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The Garden of Sadness

Posted by Simon Parke, 15 July 2021, 3.20pm

The Garden of Sadness is not a place anyone wants to go.

We’d prefer to be happy than sad, and so we try and avoid it.

Perhaps we feel we have to keep up a brave face for the sake of others; or maybe we just cannot admit the feeling to ourselves.

‘My anger has hidden my sadness for a long time,’ someone told me recently.

And we may feel bad about going to the Garden of Sadness.

Some of us, when young, were told, ‘Oh, that’s nothing to cry about!’ which can prove disabling if it closes us down to our true feelings.

Everyone has to go to the Garden of Sadness sometimes, because there’s so much loss in life – whether it’s a person, a hope, a relationship, an injury, an illness or a dream.

Some avoid it by saying ‘Oh, there are people in the world worse off than me! What have I got to complain about?!’

But we’ll be more creative in the world, more adaptive and kinder, if we look after our feelings, for no one else can.

Maybe the little you is still crying; maybe their feelings were gagged.

So we allow ourselves to visit the Garden of Sadness. We push open the gate and sit there a while, and allow ourselves to feel what we feel.

No one can judge a feeling…so we won’t.

Perhaps we’ll plant one or two seeds there; there is beauty here. And then, when we’re ready, we’ll leave by a different gate.

Here is a place of strange healing, a garden to pass through on our way back to health and happiness.

We’ll live it in our own time and in our own way…

...and find the Garden of Sadness, so often avoided, is, indeed, a Garden of Hope.

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Being Simon

Posted by Simon Parke, 15 July 2021, 9.20am

There are many ways to reflect on our lives.

One way is to consider the what, the how and the why of it all. I recently blogged about it here.

To recap, the ‘what’ of my life is what I want to be? What do I see as my offering to the world?

The ‘how’ of my life is how I will bring this vision to life in the world? Where and in what will my aspirations be embodied?

The ‘why’ of it all doesn’t seem immediately important.

But the ‘why’ is here only for our protection; to make sure that our vision is actually ours and not a dull echo of someone else’s.

So now, I use this model myself; sometimes it’s good to pause and take stock. Your story will be a great deal more interesting.

But here’s a bit of mine…

What do I do?

The What of my life - and sometimes its good to simplify - is reflection on the exchange of energies, within ourselves and in the world beyond.

Bored already? I agree – such transactions are not hugely sexy or apparently relevant, as my withered fan base painfully reveals. (Note to self: childhood abandonment issues on display here, Simon.)

But I am what I am and what I am is a sail in the wind of human transactions. This starts with what I do to myself; what I do to others and what others have done to me and presently do to me.

But it doesn’t end there.

This constant exchange of energies has long fingers, touching the psychological, the spiritual, the social and the political. It touches family, work, friendships and governments.

In fact, the story of the forces at work within us spills all over the place, happily and unhappily, brutally and kindly.

Nothing is beyond the reach of this energy exchange. We do need to mind the space within us and between us.

What transactions are occurring as my boss speaks, as my mother speaks, as a colleague speaks, as the government minister speaks? Are they life-denying or life-giving? Helpful or unhelpful? Abusive or kind? Manipulative or free? Key question: how do they make me feel?

For better or worse – and it is sometimes worse - I have a gift of discernment in this territory.

So the ‘what’ of my life is being a boatman on the river of transaction which runs with such power through our world, bringing both life and death; desolation and joy.

How do I do it?

The How of my life? In a profound sense, I have no idea; because I am not in control. I’ve given up on that.

But without my planning - in fact, almost behind my back - life has somehow created outlets for me to ponder and work with these themes.

At different times, this has been through satire, priesthood, parenting, counselling, retreats, workshops and writing – both fiction and non-fiction.

Satire and priesthood are largely behind me now, though nothing is ever completely left behind. (And I’d return to Spitting Image in a heartbeat, if the door opened.)

But instead, here I am, CEO of The Mind Clinic, which takes safe, confidential and insightful listening into organisations of all descriptions.

And here I am seeing people privately, Zoom or face-to-face; and off to lead a retreat next week. And none of this was ever my game plan.

The one-to-one therapy space, like the retreat space, is for individuals to reflect on, and work through, the transactions taking place within them selves.

These will inevitably impact on their relationships with others and, if they have one, with their God.

How can you know God if you do not know yourself? Answers on a post card…

Family transactions are a key part of this investigation, one that has been critical for me; and not always easy.

Life is difficult.

And I continue with the ‘How’ in my non-fiction writing. This includes books like The Journey Home, Solitude, The Enneagram and One Minute Mindfulness. These offer insights and meditations towards the discovery of the forces at work inside us.

My novels – like the Abbot Peter mysteries, Pippa’s Progress, The Soldier, the Gaoler the Spy and her Lover and The Secret Testament of Julian – are similarly interested in the dynamics taking place within characters; dynamics which become their behaviour, both delightful and murderous.

The energies within Oliver Cromwell, Charles 1 and Julian of Norwich, for instance, have significant impact on their decision-making; and their decisions affect history.

Oh, and then there’s Jesus! Giving Jesus an interior life was key to my recent novel, ‘Gospel, Rumours of Love.’ What transactions occurred within this most remarkable of men? What was the source of his resilience? And the source of his laughter?

Apart from Buddha and a few other honourable exceptions, historical lives were largely unexamined by those who lived them. It wasn’t a thing then. But to be honest, that’s true of most present day lives as well; it isn’t a thing now, either.

How I proceed in life is never certain. I wish it were otherwise but it isn’t. Nothing I have planned for my life or striven for has happened. My rejection/failure record is remarkable for its length and my disappointments too humorous to mention. (Note to self: this self-pity is OK, Simon, but don’t stay there. It rots resilience.)

All that has occurred has simply arrived at my door or been called into life by others; mainly the latter. As I say, I am not in control.

I would like a plan and the sense of identity that brings; but tomorrow doesn’t exist so a plan must wait; as must my identity.

This is the how so far. But who knows about tomorrow?

Why do I do it?

The Why of it all - in an echo of my own faltering journey - is awareness and freedom; one is the path to the other.

It is about us coming home to ourselves and to the world; no longer a stranger or enemy to either.

Awareness matters because we cannot say goodbye to something until we have said hello to it. What is hidden from our sight, whether by repression or simple familiarity, cannot be released. And there is much we do well to release.

Freedom arises as we begin to unhook ourselves from a treadmill of unhelpful transactions, both inner and outer.

And sometimes a sense of our glory breaks free – though this is gift, and nothing to do with me. I have known it, however, such gift has shaped me; and I have seen it in others – I am a witness to remarkable transactions for health.

Prisons walls do fall. And that’s why I do what I do…because prison walls fall; because part of me has been saved from the flames and is hopeful.

That’s way too much about me, however.

What’s your what, how and why?

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It's a security issue

Posted by Simon Parke, 12 July 2021, 4.09pm

Sometimes, when we’re looking for security, we take ourselves to a prison.

It’s certainly secure, all bars and locks. But is it what we need?

We don’t always make the best choices when we feel insecure.

Perhaps we take ourselves into a relationship because we feel it will solve everything.

Or perhaps we adopt a set of beliefs that help us to feel we belong and that we’re right.

Maybe we scroll and scroll all day, scrolling down, scroll and click, because it distracts us from our selves.

Or maybe we start criticising others because it makes us feel better about ourselves.

Or perhaps we become a doormat for others, doing whatever we’re asked, so they’ll like us more.

As I say, we don’t always make the best choices when feeling insecure.

Until we wake up one morning and decide we’re paying too high a price: we’re not there any more.

The walk to freedom starts with a single step.

We’re not sure where we’re going…we just know we need to leave the prison.

And, as it turns out, this is all the guide we need: the energy to leave.

Help will arrive.


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The benefits of traffic calming

Posted by Simon Parke, 07 July 2021, 9.41am

For a moment, and it need not be long

Turn away from entertainment and the consumption of news

And enter the beautiful wilderness that is silence

Stay there while the thought-traffic passes through

So many cars all going nowhere and incredibly fast

But you’re for silence so you wait and you watch

Until the rush hour has passed, the road quietens

Fewer cars drive carelessly through your mind, hardly any

The exhaust clears, your breathing deepens

And in the fresher air, as if by magic, you appear

A different you - one free from the fumes of too-busy thought

Beyond the traffic of your thoughts, you appear

There all the time though sometimes lost

But in the silence you return

This vulnerable lovely you

And you’re strong, you had quite forgotten

And you have a voice

And you will handle this day, you will handle it well


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What is bad language?

Posted by Simon Parke, 29 June 2021, 4.15pm

How are we to use language?

And yes, I’m aware of the absurdity of the question. Here I am having to use language to consider how we use it; which is like asking a wasp to explore how wasps should behave.

How far can it take us?

But keep faith, for as long as we keep language at arms length, and understand its limitations, we may just be all right.

Language, we might imagine, it pretty important; crucial to so many aspects of life.

It can help us communicate with each other, in so many ways, and move us towards relationship; though strangely, language can also destroy communication and annihilate relationship, if untrue or unkind.

Lies don’t progress anything except isolation.

Language can also help us think, ordering our thoughts; though it can also be against thought – or at least, fresh thought - offering us familiar tram lines words, when in fact those tram lines need a bomb put under them if we are to be free.

Borrowed language can be a prison; a life-sentence.

The strength, and weakness, of language is that it makes the implicit, explicit; that is, it gives shape to something that ultimately cannot be given shape.

It might be compared to the London underground map. The map is not present to what is; it’s not true to the complex, dark, smelly, historic, human, dangerous and amazing reality of London’s tube system.

But it’s a useful fiction, if we simply want to get from Turnpike Lane to Leicester Square.

Truth is implicit; it exists and is understood beyond and beneath language. I do not need words to understand the truth of a situation or the truth of how I feel.

So language, being explicit, cannot be fully present to the moment, because every moment is fresh, unique and unfolding; everything is always in motion.

And in unenlightened hands, language can reduce endless wonders to the same worn-out coinage; and as bland as the music in a lift.

Language, as Nietzsche said, makes ‘the uncommon common’.

This is why, at the end of retreats, I often say that people do not need to talk about their experiences when they get home. As soon as the implicit becomes explicit, something is lost.

It becomes an anecdote, the beginning of the end.

The best language is always trying to free itself from schematisation; keeping things open, inclusive, contextual, unfolding, living.

But more often, in these days of culture wars, language is used as a tool for closure and separation.

The explicit is worshipped; the implicit is gagged.

The explicit becomes all there is, as language, like some brutalised creature, is cut loose from its implicit moorings. And when the explicit is all there is, truly, we are lost.

Language can serve the truth; we all know that. At its best, it is a merry entertainer, an opener of grand doors of perception.

But it will need to remember its place.

All is well, as long as the explicit remains a humble servant of the implicit; for the truth, impossibly deep and wide, is quite beyond words.

Bad language forgets that.

(I’m indebted to Iain McGilchrist for nurturing me in this territory, with his brilliant work on the divided brain – a story for another time.)

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The Never Ending Story

Posted by Simon Parke, 26 June 2021, 8.19am

Some words spoken at the Christening of my granddaughter, Gloria:

A long time ago, as a family, we’d sometimes stop off at the Little Chef near Godalming.

And after the inevitable Olympic breakfast, we’d feed Sid, our dog, with the scraps, very gratefully received - and then Harry and I would sometimes take her for a short walk before journeying on.

And I remember Harry once saying, as we walked, ‘Perhaps one day we’ll walk here with my children.’

Years passed, times changed, leaders fell out, hair fell out, Harry met Rebecca – and the rest, as they say, is history. Though for Harry, being a primary school teacher, it’s also maths, English, science, geography, art and religious studies.

And if I’d been teaching religious studies this week, I’d definitely have been talking about the story of Jonah and the whale because a recently, you will have seen, a man in Cape Cod found himself in the mouth of a hump back whale.

He fell off his boat, the whale’s mouth closed, he knew this was a prison he couldn’t get out of and he thought ‘This is it!’

What saved him, because there is a happy ending, was his size - his size saved him – so don’t lose weight. He was too large to swallow and so the jaws opened and he was expelled outwards and upwards, released back into the light.

And I thought it was a brilliant/terrifying image of what it feels like to be consumed by life. When something consumes us, and we all know the feeling – perhaps it’s a difficult relationship, a fear we have, an anxiety, a depression, an incident, a situation, a despair, a scream, we are consumed by it, kidnapped, abducted, swallowed…and we might as well be in the mouth of a whale.

And this will happen to Gloria; of course it will, because it’s life. Sometimes we are consumed by events, by circumstances; and more particularly, by our reaction to events. We don’t have the resources to cope. And Gloria will know this feeling. And she’ll imagine it’s the end – it’s what we do.

So, what are we doing here? When Jesus said ‘Let the children come to me?’ what was he offering – because there are whales out there, life is difficult, our boat is small and we’ll sometimes end up in their mouths.

Another memory of mine is Chloe and Harry watching the film The Never Ending Story on our cutting-edge Betamax video cassette recorder; and that, of course, is what baptism is: a gateway into a never ending story.

A story that is not shallow – but deep

Not narrow – but wide
Not stunted – but high
Not short – but eternal
A story that is never ending… in all directions, in quality and length…depth, width, height – eternal.

When Jesus says let the children come to me, he is inviting them into big lives – lives free from the dismal ghosts of anxiety, shame, insecure attachments, clinging, self-hatred and fear.  For these are the whales. These are the whales.

And how they narrow lives, constrict lives. These visitors make lives small; they don’t extend us; they limit us.

But Jesus invited children into big lives, lives wide, high, deep, long…lives that are too big for the whale to hold in its mouth. The abduction fails - it must free such a life back in to the light. And it’s very good when we get back there.

‘I came that you might have life and have it to the full,’ said Jesus.

And this is the divine dream, it’s why we’re here, that we might be fully human - rather than consumed-human.

The dismal house guests are invited to leave, their welcome long out-stayed. Anxiety, shame, self-hatred, fear – what a bleak roll-call, and they have no place here.

Instead, the full human. The full Gloria. That’s a pretty good dream.

The Little Chef near Godalming has closed now, along with the Betamax factory, not as busy as it was; and Sid, our dog, has died; many have died. Things pass, animals pass, people pass. 

But family stories live on, as one generation gives way to the next; as one generation bows to the next. And Harry’s words live on: ‘Perhaps one day we’ll walk here with my children.’

Because here they are! Incarnate! Not at the Little Chef, but here in St Simon and St Jude’s, East Dean: Sylvie and Gloria. And today it’s Gloria at the gateway to the never ending story – never ending in all directions.

A story not shallow – but deep; not constricted – but wide; not crushed – but tall

Not short – but eternal. An unfolding story made possible by love.

This is a good gateway.

Full human. Full you, full me, full Gloria.

So be it in heaven, so be it on earth.

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The people of the lie

Posted by Simon Parke, 22 June 2021, 2.55pm

In the Semitic tradition, it is far worse to lie than to be deluded.

Ignorance is bleak but deceit is bleaker.

To be deluded is a blindness we can sometimes do little about.

To lie is an act of ill-will against humanity; it is an attack upon the real. And the real is all we have to build on.

So a line is drawn between being wrong and telling a lie. They are not the same.

As Meister Eckhart said at his trial in Avignon, ‘I may be wrong - but I cannot lie.’

He drew a line as well.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of our present political leadership, (and I use the term loosely) is the determined use of the lie.

Lying is not a verb, an activity; it’s a noun – a policy.

The Trump handbook is well-thumbed in Westminster; you can literally lie beyond belief; and some are happy enough for now.

Black is white; failure is success and cronyism is simply ‘getting the job done’.

For Tory supporters, if the lie helps the cause, then all is well and good. With a view to the polls, they chose a well-documented liar to lead them.

If the lie gets them elected, then all is well and good. And they are hardly alone in this death camp.

Most of us, in my cracked experience, whether political or religious, don’t mind a lie if it furthers our own cause or faction.

We laugh it off with a guilty smirk or perhaps attempt threadbare justification.

‘Well, its not as if the others don’t do it as well!’

For others, though, the slow drip, drip, drip of misdirection and untruth kills; and brings the rage and despair that can dismantle energy for good.

‘What’s the point?’ they ask, brought low by the deep poison of falsehood. It not just democracy lies kill; it’s the human spirit. Beneath every lie is deep cynicism; such a bleak foundation.

To be wrong is human; to lie is evil, by which I mean, it is against life. Healing can only start with the truth.

So we are mindful of the boundaries between delusion and lie; mindful of when one becomes the other.

And wish for more like Eckhart, who may be wrong but cannot lie. And maybe it must start with me.

The lie is a different land.

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Beauty, this temptress

Posted by Simon Parke, 14 June 2021, 5.30pm

Beauty is such a temptress

Wherever I go

She flirts with me

All light, colour, texture, space

And her call

Such sweet music to my ears

Which song will she use today to bid me be still?

Bubbling stream, song of the bird, buzz of the bee, whispering leaves, a crack in the wall, the stranger’s eyes?

And she has no respect for my time schedule; none at all

I gave myself to her

And she now knows she has the power to make me pause, look, listen, smell, touch –

Whenever she pleases

I can’t seem to help myself

I dance to her tune

Willingly accept my slave status

For what other mistress offers such sweet rewards?

Shellie Parke

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Should I stay or should I go?

Posted by Simon Parke, 07 June 2021, 10.38am

My recent novel Gospel, Rumours of Love opens with Yeshua walking away from Nazareth. He is leaving.

He has no idea what lies ahead; he just knows he has to go, that he cannot stay – and that is enough.

Soon he will arrive in the sparse comfort of the wilderness where encounters will shape his future; but first he had to leave where he was.

And there is no good time to leave; Yeshua’s family were furious. It wasn’t a good time for them at all.

And if we’re waiting for a good time to leave, we may be waiting forever.

‘When things are more settled down,’ we say, ‘then I’ll leave.’

But when does anything ever settle? Fresh de-stabilisers always appear.

I remember my decision to leave the priesthood, which I write about in Shelf Life. I had nowhere to go to, no fresh job lined up.

I just knew I had to leave, that the adventure was over.

It would have helped me at the time to have someone to talk things through with; but I didn’t, sadly, and my inner compass had to guide.

And so I walked through the open door into darkness, a fragile wilderness which exposed all my survival fears, and seems quite mad on reflection; but light found me and a slow re-birth of purpose, joy and direction occurred.

It was a wilderness. But my inner compass had proved accurate in taking me there.

‘Get to the wilderness and everything will be OK.’

‘Should I stay or should I go?’ The question comes up in so many forms during our lives, in jobs and relationships.

And sometimes it’s good to stay and sometimes it’s good to go.

And sometimes it takes us months or years to reach a place where a decision becomes possible.

And sometimes talking with someone can help us.

And sometimes negative guidance is enough: we just know we have to leave, even if we don’t know what comes next.

Just like when Yeshua left Nazareth, amid strong calls for him to stay.

He didn’t know where his feet were taking him; he just had to trust they were taking him somewhere.

And this is my story and your story too.

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Posted by Simon Parke, 28 May 2021, 1.28pm

Anxiety cannot be banished; it has the keys to our house.

But we need not offer him cakes and a comfy chair when he comes to call, as if he owns the place.

When in residence, he encourages us to scan the horizon and mutter nonsense like, ‘Well how can I not worry?!’ or ‘It’s only because I care.’

We know from experience anxiety is a cheerless, restless house guest; there’s little delight when he’s around.

But there is a guest who will always send him running - and her name gratitude.

Anxiety dissolves in her presence.

I do not refer to North Korean positivity, forced and contrived; just simple noticing of good moments without qualification; without ‘Well, this may be good, but over there it’s bad.’

It’s just good.

Moments like these arrive unordered, like a scented rose or hot tea in the cold or something funny, a conversation with a friend, ice cream on the beach, sun on the floor, the feel of a pillow, my living breathing child, a song on the radio, cheese rolls, a sense of hope, a tree in the wind, the smell of coffee, small achievements, kind words, a hug, a working kettle, a million other things.

When gratitude arrives, anxiety leaves, taking its self-important lies elsewhere.

We will not banish it forever, of course; it will return, it has the keys to our house.

But we can cultivate other friendships to reduce its dismal power in our home. And one of these friendships might be gratitude.

We’ll notice the difference.

When anxiety’s away, life is an adventure; when he’s around, life is a cortisol-fuelled problem, endlessly insoluble for our busy minds; a place of danger, where something might go wrong and we’ll be responsible.

When anxiety leaves, whatever is, is OK. When anxiety’s around, nothing is OK, everything could be better.

Here is the same life, nothing altered, content the same – but viewed and experienced so differently.

Adventure or problem? Joy or joyless?

Anxiety may have the keys to our house. But we leave a note on our door today:

‘Gratitude, if you’re passing – do drop in.’

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