteous.

Feeling sorrow, I am melted by my tears, a hot waterfall of hope washing away self-justification; and softened inner soil for the spring time of apology and change.

Beyond the terrified and furtive demands of guilt is sweet sorrow.


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Beyond blame

Posted by Simon Parke, 12 March 2018, 10.57am

If someone is quick to blame others, it is because they are quick to blame themselves.

Fearful of blame, a fear placed in them in their unrememberable past, they wish to unload it on those around.

It is passed around like a hot potato fresh from the fire and acts as a form of faux purification.

‘Here, you have the blame – I don’t want it.’

‘As you become bad, I become good. Ah, the relief!’

We can blame overtly or covertly; subtly or obviously.

But however clever the disguise, it’s still an act of terror in ourselves, and an act of aggression towards others.

Part of coming home to ourselves, (and it’s both a long and very short road) is the acceptance of ourselves.

Such acceptance has no blame or self-punishment contained within it, for while all in our past is revealed, all deeds acknowledged and none repressed, our sorrow ensures there is also nothing unreleased.

We have said goodbye to it all, it has upped and flown away and quite out of sight.

So blame is redundant, a ghost. We are a clean slate of awareness with only the present to live.

And this acceptance of our self, this coming home, spills out towards others.

As the poet Hafiz reminds us,

‘Blame keeps the sad game going.

It keeps stealing all your wealth,

giving it to an imbecile with no financial skills.

Dear one, wise up!’

In the heat of the battle, we slowly learn not to turn on ourselves and then turn on others.

We breathe in a kind and accepting spirit…we breathe out our terrified spirit of blame.


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What is meditation?

Posted by Simon Parke, 09 March 2018, 10.50am

Meditation: what is it? And do we need to be spiritual giants to participate?

The word can be confusing because everyone uses it differently. Like the word ‘sport’, it describes some pretty varied activities.

For clarity’s sake, my working definition is this: ‘Meditation is putting your mind to work for your psychological and spiritual well-being.’

And it’s simple…not complicated, and you need neither a shawl or a yoga pose.

Meditation is giving your mind some healthy and focused exercise…as opposed to the distracted junk food we offer it so much of the time, hopping from one thing to another.

Meditation is calling our mind back from distraction; simple focus…a shift away from tired and mistaken perceptions which kidnap us daily.

And this mind exercise can take place over a nine-day retreat …or in sixty seconds, as we travel on the train, wait for our doctor’s appointment or sit in the park during our lunch break.

It is best as a golden thread woven into the warp and weft of our life. Just as the only successful food diets are those that become part of our daily routine, part of a long-term life choice, so it is with meditation.

I prefer it sitting in my front room, early in the day; while a friend prefers her bedroom, at the end of the day. Anywhere we can be still for a moment, breathe into our plate-spinning lives…and focus.

In this way, meditation enters the bloodstream of our daily life; it’s something we do, like eating, going to the gym, piano practice, cooking, cleaning, washing, gaming, clothes shopping, socialising, whatever.

It ceases to be a foreign currency to us, something exotic, with its own language and supposed experts, with special techniques - something we need classes in.

Instead, it becomes our own currency, something normal, understood and used regularly, almost without noticing.

I’m on the train or taking a coffee break or sitting relaxed after a bath: so why not take a moment to meditate; a minute to pause, ponder, shift tired perceptions.

We set aside time to clean our teeth every day; so why not do the same with meditation? Why wouldn’t we look after our mind and hearts in this manner? They are more important even than our teeth.

Our minds make us who we are, define our perceptions. We’d be mad not to care for them, surely?

Our meditation might become something else, of course.

When the meditation leaves our mind and fills our being, it becomes contemplation. This may happen, and it speaks to deeper places inside us.

To contemplate is to gaze in awareness, love and awe; and sometimes meditation will take us there.

And remember: meditations are not about zoning out; they do not exist, like some drug, to offer us some escapist tranquillity, disengaged from our reality.

Some will soothe, some will calm, which is lovely… but some might disturb and some might question.

Each will differently stimulate and invigorate us towards hope, resilience, freedom, clarity, discernment, grace and happiness in the present reality we live.

But as I say, that might start with disturbance… which we will allow…it’s the cracks which let the light in.

And we do not meditate to gain control of our lives; we meditate to laugh in the face of control…we meditate into an unfolding mystery.

I’ve written various books of meditations, ‘One Minute Mindfulness’, ‘Solitude’ and ‘One Minute Meditation’ to name but three.

My suggestion is always that readers use just one meditation a day; but that they use it more than once - perhaps twice in the day, or even three times.

This gives the words the chance to soak into our psyche and do their work, like water soaking deep down into the soil.

(We note that a flash-flood frequently stays on the surface, the water running off the ground surface before any penetration occurs. Hasty meditation can be the same.)

I’ve been talking about words. But the same applies if we are meditating with an image, a symbol or a picture, which will better suit some of us.

Or watching the sky…rain in the headlights…ice on the bird bath…the open door.

Everything is material if given time.

And perhaps a dialogue begins as we respond to our subject.

Here is a simple way in to meditation, for those who seek a doorway:

1) Settle your breathing for twenty seconds

2) Read the text/ponder the symbol

3) Listen to your breathing for a further ten seconds

4) Read/ponder your point of focus, giving it more time

5) Notice, without judgement, one reaction, feeling or thought that arises in you

6)  Make some intention in response to what’s happened

7) Return to the business of the day

Start simply, with a meditation pattern you can manage. Once/three/five times a week? Daily?

Make your choice and then be disciplined, sticking to it as best you can – always aware that you won’t always be able to. no self-punishment when the wheels come off your intentions.

This is fine.

In short, do what’s possible - and the impossible will look after itself.

And try not to demand too much from any particular meditation; become acquainted with the god of small things.

For while this time may not appear to change the world; it will change or shift your moment… and that will change the world. gently.

P.S. Oh, and you are already a spiritual giant. You may simply be under-using some of your muscles at present.

One Minute Mindfulness is published by Hay House; Solitude and One Minute Meditation by White Crow.

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In the mood for love?

Posted by Simon Parke, 08 March 2018, 11.21am

After the game,
The coach of the opposing team says to Bill:
‘You were lucky today. You’ve been lucky all season. So lucky.’
‘Yes,’ replies Bill. ‘The more we practice, the luckier we get!’

After the performance,
the gushing groupie says to the maestro:
‘It must be amazing to be able to play the piano like that! So amazing!’
‘Yes,’ replies the maestro, ‘about eight-hours-practice-a-day amazing.’

Love is work, not a mood.

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True and learned conscience

Posted by Simon Parke, 07 March 2018, 5.52am

People tend to judge from their sense of conscience. This is something generally encouraged.

‘Listen to your conscience,’ we are told.

But this is not so simple, for we have not one conscience, but two, and they differ considerably.

They are two twins, true conscience and learned conscience, but they speak with very different voices.

True conscience is a timeless place, a universal place and one full of light, from which we can make clear, strong, present and just assessments.

This true conscience is a clean and concise existence inside us as a possibility now and many may already have experienced it.

We are more familiar, however, with its twin, learned conscience.

Learned conscience is comprised of guidelines we have absorbed down the years.

It is a place of half-light, an unchecked assortment of codes and messages, a bundle of unexamined assumptions, passed on to us by a variety of authority figures in our past, and which we now assume to be absolutely true.

This learned conscience is an eager judge on all matters, but not a reliable one. Its conclusions are random and unquestioned by us.

In listening to such conclusions, we set out to travel the world in a second-hand car about which we know nothing.

If we did know its history, we wouldn’t dream of relying on it for the journey.

Sometimes people preface a judgement by saying ‘in all conscience’. The question is: from which conscience do they speak, true or learned?

Learned conscience is the jury from hell.

In its power, we become a group of disparate voices, gathered from our past.

Each voice has its own agenda, shouting and posturing, but with no foreman to seek consensus or question overall direction.

The unity of moral purpose we fondly imagine ourselves to embody is an illusion.

As RD Laing wrote, ‘One is evidently witness not to a single false self but to a number of only partially elaborated fragments of what might constitute a personality, if any single one had full sway. It seems best, therefore, to call the total of such elements a false-self system, or a system of false selves.’

Our false selves, terrified and defensive, comprise and compose our learned conscience.

But within us there exists a different place – a place of clarity and spontaneity, present only to accuracy and goodness.

This is our true conscience, and it can emerge if we dare curiosity concerning the origin of ourselves.

(This piece is taken from my book ‘The Journey Home’, published by Bloomsbury.)

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We must have a speech from a minister

Posted by Simon Parke, 05 March 2018, 10.07am

It’s 1941, and Noel Coward is disillusioned with the ministerial speeches on offer.

It’s clearly from another time; and it clearly isn’t.

We must have a speech from a minister.

We must have a speech from the minister
It’s what we’ve been trained to expect
We’re faced with defeat and despair and disaster
We couldn’t be losing our colonies faster
We know we haven’t the guns to defend
The ‘Mermaid’ at Rye or the pier at Southend
You have no idea how we’ve grown to depend
In hours of crisis
On whacking great slices
Of verbal evasion and dissimulation
A nice governmental appeal to the Nation
We’d listen to gladly with awe and respect
We know that the moment is sinister
And what we’ve been earnestly trained to expect
When such moments we reach
It’s a lovely long speech
(Not a comment or chat
About this, about that)
But a really long speech
An extremely long speech
An ambiguous speech from a minister.

We must have a speech from a minister
We don’t mind a bit who it is
As long as we get that drab lack of conviction
The dismal, self-conscious inadequate diction.
We find Mr Churchill a trifle uncouth
His ill-represented passion for telling the truth
His ‘Eye for an Eye’ his ‘Tooth for a Tooth’
Is violent, too snappy
We’d be far more happy
With some old Appeasers inert peroration
We’d give ourselves up to complete resignation
Refusing to worry or get in a frizz
We know that the moment is sinister
We’ve already said we don’t mind who it is
We’ll fight on the beach
For a really long speech
(Not a breezy address
Or a post-script on Hess)
But a lovely long speech
A supremely long speech
An embarrassing speech from a minister.

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The journey to conscious

Posted by Simon Parke, 05 March 2018, 5.36am

We meet a friend.

‘How was your day?’ we ask.

We get the normal response; it’s a common one; I say it myself sometimes.

‘Not too bad’ or ‘I suppose I’ll survive’ or ‘Had worse’ or ‘Oh, you know, so-so – can’t complain.’

(Though that in itself is a complaint.)

There’s something damaged about these responses, something crushed, something depressing.

They suggest someone who basically sees life as a threat; they suggest fear.

A good day is one in which I didn’t get hurt, that’s the message…so quite a low bar.

(Fear does breed caution.)

And unfortunately, the longer we live in this hunched and fearful manner, the longer this pattern of response remains, the more closed down we become.

Fear breeds caution breeds low-grade depression.

‘Can’t complain!’...only the truth is, we’re furious…

So, what would psychological and spiritual growth look like here?

It would look like there being only one of us inside.

Just one of us, with no scared part - and a another part protecting the scared part.

Or an angry part - and another part trying to calm or repress the angry part.

Or an anxious part - and another part saying it’s ridiculous to be anxious.

RD Laing calls it ‘a system of false selves.’

Away from this crowd, there is just you; just one consciousness, aware of thoughts and feelings passing through – the scared, the angry, the anxious, the shameful…but without attachment to them.

Just one you, in the words of Michael Singer, ‘watching the dance of the psyche.’

This is what it is to be conscious, to be one undivided self; and to arrive at this place, we will allow all things to the surface.

‘Until we make the unconscious conscious,’ said Jung, ‘it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’

So we invite everything to the surface; it’s as simple (and difficult as) that.

And our main difficulty, (we will notice this quite quickly,) is our tendency to protect and defend our hidden selves.

Here is a deep-rooted energy, the energy to protect and defend, particularly our sore, unresolved areas.

Approach someone’s sore spot and they will come at you with great force… or great withdrawal.

This is why people experience such strong reactions on retreat or in therapy. There’s a lot we somehow feel we must protect and defend. And retreats and therapy may make these areas vulnerable or exposed.

This is not freedom.

Only when we have nothing to protect are we free.

It’s nice meeting free people…people who have nothing to protect.

I think of the story of the hermit who lived in a cave.

He had only two possessions: a bench and a blanket.

He returned to his cave one night to discover a thief taking his bench and blanket.

The thief looked surprised but the hermit tried to calm him.

‘Do take them,’ he said. ‘I would give you the moon if I could.’

He had nothing to protect, nothing to defend. He was free… our spiritual and psychological homecoming.

Nothing to protect, nothing to defend; just one conscious self…

We waste a lot of energy in defence of our self-image, our self-narrative.

We build tall thick walls around it.

We put attack dogs at the gates.

We scour the horizon for enemies.

And the more energy we give to it, the larger the project becomes, with the need for more walls, more dogs, more scouring of the horizon.

But there is nothing to defend.

And the moment you feel your energy being drawn into it… let go of that energy, let it dissipate.

If you feel fear or rage, anxiety or shame; allow it through you, like some traveller in a guest house.

But don’t feed it with attention; and don’t insist it must stay; don’t worship it, as if it’s some V.I.P.

If we feed these states, what started as something small can become manufactured, towering and dominate our lives.

So when you feel energy rushing to the negative or the defensive – ‘build walls, unleash the dogs, scour the horizon!’ – let go of it, like one might let go of a crazed pig.

Release it…and reclaim the peace and stillness of simple presence, which existed long before your divided and well-defended self.

This is what it is to be conscious.

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A higher education

Posted by Simon Parke, 02 March 2018, 9.14am

Plato told us about his teacher Socrates’ view of education.

Socrates was a great teacher – but he didn’t believe education was the handing over of knowledge.

The problem was not that people didn’t know enough – they knew plenty; they were ignorant simply because they were looking the wrong way.

To educate someone, he believed, was to turn their mind round, so that it looked in the right direction.

It wasn’t about information…but about how they looked at the world.

Most of our seeing is rather old, conditioned by our past.

That’s how it is.

We see what we’ve always seen, our minds too habitual to notice anything new.

And new information doesn’t change this, not in any way; which is why new information quickly becomes stale.

So here’s to fresh looking, fresh seeing today.

We shall attempt to observe the whole of life, rather than just fragments.

We shall prick our ballooning prejudice; we shall look rather than assume.

It’s a higher education.

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