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And fear shall have no dominion

Posted by Simon Parke, 21 January 2020, 10.13am

Sometimes people say they like to help others; perhaps you do. It seems like a good idea.

But I’m not concerned about what you can do for others, because you cannot do anything for them – except defeat your own fears.

If you were to defeat your own fears, then you could help others.

If you could defeat your own fears, then you would suddenly be a living fire of possibility, which others would gather around, drawn to the warmth amid their cold.

But we do not embark on the spiritual journey for the sake of others.

If the perceived requirements of others are our primary concern, there is a distortion in the process, ensuring our journey becomes an exercise in deceit, vanity or escapism.

I remember a young man coming to see me. He wanted to teach the world beautiful things; perhaps save it even.

‘I definitely feel called to be a teacher,’ he said.

‘And what will you teach?’ I asked.

‘I don’t know,’ he said, crest-fallen.

He didn’t know because his life was unhappy and struggling. He wanted the role; but did not have the substance within to make it authentic.

People wish to save others because they fear facing themselves; instead of facing themselves, they offer needy care to others, opting for the comforting applause of the admiring world.

They are like the ill determined to share their disease with others.

Jesus had similar issues with the pharisees. ‘You are desperate to make converts of people – yet make them make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.’

All they have to pass on is their fear.

We, however, face our fear, and for no other reason than that we ourselves would like to be free…to know moments free of fear.

And this stepping out always starts now, in this moment in time.

You start from your present understanding, and the meaning and the truth is discovered in the journey, whether it brings mountains, shipwrecks, buried treasure, dead ends, sunsets, wounds, avalanche or rainbow.

It may bring all of these… but maybe it need not bring fear.

Life is allowing the unfolding rather than fearing it.

In such submission, there is no one, and no thing, which can hurt you. Fear retires for lack of employment.

You witness the slow dawning in your life, like a sunrise, that you really do exist, you really do matter and that fear has no dominion.

And fear shall have no dominion

And fear shall have no dominion

 

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Peter Ball: a legacy of shame

Posted by Simon Parke, 17 January 2020, 6.02pm

This blog is a reflection on the BBC’s brilliant documentary, ‘Exposed: The Church’s darkest secret.’

It is the story of the appalling behaviour of Bishop Peter Ball; and the appalling church cover-up which followed.

Which is more appalling – the choice between two sorts of shit, I grant you - you must decide for yourself; though I opt for the latter.

The heroes of this story are the victims of abuse prepared to speak, at huge cost to them selves.

And people like Mr and Mrs Moss, the chauffeur and housekeeper to the then Bishop of Gloucester/paedophile/sexual predator and abuser Peter Ball, who set the ball of justice rolling.

And the therapist Fiona Gardner, safeguarding advisor to the Bath and Wells diocese, who never gave up; and Dr Rosalind Hunt in Cambridge who believed Neil Todd.

And Neil Todd himself, of course, truly crucified by the church to protect their own. ‘It is better that a good man dies…’

The hall of shame in this story is well-peopled, and largely by bishops and Archbishops – inadequate men like George Carey, John Yates, Eric Kemp, Roy Williamson and Jeremy Walsh, who at best turned a blind eye, and at worst, actively misled the police.

And Prince Charles, of course, whose obsession with, and protection of, the paedophile abuser bishop knew no bounds.

It is the story of a serial sexual predator and arch-manipulator, Peter Ball, who was protected by his own; and the story of an institution looking after itself; and an establishment looking after itself.

Peter Ball, in his attention-seeking monk’s robe, (ever-so-humble) liked nothing better than hobnobbing with the rich and powerful – bishops, princes and Lords.

And private schools loved him; he was always available for their pupils and an inspiring preacher.

But Ball also liked other pursuits – he liked boys/young men to strip naked to pray, to receive savage beatings from him and to masturbate, both for him and with him. (With one victim, he linked their mutual masturbation to the suffering of Christ.)

He also liked to be beaten himself, and to anoint young men’s penises. He liked to orgasm in settings like these.

‘Just naked praying and cold showers – nothing more!’ he would say.

And the establishment believed him with relish – even employing private investigators (Bishop Eric Kemp, the lead in this matter) to destroy the evidence of the victims.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury was withholding significant evidence from the police for years; and worrying only for Peter Ball’s suffering.

You can see/read the story for yourself and reach your own conclusions.

But clericalism and deference have long been at the heart of the church’s illness; and here they are terribly exposed.

A robe does not mean the truth; a mitre does not mean the truth. Satan could not have done a better job than these men to destroy the lives of the innocent.

In Luke 17.2, Jesus says it would be better for such people to have a millstone tied round their necks and to be thrown into the sea. As you follow this story, that actually feels quite charitable.

So from this day, let clericalism be done with, and deference to such authority, a joke. Bow to no one.

And how wonderful to see the present Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, speaking out so forcibly against the whole wretched lot of them, referring to Ball as ‘the so-called Bishop’.

She understands.

So no church titles, no status, no deference to robes or religious authority; very few of the heroes in this story possessed any of those.

Yet the kingdom of God is wonderfully theirs.

Footnote: George Carey remains in the House of Lords.

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Endings and Beginnings

Posted by Simon Parke, 16 January 2020, 9.32am

On our journey home there are many endings and many beginnings.

Were the changes you have lived written down, they would make for many books; so many goodbyes, so many fresh starts; so much sadness and so much discovery.

Endings don’t tend to feel so good. The ending of something tends to involve some unhappiness; and may involve a great deal.

And we don’t always know what’s to come. When I left the priesthood, I had no idea what I was going to do next. I just knew the adventure was over and stepped out into the abyss of unknowing.

It wasn’t easy. So it didn’t feel like a grand and exciting beginning - though it was a beginning, because there’s secret energy in endings. Something has to end before something else can begin, before life can offer fresh things to us…and life does.

The Christmas tree must leave to let in spring.

Discerning what has ceased to be useful is not always easy; familiarity can numb us to the truth of our life.

But it’s good to take stock sometimes. The purpose of a staircase is to get us upstairs. Once we arrive upstairs, we leave the staircase, we don’t stay there. The job of the stairs is done.

And in a similar vein, Buddha said that just because an old raft had got us over some difficult water, it didn’t mean we had to carry it around on our backs for the rest of our lives. Again, its job is done.

There may be other forces at work. Sometimes we avoid endings because we are frightened of new beginnings. This can happen.

Something may have died years ago, but we hang around the graveyard of circumstance – not happy there, but too afraid of the unknown to move on.

Of course, a beginning may not be leaving – but staying. Perhaps we work through some issues and return to our job with fresh eyes, fresh strength, fresh energy.

And I recently spoke with a woman who is back with her husband after two difficult years apart. They have both benefited from individual therapy – and their happy new beginning, with new attitudes, is to stay together.

And knowing there’s a choice can help. I know a head teacher who, on her way into work, always says to herself: ‘I don’t have to do this’.

Knowing she has a choice helps her to stay free…and helped her to stay through difficult times.

On our journey home, there are many endings and many beginnings. You may be pondering some of yours even now.

And if you are, some lovely words of John O’Donohue may cheer:

‘Beginnings often frighten us because they seem like lonely voyages into the unknown. Yet, in truth, no beginning is empty or isolated.

We seem to think that beginning is setting out from a lonely point along some line of direction into the unknown. This is not the case.

Shelter and energy come alive when a new beginning is embraced.’

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Home improvements

Posted by Simon Parke, 13 January 2020, 4.57pm

Let’s be honest, Ronald’s house was rather squalid.

He really had no idea what lived under his sofa or dripped through his roof – and he didn’t much want to, either! Not his thing at all.

So when he was offered some expensive gold curtains to put up in his front window, he leapt at the chance.

‘How they will improve my house!’ he declared. ‘This is definitely the answer to my problems.’

And they did look very nice at first, causing favourable comment from passers-by.

But while the lush curtains made Ronald feel briefly proud, the house didn’t change.

It remained damp and dirty inside, and quite overrun by vermin. And Ronald did not lift a finger to sort things out, hoping the new gold hangings would do the trick.

‘I’ll be known as the man with gold curtains - a show-house, I think!’

But in this, he was mistaken: for because the house didn’t change, the curtains did. The house got no better, so the curtains got worse.

The damp rotted the fabric; dust settled layer by layer, dimming the shine, while vermin ran up and down them, snagging the thread with their claws.

It was not long before the curtains looked tired and depressed; growing to resemble the rest of the house. And no one was angrier than Ronald, who was
incandescent.

‘I had such high hopes of those curtains!’ he declared to a neighbour. ‘But what I discover is that you can’t trust anything. Most disappointing!’

And in a fit of rage, he ripped them down, there and then.

Don’t seek the truth without a clear-out of your premises. It’s our mental and emotional clutter that rots the hope inside.

 

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Ten terrific attitudes

Posted by Simon Parke, 08 January 2020, 4.21pm

I was once asked by a magazine to do a ‘Ten things life has taught me’ piece.

It was a while ago and there’ll be nothing here that is new to you and your experience. So forgive me if they feel a bit musty, like some battered book in the second-hand shop.

But for a beginner like me, as I re-read my answers, they all seem strangely fresh:

1) Life is difficult. Sometimes things go well for me, but most days bring problems large or small. I am learning to allow and accept difficulty as part of life, like day and night. What is the problem telling me? What particular light shines through these cracks?  I like the story of St Francis meeting a slug. ‘Ah, Brother Slug,’ he said. ‘What message to you bring for me today?’ Animate and inanimate are all messengers.

2) Everyone’s an explorer, but starting from a different place. Columbus set off in search of Asia, but failed – he only found America…and that’s OK. And this is the thing about exploring; you don’t know what you’ll find. The best explorers seek truth, and treasure whatever they find; but know also that the adventure is never over.

3) How you travel is where you arrive. Some people are in a mad rush for ‘answers’, thinking there must be something out there which solves everything. They can be quite self-punishing, constantly dissatisfied. The wise, however, attend only to the journey, looking ever more deeply into their daily experience. A journey of such awareness is a constant arrival… and rather pleasant for those around as well.

4) Make a friend of impermanence. Much unhappiness is caused by my insistence that certain things must last forever; it helps me feel secure and in control. But only impermanence is permanent so we learn how to let go gracefully…and find that life goes on, and life gives again.

5) The road side dandelion is definitely under-appreciated. Sometimes we are so busy with our plans or responsibilities that we notice nothing else, which is a shame. I don’t always succeed but I try and remove my blinkers daily; looking at the sky on my run helps. As the poem says, ‘What is life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’

6) Abandon all labels – political, religious, social…because while labels can be handy short-hand, they are profoundly stupid, making both the label-giver and the labelled less human. When we label someone, we devalue them and ourselves; and feel more justified in hurting them. As someone observed, ‘Nationalism: it starts with a folk dance and ends with barbed wire.’ And religious culture can do this too, hardening into ‘Them and Us’. Truth is too big, ungainly and wild for labels.

7) Stay present. Whenever possible, I try to bring my consciousness into the now, the only healthy place to live from. As I put it in one of my books, ‘Yesterday is stale bread, tomorrow is no bread, today is fresh bread.’ Those who live in the moment are wonderfully present to people and circumstances; those who live in the past or the future are in a dream, emotionally absent and unavailable. Warning: Living presently does mean giving up control.

8) My thoughts make me mad. There’s a difference between having a thought, and a thought having us. Our monkey-minds have thoughts all the time, but sometimes we are kidnapped by one, and poisoned by its convincing illusion. When we are mindful, we notice our thoughts/opinions/feelings/reactions, but do not identify with them and bow down in absurd worship. Instead, we speak with them and then offer the Swedish greeting: ‘Thank you for coming, thank you for going.’

9) The path is kind and can be trusted. When we don’t trust the path of life, we become negative and a cul-de-sac of rage or complaint. I’ve discovered trust late, and travel the better for it, though fragile at times. When I lose trust, I become variously mad and dangerous to myself and others. And strangely, trust (or acceptance, another word for trust) creates the best change. Creation conspires to help you.

10) Remember the wave. If a wave is to rise high, another wave will need to dip, and vice versa. So there are no celebrity waves; for each individual wave is a communal activity. And of course in the calm they are all one and all made of the same wet.

Your ten will be much better..

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When freedom leaves

Posted by Simon Parke, 06 January 2020, 6.19pm

Freedom comes and goes.

Sometimes we believe we have finally found it.

‘At Last!’ we cry, for it has been a journey; so much lost, loved and learned along the way. But finally we have found wonderful!

The tension of life is eased, and we sit at peace with all things, moments of huge grace… until clouds form and the ratchet of discomfort cranks things up again and un-peace returns by degrees.

Things we imagined we’d dealt with return in different clothes, so we don’t recognise them at first.

We still speak of health, and present as outwardly wise, but we do not feel it anymore. We are the wounded surgeon, the dying nurse, the ruined millionaire.

Life is difficult because primal brokenness, never mended, creates ever new cracks in our armoury; and we have to look afresh for the light the cracks allow.

‘Life breaks us all,’ wrote Hemingway, ‘but some of us are strong in the broken places.’

So we allow the light each crack brings, for there is light there, if we wait. And the bigger the crack, the more the light that can stream in, to warm the cold paving stones of our psyche.

In the end, we are inward fools only to the extent that we insist on a fiction about ourselves; strive to keep the broken things secret or look away from the cracks in denial.

Brokeness is normal, cracks are normal…and so is the light they allow in.

Freedom comes and goes…

... but leaves only when we are ready for new things. 

 

 

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A new year revolution

Posted by Simon Parke, 31 December 2019, 2.49pm

The past is stale bread

The future is no bread

The present is fresh bread

So as 2020 unfolds we will give the past its due but not its power

And we shall nod to the future but refrain from undue attention

And return again and again to the present whether sad, serene or a wild-horse-throwing-me-sideways moment

We shall be here now

For only in this place is there life

The past being stale bread

The future, no bread

And the present, fresh bread

So here we are


 

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The kind genius of dark

Posted by Simon Parke, 24 December 2019, 8.34am

And what if the darkness is the answer?

What if the answer is not beyond it but within it?

This time of year invites us to consider our relationship with darkness, when the way is unclear or hope savagely withdrawn.

Some may scream at the loss; others grab greedily at light’s solutions.

But maybe we do not need to flee the dark, but can linger awhile and listen to its different tones and different voice, like a language we half-understand.

Perhaps it knows everything we don’t.

No one has put it better than T.S. Eliot in his poem, ‘East Coker’.

‘I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.’

And so we befriend the alien.

In the darkness, we let go of it all, whatever it is.

We imagine ourselves an empty container – yes, imagine that! - holding nothing but now…

...and start again.

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Contortions, transactions and beauty

Posted by Simon Parke, 20 December 2019, 10.36am

My most popular blog of this decade was a reflection on two different triangles of behaviour that live inside us: the Drama Triangle and the Health Triangle.

They are two sides of the same coin; two sides of ourselves.

We start with the Drama Triangle which describes the shadow side of life; the often unconscious roles people play.

The victim says ‘Poor me!’ Here is the victim, convinced they are weak. Perhaps this suits them; it means they can deny personal responsibility.

They tend to be super-sensitive requiring kid-glove treatment. They deny responsibility for their negative circumstances and blame others.

They also deny their personal power, their agency in this situation; there’s nothing they can do. They are the victim, after all. They are the done to, things happen to them.

While they deny their personal power, they gain the power to imagine themselves all good and others all bad. They are the saints and others are the demons.

The Rescuer says: ‘Let me help you!’

They work hard to help and take care of others. They need others to feel good about themselves while neglecting, or not taking responsibility for, their own needs.

Classically co-dependent, they intervene in people’s lives, they like to find solutions. And they need their victims dependent and/or grateful. They may feel guilty if not rescuing someone. And their work is never done.

They can end up feeling harried and tired, caught in a martyr-complex. Feelings of resentment may fester inside them at their lot in life or the ungrateful behaviour of others:

‘Do they not realise how exhausting it is trying to save them!?’

The Persecutor says ‘It’s all your fault!’

They criticise and blame the victim, and can be controlling and rigid.

There is a clear template inside them of what should and should not be. Others must adhere to this.

They set strict limits on what is acceptable. There is a ‘them and us’ mentality inside the persecutor; they may well use threats.

‘This is what I want you to do’ is their approach to conversation and relationship. There may well be emotional bullying or backstabbing.

There will certainly be punishment, active or passive.

In this bleak drama triangle, people may well switch roles. The victim can very easily become the persecutor, and vice versa.

The thwarted rescuer can also become the persecutor or the victim.

So roles can change; and some may never leave the triangle. It’s the triangle most soap operas are based on; but it’s also a triangle familiar in work and family settings.

The Health triangle is different, bringing the shadow side of ourselves into the sun light where it can be better lived.

The victim knows ‘I too have suffered’. The victim is an important figure in the health triangle.

We need to access and allow the victim in us, the wounded inner child. Damage has been done to us down the years, much of it in our formative years, which
makes aspects of our lives difficult.

The neuro-scientist Doug Watts calls them the ‘unforgettable but un-rememberable years.’ We can’t remember them; but they still live in our bodies and neural pathways.

The Victim inside us allows us to feel. They remind us that we’re not robots; the accessed victim can create empathy in us.

Those who gag the victim in themselves will obviously be harsh when they find it in others. Both Hitler and Stalin denied their childhood trauma; and in power created that trauma on an institutional basis. There was no mercy.

We are all victims to some degree, and it’s not enough to say ‘Well, I’ve got nothing to complain about. Look at the people in Syria.’ The people in Syria aren’t helped by the persistent denial of my own feelings.

The victim inside us needs a voice. They don’t need to rule. But they do need to be heard because they have a story to tell.

The Activist knows ‘I can make life better’. As we’ve seen in the drama triangle, in the form of the rescuer, the activist can be in compulsive, needy relationship to others.

Their care or action is often a substitute for feeling or an escape from themselves.

Their self-image may be ‘I am someone who cares’ but in truth they might not care that much. They’re really doing things for themselves – their super-ego requires the applause, the saving or the dependence of others.

Or perhaps they worship the god of doing, because to stop doing is too frightening.

But the activist is another important voice inside us. They remind us there are things we can do to make life better.

It’s good to set up the P.T.A at school/to name injustice and to work against it/to start exercising/to create a community choir… or whatever

It’s helpful to hear the activist inside me. The world needs the activist, people who do things, initiate things.

The activist in us reminds us there are always things we can do, large or small, to make life better.

The Contemplative knows ‘There is nothing to judge’.

The third figure in this triangle, the contemplative, is the one who looks at reality without judgement. This is the opposite of the persecutor, on the other side of the coin.

Some will be thinking, ‘That’s ridiculous. How can you look at reality without judgement? Reality’s shit! How can I not judge it?’

But in the contemplative space, we put down our template of ‘how things should be’. We give up attempts at control and allow what is.

We hold what is. We give space in which others can thrive.

We become a container of the world’s feelings; but not a stirrer of the pot. It is not necessarily a comfortable place to be.

We can’t always be here. But the contemplative reminds us things pass; allows us to detach from our obsessions, to look at reality without judgement, which, crucially, starts with ourselves.

Those who sit in judgement on the world, sit first in judgement on themselves.

The contemplative approaches themselves with kindness. They behold themselves without judgement; and from that space, offer self-kindness and delight to the world.

We move in and out of these spaces, visiting them all; we can move between triangles in the same day, the same hour.

The genius is to notice the different transactions occurring; and to notice where we happen to be in this moment.

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A cracking Christmas

Posted by Simon Parke, 18 December 2019, 6.03am

St Therese of Lisieux once spoke gently; and she gently spoke these words:

‘If you are willing to serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.’

And these are good words as we smile our way through the pre-Christmas anxiety race of purchase, packing, party and plans.

She speaks gently to us because she does not demand self-hate or self-punishment. There is never a season for these impostors.

Instead, she invites us to allow error in ourselves; to permit cracks in our shiny self-image.

How easy is that for you?

Some people say ‘I must do this’ or ‘I must be that’, when this is not so and makes for tension and pressure.

This being human is difficult; and sometimes the season can make it more so… Christmas can become Stressmas.

So our meditation today is towards allowing the cracks in our protective shell of perfection; a shell polished and maintained by our frightened ego.

We will practice being kind to ourselves, there is nothing we must be, and cracks are OK.

As Leonard Cohen sings, ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light get’s in.’

Perhaps even the light of the stable?


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