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A love letter to the fearful

Posted by Simon Parke, 16 September 2019, 3.56pm

There was a monk who pestered Buddha about the finer points of life, philosophy and the universe.

He felt that Buddha had the answers, and with a little more knowledge, all would be sorted.

Clearly he couldn’t make any commitments yet; he’d need time to assess and consider the information given.

But when he knew everything, then he would commit. Then he would start the journey.

Buddha gave him short shrift.

He rudely told him he was like a man wounded in battle, who refuses treatment for himself until he knows the full name of the person who has injured him and which village he comes from.

He will die before he gets his useless information.

‘Do not fear to live the teaching just because you do not know all the answers yet,’ he tells the monk.

And we might go further. Do not fear to live, full stop, for we cannot live in fear. Fear is an illusion and there can be no life in illusion.

Fear is no recent arrival on our premises, of course, and will not quickly leave.

It developed layer upon layer in our childhood as we learned the art of survival.

The first part of the human brain to develop beyond the womb is that which deals with fear, anger and satisfaction.

When we were at our most vulnerable, it was fear that alerted us to imminent danger.

It was fear that encouraged us to contort ourselves in order to survive. And those contortions became our very texture.

Fear was important, fear was our friend. We are alive now because we were fearful people.

But what helped us then does not help us now.

Fear is a foundational part of our personality; but not presently an energy for our well being.

Our substantial self knows no fear; unlike our personality, it is unscarred by life. It remains hopeful, vibrant and strong.

Life emerges as we respond to this truer self and allow the unfolding. In such submission, there is no one who can hurt you.

So you step out now.

You start from yourself at this moment in time, and meaning and truth are discovered in the journey, whether it brings mountains, shipwrecks, buried treasure, dead ends, sunsets, wounds, avalanche or rainbow.

It may bring all of these.

(This is an extract from my book ‘The Journey Home’ published by Bloomsbury.)

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Emptying the illusion cart

Posted by Simon Parke, 16 September 2019, 12.13pm

When wealthy English families in India were escaping at the end of British rule, their essential possessions were piled high in hurriedly-arranged carts.

Though the journeys were often long and fraught; and by the end, very few of their essential possessions remained on board.

They had fallen off or been broken or were used to bribe and barter for water or safe passage.

It must have been a painful and frightening journey. Though maybe some felt liberated by the end, recognising their only truly essential possession was them selves.

It is hard to accept there is nothing to acquire, and much to let go of. It is hard because our mind desires acquisition.

We do like a full cart.

Whether it’s shopaholics in their shops or professors in their books, we like acquisition. It creates a reassuring sense of progress, comfort and stimulation.

And if my mind isn’t acquiring, then what exactly is its purpose?

As an eminent preacher once said to me, ‘I was addicted to ideas. And it was great, because other people liked them as well.’

Yet while huge emphasis is placed on it, the acquisition of knowledge never changes anyone.

Whilst the dropping of an attitude does.

The acquisition of knowledge threatens nothing untrue.

The letting go of an attitude threatens everything untrue.

And most of us is untrue…so no wonder we prefer acquisition.

Each day we must leave behind society’s hysteria and our own self-righteousness and walk into the desert.

And as we walk, and as we leave behind, we will allow our illusions to arise, as they will…and let them fall to the ground, no longer needed.

And we will laugh as they fall and feel lightness and liberation. Though yesterday they were everything to us, a heavy weight and absolutely essential.

We are not our thoughts nor our feelings… nor our illusions.

So as they drop soundless to the ground, there is no anger in us. Indeed, we are surprisingly grateful to them.

For it is through the lie discerned that the truth is uncovered. You cannot see beyond the world until you have seen through it.

So we give up our illusion of control and our illusion of consistency of will and our illusion of victimhood and our illusion of decency… and all the others as well, so many.

And leap in delight. As the Buddhists say, ‘If there were no illusions, there would be no enlightenment.’

So our dear but fading illusions become our unlikely guide, leading us clear of the unreal and to a place of joy.

And even as I write that, I’m hearing that wily old Iranian poet Hafiz again; because he knew how we acquisition junkies can end up as slaves to the unreal.

‘Someone put you on a slave block,
And the unreal bought you.
Now I keep coming to your owner saying, ‘This one is mine’.
Don’t worry – I will not let sadness possess you.
I will gladly borrow all the gold I need to get you back.’

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Proroguing parliament and other stories

Posted by Simon Parke, 12 September 2019, 10.10am

Who would have imagined the king of England in prison? No one! It was impossible! God’s anointed one in gaol?

Yet this is where Charles 1st finds himself in 1647, incarcerated variously in Hampton Court, then Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight and finally, a brief stay in Hurst Castle.

And he was imprisoned mainly for his lies, which we’ll get to.

No one knew how to imprison a king, of course, or what the rules were. His gaoler, Robert Hammond, was also his humble subject. So how was that going to work?

And they were not hard times for the king. His captors had his royal carriage brought over to the island for trips out; and he still had a large staff serving him and 14 course meals.

This wasn’t the gulag.

He even managed an affair with his spy mistress, the remarkable Jane Whorwood.

And there were numerous escape schemes, each more bizarre than the other – though the best laid plan fell apart when the king got stuck in the window he was meant to be escaping from.

He had to fall back down into his bedroom.

And the brief back story? He had prorogued parliament in 1629 which had caused huge anger. But it made sense to Charles: if parliament couldn’t do what he wanted from it, why on earth should it exist?

Eleven years later, with nothing resolved, England endured a bloody civil war, dividing families and nation.

But even though he lost, due to the brilliant leadership of Cromwell, Charles still held all the cards. Everyone needed to be his friend - both the army and parliament, for both knew he must return to the throne.

He was the king, after all; so all should have been well for the art-loving, masque-loving monarch.

But he was a man sunk by his lying, by his inability to tell the truth. He simply did not believe the truth to be important for a king; he was beyond it.

His belief in the divine right of kings - which fed handily into his own sense of personal insecurity - made normal human behaviour irrelevant. If a lie brought him to power, the lie was good.

So he would say anything to anyone, whether to parliament or to the army, if it suited his purposes. Cromwell was in his thrall, and quite taken in…though behind his back, Charles cattily referred to Cromwell as ‘the farmer’.

And while apparently negotiating in good faith, Charles was in secret contact with the Scots, encouraging them to invade.The king of England was encouraging another nation to invade his own.

They did invade, bringing the 2nd Civil War with appalling loss of life. And again,Charles lost - though this time from the safety of his prison throne.

And it was this 2nd Civil War did for him; it curdled the milk of human kindness towards him.

No one trusted him anymore. Everything he said was a lie. And amid national trauma and rage, it was a short walk from there to the executioner’s scaffold in Whitehall…and the unthinkable: the killing of a king.

It is a story of a man obsessed by his rightful position and happy to lie to that end. People were with him…until they just couldn’t do it anymore.

His disingenuous ways dismantled both relationship and the monarchy; and made possible the impossible.

When the need for power baptises the lie, it is a dangerous blessing – for everyone.


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After the fire

Posted by Simon Parke, 11 September 2019, 9.03am

After the fire, when the flames have died, stand still with what was

If the ash still smokes in the morning dew, rake it gently over

As the robin watches on and a leaf scuttles by

The embers still flicker, a defiant echo of yesterday’s blaze

Their little glint, one last hurrah of all that’s been, the ripping heat and crackling glory – remember?

But cooling now, the fire is done, the ground scorched and cleared, only ash remains

The grey residue of life, now flighty dust in the breeze

When the flames have died, stand still with what was, with this nothing, for awhile

As the robin watches on

And for all that has been, thank you; and for all that shall be, yes

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Prism life

Posted by Simon Parke, 10 September 2019, 10.29am

It’s no fun going to prism.

It means the loss of freedom, the loss of honesty, and with those gone, there’s not much left.

We’re in prism when we see everything through one set of lenses and must therefore contort truth to make it fit; or avoid the truth completely.

If you’ve listened to the Labour MP’s Barry Gardiner or Rebecca Long-Bailey - or any member of the present Tory cabinet, you may know what I mean.

They are not engaging with anything outside their prism; for the interviewer, there is no access to their internalised narrative - and unutterable and avoidant bollocks is the result.

Brexit is a prism. Fundamentalist belief is a prism. There are a lot of prisms, in every walk of life - at work, in families, in friendship groups… and I need to mind my own, always dismantling along the way.

How does it happen? We enter our prism with thoughts about some great truth which excites us.

But as these thoughts harden, they have the capacity to absorb all our awareness, leaving us blind to other light; blind to the emotional and physical impulses that govern our everyday lives.

We become pleasingly (and perhaps proudly) trapped in our prism, and scorch all earth around it.

I remember from my past a vicar of a large evangelical church who found himself trapped in this manner. He was saying things on a Sunday that were true in the prism of the church’s particular belief – but not in the real world beyond.

And so a chasm grew between his authentic self and the vicar persona he needed to maintain to keep the ‘successful’ show on the road. It required a breakdown to help him leave.

It can be unsettling when our prism walls crack; though there is only freedom beyond.

Thoughts created the prism and thoughts beget pride, which may be one of the first casualties, but this is OK. Pride is no friend to our wellbeing.

It was Cardinal Newman who said ‘Life is change - and to be perfect is to have changed often.’

This is not a call to change for change’s sake, which has no value in or of itself. Rather, it’s about dismantling the prisms which our thoughts create along the way, when their time is done.

And fear nothing. On leaving prism, you will be met, hugged and transported to a kinder place by sweet mystery.

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A thin place

Posted by Simon Parke, 04 September 2019, 9.13am

Do you know of a ‘thin place’?

I first came across the phrase when visiting Little Gidding.

‘This is a thin place,’ I was told…though it seemed like any other place to me, with its own joys, difficulties, blockages and sorrows.

A ‘thin place’, as you probably know, is a place where the space between heaven and earth grows thin, boundaries dissolved, making it easier to encounter the sacred.

I’ve heard the phrase used about other retreat centres as well, for whom even the rumour of it must be a rather helpful marketing tool.

I’m reminded of Glastonbury Abbey in 1191. With pilgrim numbers down, they ‘discovered’ the tomb of King Arthur on their premises.  No problems with pilgrim numbers after that. The place was suddenly very ‘thin’.

‘We believe we are a thin place.’ It has been said to me several times and in several locations and it all sounds rather romantic at first - the idea that there are a few places on earth where communication with the divine is especially easy; where revelation hangs like a ripe peach within easy reach.

The wider implication is more troublesome, however; and darker by far.

For feeding the pomposity of the claim, and the accompanying hysteria, is the wider implication that most places on earth are thick places, where any sort of connection with the sacred is as problematic as a phone signal on Dartmoor.

And this is not my understanding or experience of creation, which is a good deal more generous and even-handed than this.

God can find us anywhere…and you can be sure no one ever called the pot-holed Damascus Road a thin place…

So I’m happy with the idea…as long as it is universal, meaning the gulag is a thin place.

The cemetery is a thin place.

The supermarket is a thin place.

The hospital is a thin place.

Golgotha is a thin place.

My bed is a thin place.

The walk to the post box is a thin place.

The setting where you read this is a thin place.

As is the traffic jam and the train journey.

If these (and all other places) are allowed, then all talk of thin place is beautifully and wonderfully true.


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Easing out my ego

Posted by Simon Parke, 03 September 2019, 8.09am

And we clear the ego from the room, for it creeps in quietly on occasion

The manager is angry; she hasn’t got her way, that’s the real issue

The mother takes offence at a school gate remark, thinks about it for days, offence growing

The writer rages that his book doesn’t sell, blames all sorts

The carer in a battle with the elderly client; she’ll discreetly make him pay for his stubbornness

The politician is trapped in a slogan - it’s who he is, he must make it work, he’ll take others down

The bishop fumes at his place in the procession; he should be nearer the back

The conversation doesn’t go the way I wish; seeking control, I force it back down my chosen path

The ego – as insecure wind-whipped sand – defines itself against something or someone

It’s all it knows; it exists by dividing

‘Divide and sulk, divide and fume, divide and self-promote, divide and blame, divide and resent…but do divide.’

So on the walk to freedom, we allow things as they are, we allow what is, ourselves and others; allow the two to become one

We leave the battlefield of needy self-promotion and the vanity of offence

Instead, we breathe in the big and wonderful air of our existence

And with self-kindness (because we’ve been here before, and will be again) clear the ego from the room, for it creeps in quietly on occasion and doesn’t help

We ease it out and close the door

Such free space remains, such laughter, such hope

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My new pencil case

Posted by Simon Parke, 02 September 2019, 5.43am

At the beginning of September I always think of a new pencil case.

My Mind Clinic work does take me into schools sometimes.

But even if it didn’t, I suspect strong past memories of that big September return to school would survive: new class, new teachers, freshly painted toilets…and obviously, that new pencil case.

It would hold various treasures: my multi-coloured collection of biros; my fancy new transparent six-inch ruler; my very sharp pencil and my chunky new rubber.

My pencil case marked the start of fresh adventures, new things.

Of course, life has its way and the multi-coloured biros would soon be leaking; the clear ruler would get scratched and stained; the pencil, broken and the rubber – probably borrowed by someone on the first day and never returned.

But somehow, the pencil case still means something.

It’s about helping me into change, giving me confidence to begin; it’s about the moment when we take a deep breath, feel our strength and set off on a new journey: ‘I can do this.’

We’ll lose some stuff along the way. But maybe the adventure is worth it.

I wish you good adventures this autumn… with or without a pencil case.

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When I baptised my grand daughter

Posted by Simon Parke, 26 August 2019, 10.19am

Last weekend, I had the honour of baptising one of my grand children, in a home ceremony.

I said a few words before the baptism, and this is a rough version of them.

‘Today, we do something very beautiful. We baptise Ellie into something borderless and eternal - the kingdom of God’s love.

But we also do something revolutionary. We may be on the news tonight. We may be in gaol, because the political elite won’t like this.

On one side, we have Jeremy Corbyn allowing the nurture and practice of anti-semitism within significant groups in the Labour Party. It is the quiet and persistent allowance of hate towards an ethnic group, to keep the masses happy…so shame on him.

On the other side, we have Trump, Farage and Johnson – rich men all, who use hate to lift them to power. Whether it’s colour, ethnicity or religion - lie, evasion and mockery are used to stir hate…so shame on them.

The political elite build carefully on hate, knowing its uses well – ‘separate and rule’. That is their vision - but this is not God’s vision; nor the vision of this home in which we gather.

This is nothing new of course. Jesus grew up in Nazareth - a Jewish settler town, which claimed to be ‘more Jewish than Jerusalam’.

So they didn’t like the Phoenicians who began to appear. ‘Hatred will keep us pure!’ Only Jesus healed a Syro-Phoenician woman, he didn’t buy into the hate. His kingdom was borderless - including even Romans…and worse still, Samaritans.

No wonder Nazareth turned on Jesus with violence. He was upsetting their purity.

But Jesus wasn’t only blind to colour, ethnicity and religion. He was also gender-blind.

It is a myth Jesus had twelve male disciples. It is clear from the gospels that there was a much bigger following than this, and many of them were women, like Joanna, Susanna and Mary Magdalene.

And as if to prove the point, when the shit hit the fan, there at the foot of the cross are only four people – one man, three women. At his burial and resurrection, there were no men; only women.

And of course, the kingdom of God is age-blind. When his followers tried to stop children coming to him, he asked them what they were doing? For the kingdom of God is such as these.

So the political elite and their acolytes will not like what takes place today, because we baptise Ellie not into their kingdom of discreet hate and separation, but into God’s borderless and eternal kingdom of love.

Hate destroys us, love lifts us. Hate must crack and wither, there is no other way for it to go; but love will grow, and love is strong. So Ellie, a three-year -old girl, is probably the strongest person in the world today; and the equal of any.

We do something beautiful – we baptise her into something borderless and eternal, God’s kingdom of love.

But we also do something revolutionary, opposed by the political elite. We may be on the news tonight, we may be in gaol.

Yet Ellie could not be safer.’

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Ten new commandments

Posted by Simon Parke, 20 August 2019, 7.48am

1) Be present – Behave as if all that matters is now, whatever presents itself. Do not think about the past or future.

2) Observe yourself – We are unique in creation because we have the capacity for self-awareness. Kind self-knowledge makes us fully human.

3) Be nothing – Do not be afraid of emptiness. The empty night sky holds the stars and space holds genius.

4) Flee attachment – We surround ourselves with a web of attachments and then find we can’t escape them. Most human suffering comes from mistaken attachment.

5) Transcend suffering – Suffering is part of life rather than surprise. We can resent suffering and suffer more; or allow it into our story.

6) Drop illusion – Most of what we think about ourselves is illusion. It weighs us down and makes us mad.

7) Prepare for truth – Watch and listen more. Think less. Truth comes to those who are patient – not those who want to be top of the class.

8) Cease separation – Stop making comparisons or trying to be different or better. We are part of everybody and everything.

9) Know your soul – The greatest treasure of all lies within us. Someone can have a million pounds but be poorer than a homeless vagrant, if he has no soul.

10) Fear nothing – The path to freedom is slowly learning to live without fear. Nothing matters that much.

These ten commandments form the basis for my book, The Journey Home, published by Bloomsbury. You will find them in a more developed form there.

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