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Predictions are for fools

Posted by Simon Parke, 16 August 2017, 11.37am

From here on, we’ll not over-determine our lives with anxious prediction about what will be good and what will be bad.

Predictions are for fools.

‘Easier said than done, though,’ I say to myself, aware of the fool within.

Yes, but still better said than not said, for there is substantial truth here, and an unhelpful pattern worth dissolving.

The future cannot be known because it doesn’t exist; it has no form around which predictions can gather.

And the anxious over-determination of life merely cripples happiness.

It steals this moment, the only one I have.

Prediction is a burglar who we ask to stay.

And all for what?

Predictive text is often laughingly wrong, and our dire over-thought predictions are more so.

The evening with friends may prove a nightmare.

And our visit to the hospital very happy.

Nothing is set.

So when I next find myself predicting outcomes, I will greet the fool with a smile born of familiarity.

But I will question their threadbare credentials; and believe them a little less.

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Towards transparency

Posted by Simon Parke, 14 August 2017, 8.21am

We journey towards transparency…

...transparency towards ourselves and the world.

So that when people meet us, they meet us... rather than some representative we send with specific instructions about what is, and is not, up for discussion…

...a secondary self we have wheeled out to ensure our survival, our comfort zone, to see people off… or keep at a distance at least.

(It’s a difficult and dull meeting for all concerned.)

How does transparency arrive?

Transparency arrives through the kind dismantlement of grace.

When the world has been dragged through us like a rake, like a plough, like a thorny thicket, ripping, tearing, redeeming…

When cherished self-image is finally dissolved…

When the needy activist…the stingy victim…the lazy-eyed depressive…the manipulative helper…the emotionally-stunted purveyor of wisdom…the anxious saint…the
distracted seeker…the controlling carer…

When these un-brilliant selves have left, kindly eased from our psyche, we find clear windows of perception on life.

We stumble on more accurate assessment, like colourful fish seen in clear water.

Less cramped and edited lives, less fear.

Instead, transparency of motive…

Transparency towards ourselves and the world…

Transparency of love…

‘There’s no side to them,’ someone will say when we arrive, ploughed and free, at transparency.

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Scared?

Posted by Simon Parke, 11 August 2017, 6.01am

There are certain typing errors I often make; certain words my fingers struggle with on the keyboard.

So for some reason, I type ‘sotry’ instead of ‘story’.

I don’t know why.

And I often type ‘thongs’ for ‘things’, which does change the meaning.

As in ‘There are some things I’ve really enjoyed this month’.

And when I type ‘sacred’ it’s almost always ‘scared’.

No, really…every time.

I’m hoping this isn’t all Freudian.

I’m rather hung out to dry if it is.

But it reminds me, seeing the two words so close, how un-close they are.

It reminds me that fear – whether fear of people, fear of the future, fear of failure, fear of change, fear of the truth of ourselves – has no holy origins.

‘Scared’ and ‘sacred’ are a misprint – and a universe – away from each other.

Though daily, being human, we move between the two.

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Another bloody marathon

Posted by Simon Parke, 09 August 2017, 10.09am

On Sunday, I will run a marathon.

I do it for myself really, I won’t pretend altruism, which actually plays no part at all.

But due to the generosity of people like you, I hope also to raise something over £1000 for the wonderful Dementia home next door to us.

I haven’t done any particular preparation. I tend to run something over 60 miles a week, including twenty miles every Sunday morning; and this will suffice.

The human body can find the extra six miles when it needs to.

I’ve worked out a 26 mile circuit around the hills and coast line of Seaford. Unlike the London marathon, there are some quite serious climbs; and they will be the place of pain.

I will run it alone; but I won’t be lonely. My partner will run the first mile with me; my brother will cycle alongside me for five or so miles in the middle section; and my son will join me for the final six miles.

While delightful neighbours, friends and family will see me home (around 10.15am in St Peter’s Road)  and enjoy coffee, croissants and a swim in the sea afterwards.

So a very social marathon really.

But is it spiritual as well?

The running monks of Mt Hiei in Japan would say so.

They’ve achieved enlightenment by running a thousand marathons in a thousand days.

They are much revered for this and why not? It does sound impressive.

I’ve only run three.

There’s a little myth-busting to be done, of course: the thousand days do not have to be consecutive; the whole thing usually takes about seven years.

And unlike my run, the marathon does include ‘shrine-breaks’, as the runners stop to pray at various holy places along the way.

But it’s still a challenge – only a few monks have done it twice – especially in the straw sandals they wear.

And I don’t imagine they’re Nike Off-Track Ranger straw sandals…

But can we really call it enlightenment? Or to put it another way, what’s so spiritual about running?

The spiritual benefit, they’d say, lies in the constant movement which exhausts the mind, the ego and the body, until nothing is left.

‘And when you are nothing,’ says one of the monks, ‘then something, pop, comes up to fill the space.’

And this ‘something’ is the vast consciousness that lies below the surface of our lives, a sense of oneness with the universe.

As Adharanand Finn records in his book, ‘The Way of the runner’, there are moments when running when we break through our body and begin to feel light, strong,
at one with the earth.

But enlightenment, says another of the running monks, isn’t a point where everything stops and you’ve suddenly made it.

No, it is something alive, something that pushes you every day, whether you are a monk on Mount Hiei or a recruitment consultant in Horsham.

‘Something deep wants to know that place,’ says Finn, ‘to find it again, to return to it. And for some of us, it means lacing up our shoes and heading out for another
run.’

So think kindly of me on Sunday as I will think of you.

I’ll get up around 4.45am, enjoy a cup of tea (and possibly a banana), do some stretching and at 6.30am, set off.

And then it’s simply one foot in front of another.

It’s exhaustion and delight, vanity and enlightenment.

It’s still mind, empty mind, oneness.

Both grit and gift.

And just another bloody marathon…

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The three paths

Posted by Simon Parke, 08 August 2017, 6.00am

How do we like our growth?

Where do we imagine we will find it?

Here I describe three paths.

The first is the path of information. Those travelling this way will love new information and will excitedly read a new book.

(Their self-help library may be extensive, no author un-skimmed.)

Or perhaps they will go a new course which they have heard about, drawn by the leader’s interesting ideas.

The idea of receiving new information, discovering the final piece of the jigsaw, the one thing that will make sense of everything - this is a powerful driver.

How shall I grow? I shall grow through information!

It is a relentless, exciting journey, and often stimulating… which is sometimes mistaken for growth; though this path can leave us weary and disillusioned.

There is light along the way, but it’s a journey of the head, an exercise in mental distraction, and ultimately, in and of itself, leads nowhere beautiful.

The second is the path of understanding.

The path of understanding is beyond mere information, and feels more grown up.

It is a slower moving river, not quite so flighty, less tempted by the new.

It’s more about sorting out the material available, what makes sense, building up the big picture – understanding likes the big picture.

It’s like starting with an empty bookcase, and slowly filling it with the books you want there, the books you like.

They may be different sorts of books, you pride yourself on breadth; but together, they make for you a satisfying and interesting whole.

There is wisdom to be found on this path, and occasional wonder - it’s the chosen path of many religious leaders; though mainly it’s about control.

The path of understanding is less about growth and more about control, through the ordering of information…and, like the path of information, still a head fuck.

The path of understanding is not an affective journey; it is a wisdom journey, which left to itself, grows into nothing but ordering concepts…

...and a sense of control in an uncontrollable world.

The third path, and less travelled, is the path of dissolution, in which we surrender to the truth of ourselves.

The path of dissolution leaves concepts behind, so often a tool of avoidance, and engages with our present experience of life.

This path can seem to disappear at times, and leave us with the impression we are lost.

There can be an absence of signposts… though the sunsets are better.

It is an un-walled path, unlike the other two…there is a sense of un-walling about it, of kind and helpful dismantling; a sense of old protective structures being
dissolved.

It is an affective path, not another head game, and may well involve the feeling of feelings long walled up… which can disturb.

‘I didn’t sign up for this!’

But it becomes the contemplative way, where nothing, no aspect of ourselves, is rejected; where everything belongs and all can joyfully be held.

The surrender to the truth of ourselves, which is the leaving behind of shame, is the happiest of surrenders, if not much practiced.

(We do need to talk about the insidious power of shame.)

But when everything belongs, and every aspect of ourselves can be owned, the particular direction of the path becomes less important.

Instead of a troubled ‘Where am I going?’ it is a joyful ‘I am!’

Beyond information, understanding; beyond understanding, dissolution.

Though whichever path you walk – and we can travel all three in a day – remember only self-kindness.

 

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The school fool

Posted by Simon Parke, 07 August 2017, 6.24am

Tompkinson was soon to leave the school and his teacher wanted a final word with him.

He’d never liked the boy, never really taken to him; and if he’d made his life a misery sometimes, what of it?

Perhaps he had misused his power, but then Tommo had played the fool too often.

And now the moment for some parting words.

‘Soon to leave, Tompkinson?’

‘Soon to leave, sir, yes.’

‘So tell me, what do you want to be when you grow up?’

‘I’m not sure,’ replied the boy. ‘How about you, sir?’

We will never mistake an adult for someone who’s grown up…

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Solutions man!

Posted by Simon Parke, 04 August 2017, 6.00am

I watch the listless dog, prowling.

He cleverly hides his bones here and there… and then forgets where they are.

He never finds them again and sort-of remembers something lost.

It’s a life made unhappy by stingy calculation, the careful storing for the future; managed fear replacing present joy and energy.

It’s like a ship in the harbour, insisting on staying there for fear of the waves.

It has heard they can be rough, best be careful, it’s only freshly painted, after all?

When the boat (and the paint) is meant for the waves.

And the problem again is calculation.

Calculations made about survival.

It’s like pinning a butterfly in a book to ensure I never lose sight of its fluttering, shimmering beauty.

Pinning the life out of the moment, trying to nail down the joy.

‘Sorted!’

And I don’t cry at my life, I don’t weep, because I might dehydrate, I’ve read it somewhere online…I just plan; calculation will avoid the need for tears.

What’s the point of tears?

I am solutions-based, a smart cookie, others should try it,  managing the fear, googling it.

It makes sense if you think about it, staying in control.

Why wouldn’t you?

I want a solution, I’m hard-wired for that…Solutions Man!

... when there is no solution apart from my dissolution into the adventure, into my present breath and present company.

So enjoy the bone.

Risk the smashing wave.

Let the butterfly go.

Weep when you need to.

And solve everything by dissolving your boundaried, present-burying plan.

And inspired by you, and as I am able, I would like to join you there.

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The murder of Abbey House

Posted by Simon Parke, 02 August 2017, 5.58am

Abbey House, set in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey, is to close.

The Abbey House trustees have been given notice to quit on December 27th, 2017.

If you don’t know it, Abbey House – a bit spooky on first sight - was built in the Tudor Gothic style in 1830 from the stones of the abbey ruins.

Originally a family home, it was brought by the Bath and Wells diocese after being advertised as ‘a gentleman’s residence with interesting ruins in the garden.’

For eighty five years since then, it has offered kind holding to visitors.

But now Glastonbury Abbey Ltd want it back, so it can become offices and the like for their business development of the site.

There’s not much money in retreats; but a great deal of money in a well-run ruin.

I write about this with a personal agenda.

I have hosted many retreats at Glastonbury.

For many years, it has been the wonderful home for (the now homeless) ‘Beautiful Life’ retreat.

But it is never about the words or the leader at Abbey House; and always about the space.

The sun setting over the Abbey is pretty special to be with during the evening sessions in the big front room.

And it isn’t just the view.

Abbey House is my favourite retreat centre because it always feels like home rather than an institution.

It started life as a family home and has never lost that sense.

And while it’s the retreat house for the Bath and Wells diocese, it doesn’t feel ‘religious’.

So no belief system is required or encouraged by the space. It allows you to be who you are…which is important on retreat.

Let our retreat space break all imposition of views.

But now this must end, we must all get sensible. We must all get corporate and offices must prevail, business development et al.

Perhaps if it had become a conference centre it could have made enough money to keep the accountancy wolves at bay.

But this is the thing: a retreat is not a conference.

A conference is busy, stimulating, ideas-based.

A retreat is un-busy, stilling, a journey beneath ideas…the total surrender to the truth of ourselves.

In the present financial climate, retreat centres are struggling; everyone needs money to survive.

Indeed.

And sadly, perhaps those most geared to survival are the niche hideaways for those in the niche.

To its eternal glory, Abbey House has never been in a niche. It’s just been a home.

As it started, so it finishes.

So I find its legal murder difficult.

Life is change, this is so…but we don’t have to applaud, and it is important to note what is lost.

The world does not need more conference centres; we won’t be changed by ideas.

But it does need more kind, non-judgemental, holding, beautiful, affordable, homely space.

And this is what will die on December 27th , sacrificed on the bullshit altar of business development.

In our end is our beginning, let it be so.

Kind space is dead!

Long live kind space!

 

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Over-thinking?

Posted by Simon Parke, 01 August 2017, 4.57pm

Sometimes we try and understand things on an information level.

‘Why did they treat me like that?’ we ask ourselves and then spend hours imagining possible reasons.

‘Was it this reason or that reason? Or perhaps another reason?!’

We hand over the worry to our head; in pursuit of information, we start to over-think.

There’s a reason we do this…to calm our anxiety, we’re attempting to control the situation.

If we know ‘why’, it gives the impression of control.

‘I’m in control again!’

But our head is not a good place for our worry. Instead of easing it, the worry is multiplied, as our brain imagines endless (and untrue) scenarios.

Our thoughts are neither a peaceful nor - crucially - an accurate place.

Sometimes, instead of trying to understand, it is best just to live the mystery.

We can’t always know why, and actually, we don’t need to.

We can let go of anxious dreams of control and simply live the mystery, live the unknowing, with a spirit of kindness towards ourselves and a peaceable attitude towards the world.

The thing is, it’s going to be OK.

And what else do we need to know?

 

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The state I'm in

Posted by Simon Parke, 28 July 2017, 6.02am

As I stumble towards my 60th birthday, hours away now, I think briefly on what I’ve done… and the state I’m in.

And the latter is rather more important…

This is something of an indulgence, I know.

My age has never previously felt significant to me; none of the traditional landmarks have made an impression, apart from perhaps my arrival at the age of thirty three, when, as a semi-conscious priest in London’s West End, I remember thinking:

‘Blimey - Jesus was grown up, smart and finished by now!’

I had barely started…I still haven’t.

So what have I done?

I pencil a list, with probably some things forgotten…

I took some shows to the Edinburgh Fringe

I wrote some satirical scripts for TV and radio

I looked after three London parishes over twenty years, preached twice at St Paul’s

I stacked shelves in supermarkets for five years (change of gear)

And then I’ve hosted many retreats

Seen a glory of people one-to-one

And along the way, I have also written some books, run some marathons, written some blogs – ta-da!

A list such as this is not self-revelation, of course.

What we do says hardly anything about what or who we are.

Motive and intention, drives and fears, they lurk beneath the easily-rolled-off C.V.

And now on the cusp of my 60th, I’m drawn to ponder not what I do, but what I am, the state I’m in.

It is not demanded that we are always in a state of virtue and self-mastery; and this is just as well.

It is only demanded that we know the state we are in.

This is all that is realistically possible for us in this moment as human beings: to know our state.

(It makes us much less dangerous in the world.)

It is not everything we could be, or what ultimately is meant for us.

But such awareness is the only miracle worth the name, freeing us to speak without illusion, without mixed motive and without being disingenuous.

Miracle indeed.

But crucial…because I am constructing my reality from my inner state, it is important I know the material I’m working with.

So on the cusp of my 60th, as I consider my state, I’m aware of two characters who have re-appeared in my life since going free lance and who can significantly distort my perception of reality.

I do not respond well to rejection, perceived or actual, professional or personal; and I have significant survival fears, which gather in a sad huddle around finance.

So for me, issues around rejection and survival.

It is their knock on my door that can paralyse or induce terror.

They can be the state I’m in.

My little self came up with a good plan to survive these things, of course…our little selves do; but it was never more than a plaster, and life exposes our childish mendings.

So what now?

There is nothing for me to learn or acquire. Truth is not the acquisition of anything; it is simply the removal of error.

(We’re full of truth when that goes!)

And how? Just by noticing the ghosts gently.

As my colleague Mark Godson said to me, as I spoke of these things: ‘Regard the conceptual interpretation lightly and stick with the thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that are arising and passing away.’

Having labelled them so they can be seen, un-label them, do not regard them with huge seriousness, for they have no substance, they are just thoughts, just feelings.

And so I presently watch the dissolution of these two ghosts from my past, not needed and unhelpful now.

They can still frighten; but on my 60th birthday, while I’ll be saying some very happy ‘Hellos’ – Oh yes! -  I’d like also to say to one or two ‘Goodbyes’.

I do not know what I will be doing in the future; it is particularly unclear at present, and even as I write this line, I feel the fears rising.

‘Hello, fear!’

But the bigger truth is I can both feel and see beyond them, through the worn-out veil of the past, and know ridiculous thankfulness.

And that is enough.

For all those screams, and all those tears, and all those glory, glory years… just gratitude.

Indeed, the universe is barely large enough to contain it.

And as Mr Nietzsche reminded us, and I think he had you and me in mind, ‘You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star’.

Concerning the state I’m in, it is possible my stumble is a dance…

 

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