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The merciful shadows

Posted by Simon Parke, 05 November 2018, 5.01am

I will be taking a break from blogging for a while.

I need to listen to my asking soul, to the little boy within; and writing for the public stage, gasping for the oxygen of publicity and response, does not always aid this.

Sometimes the oven door is best closed; constant opening brings loss of heat.

For any missing my blogs, (if such a thing is possible) there are long corridors of previous ones on my site. Push at any door which seems right.

Who knows, it may be they are better second time round? People often say this of my books.

I will return, sooner or later, and with delight; I’m missing your companionship already.

But for now I seek the mercy and revelation of the shadows.

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Jason the Juggler

Posted by Simon Parke, 01 November 2018, 9.12am

Jason sits quietly on the pavement as people pass by.

He is surrounded by the tools of his trade, the juggling trade, keeping everything in the air – daily and always.

Jason has juggled with all sorts down the years – balls, sticks, knives, oranges, bean bags.

He even juggled with fire - flame torches tossed high in the air, spinning around, each one dangerously caught and sent skywards again.

He has kept the show on the road, the balls in the air, you must never drop the prop – golden rule in juggling: don’t drop the prop!

And though often tired, he has carried on, it’s nice to please, and how could he stop?

Only now Jason sits quietly on the pavement, pondering the tools of his trade and the sky above. He hasn’t looked at the sky enough.

Some stop and people him ask why he’s not juggling for them anymore.

‘Why are you just sitting there? We like you when you’re juggling!’

And he explains that he’s taking a break.

‘I’m taking a break,’ he says, remembering the words of a friend, ‘When you stop something you start something.’

He’d ignored his friend at the time, but not now, sitting on the pavement with nothing to keep in the air and no show to keep on the road – just a life to love and to ponder.

And Jason feels happy, nervous and free.

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Trusting the day

Posted by Simon Parke, 01 November 2018, 6.00am

I will trust this day.

I will trust what happens and the way it works out.

I will trust it comes to bless, and has no intention other than to hold me in its loving arms.

When I lose this trust my behaviour becomes most odd.

Sometimes I attempt to control situations and people or run around like a chicken in a panic.

Perhaps I fill my head with noise or my life with activity.

I may start the blame game with myself or others, become smug on my imaginary high ground or perhaps declare in loud despair: ‘It’s all going wrong, just like it always does!’

As I say, when I lose a sense of trust, my behaviour becomes most odd.

So I will trust today and all it brings.

For when it is so and the trust is strong,

All is quite perfect

And all is quite well.

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The popular murder of truth

Posted by Simon Parke, 30 October 2018, 5.27pm

Is popular opinion important to you? Are you keen to appease it, to ride on the back of it?

I know the temptation.

Though Socrates didn’t feel bound by what everyone else was saying. He didn’t feel popular opinion was a guide for anything of value.

‘Ordinary people just act at random,’ he says - not a line much in currency today among our political leaders.

‘I absolutely believe in the good sense of the British people etc etc’

Socrates then adds that opinions in popular circulation cannot demand respect merely because of their popularity. Popularity has no relation to either quality or wisdom.

To illustrate this, he says that an athlete who trains according to a programme dictated by popular opinion is liable to damage himself. It would be better if they trained according to an athletic coach.

These days, we appear to know better. We enthuse about the democracy as if there is some inherent wisdom in the popular view; though most dummies and tyrants have ridden to power on the back of the popular view, Jair Bolsonara in Brazil the latest.

‘Eat shit – a million flies can’t be wrong.’

But there’s a more fundamental issue, as Macarius, the 19th century Russian startsy, notes.

People travelled miles for his advice. But the truth of his advice was always personal, non-transferable. As he wrote to one visitor:

‘What I write for you I write for you alone and I must ask that you refrain from passing it on to others as a general rule of conduct for all. It is nothing of the kind. My advice to you is fashioned according to your inner and outward circumstances. Hence it can be only for you.’

Perhaps to one person he said leave your husband. Perhaps to another he said stay. He fashioned truth ‘according to your inner and outward circumstances.’ It wasn’t for general use.

And yet we love making it general…which makes it a lie.

The more people you are speaking to, the more reference points there are to appease, the more compulsions to win over in some sort of communication deal – then the more you must dumb down, and the more stupid you must become… if you wish them to follow you.

All nuance must go, all subtle shades, these things cannot live in the mass market; they must be abandoned for strong colours and clean lines.

You hear it in both political and religious oratory…strong colours, clean lines, savage put-downs of ‘the enemy’.

In the end, the communication deal is about a truth, not the truth.

Most communicators don’t set out to lie; they don’t see themselves as liars, this is not their self-image. They probably see themselves as saviours. 

But while they don’t perceive themselves as liars, they will lie freely to protect their little bit of the truth…and later, rationalise their lies to themselves, and believe, (perhaps with a smirk and a wink) the lie to be virtue in its way.

In the end, the deal becomes the most important thing…the communication deal. And if truth must be sacrificed in some manner, then so be it, it’s worth it – a truth is better than no truth, politicians and evangelists at least agree on this.

But is it? Is it really?

For a truth is an idiot outside its own front room.

Take a well-known recent example.

‘£350 million to the NHS’ on the side of a bus. It’s a truth, in that it could happen… aspirational but possible.

But when put in the context of the whole Brexit narrative, it’s an idiot.

In terms of the communication deal, however, it was worth it; it got the Brexiteers over the line…wink, wink.

And obviously the same practice is not unknown in the Remain camp, or in churches, mosques and synagogues…or indeed in ‘Strictly’ contestants talking about their journey on the programme so far, an exercise in mass-market hysteria rather than the truth of their experience.

On offer from them all: A truth for mass consumption, strong colours, clean lines.

I prefer speaking with one person. Only there, as Macarius reminds us, is there real accuracy of diagnosis and prescription.

In a group, I am tempted to become hysterical, to over-claim in order to ‘lead us all forward, to give the troops a fire to gather round!’

And to over-claim is to lie.

With a crowd, I exchange accuracy for hysteria. Strong colours, straight lines, savage put-downs…

...when truth is a water colour of spilling light and shade; a savage beauty beyond words.

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Security or adventure?

Posted by Simon Parke, 29 October 2018, 11.20am

Sometimes we want security; and sometimes we want freedom to explore.

Sometimes we long for things just the way they are; and sometimes we want to walk out the door, say goodbye to it all and have a massive adventure.

We don’t want change and we do want change.

Sameness can crush us but then change can scare us.

So which way do we jump?

Our feelings vary, they pull us apart. There are such different voices within, some shout loudly, and we need to listen to them as kindly as we can.

They make speak helpfully, they may not; but each has a story; each has a message which needs hearing.

Life is change whether we wish it or not. Our scenery shifts, our bodies change, our dreams alter and people come and go.

‘This too shall pass’.

Our security is allowing it to be so, without clinging, greeting each day as a gift and loving what is.


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A different sort of news

Posted by Simon Parke, 29 October 2018, 11.00am

And here is the breaking news

The first frost on the grass, a crisp and brief white carpet for my morning run

This is our lead, though there are other stories - like the hale and hearty wind from the north smacking my face, the velvet autumn rose - hold the front page! I’m alive! I’d quite forgotten…

The breaking day my breaking news, the light in the east, dawn’s cue, night is past… though morning not quite here

While through the old street wall, soft flowers appear… soft flowers cracking concrete to find light, they won’t be bricked in, they give me a clue

(They learned from frail poppies which, in June, eased through tarmac in this very spot)

While falling leaves leave me falling away

This me blown hither, with blustery disregard, a me I no longer need, let it go

And the puddle at midday – I have to pause on my way - every ocean there ever was, and ever will be, here on the pavement

Soft sunlight at two, always a kiss

And early dark at five, the fading light, cascading gratitude

While beneath the massive moon, and stars from another time, before my concerns

I walk at the end of the day scooped in the net of nature’s rhythm

And sometimes I hear it, and sometimes I walk to it

A rhythm without ego, without care, though caring crucially

And this is the breaking mending news

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The hidden conversation

Posted by Simon Parke, 23 October 2018, 1.18pm

Join me now listening to a conversation which you may recognise.

The surface transaction looks like a mature conversation between two adults. So let’s see how it turns out.

Joe is presenting Mary with a problem he has; and Mary, drawn in by his need, is making some suggestions about solving the problem.

‘Why don’t you try this/that…’ she keeps saying, offering different solutions, because she does want to help.

But Joe keeps saying, ‘Yes, but…’

And that’s how the conversation goes.

‘Why don’t you…’

‘Yes, but…’

‘Why don’t you…’

‘Yes, but…’

In the end, every one of Mary’s solutions is rejected by Joe. There’s always a reason why they won’t work.

And it will have dawned on you by now that you aren’t listening to a mature conversation.

The fact is, Joe isn’t looking for a solution. That’s not why he’s here. Coming from a victim/child space within himself, he just wants attention.

‘Give me some attention!’ is the underlying scream.

But Mary immediately goes into rescuer/advice giver/parent-figure mode, ‘Why don’t you try this?...’ Only it isn’t working…and things are about to get worse with a role change.

Mary seethes quietly that she hasn’t helped much, feeling de-skilled as Joe moves swiftly from victim to persecutor.

‘Well, you weren’t much help!’ he says which is a serious blow to the ‘parent’ Mary.

Joe’s now enjoying feeling superior, he’s now the powerful one, while Mary, previously the parent/rescuer, and the one in charge,feels helpless like a child, stitched-up by the transaction… a victim.

How things have changed.

Later, she will tell a friend, with some pleasure, that Joe is ‘just an ungrateful little brat. No one can help him!’ Like Joe, she can move from victim as well…it’s a very short step from victim to persecutor.

It’s always good to notice how the voices inside us play their games, shifting like the clouds.

We are a soap opera of voices, voices from our past, often putting the drama ahead of the healing.

Health is noticing the drama…and leaving it.

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An incident by the river

Posted by Simon Parke, 22 October 2018, 10.40am

In a far away land two monks approach a river.

Standing by the side of the river is a woman. She cannot cross, not wishing to ruin her new clothes in the dirty water.

The older monk offers to carry her over, which he does. He puts her down on the other side, says goodbye and they continue their journey.

But the younger monk is quietly furious. The Order they belong to does not allow them to have contact with women.

They travel on… but unhappily. He cannot forget what the older monk has done and after a week of the matter going round and round in his head he has to speak about it.

‘I can’t understand why you did that!’ he says. ‘We are not to have contact with women!’

‘I put her down at the river bank,’ he replies. ‘You’re still carrying her.’

Sometimes to be free, we need to feel the breeze on our face…and let go of things.

P.S. When done, in celebration, we may also wish to utter Hallelujah!...but this isn’t compulsory.

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Posted by Simon Parke, 18 October 2018, 5.34pm

I’d like to ponder holiness, but start with a question that often confronts me.

We cannot always change our circumstances. So how are we to be free?

Philaret of Moscow might be able to help us.

He lived in the 18th century and said, ‘Our visible but unreal virtues impede us from fighting against our invisible but real sins.’

What is his point?

We all create artificial or unreal personalities for ourselves which we present to the world. These personalities are designed to protect us from our unresolved terrors; and offer an alternative identity to see us through.

The poet Ted Hughes called this our ‘secondary selves’.

It’s a mask which replaces our true selves, and a pretty shabby one – yet we end up believing it entirely, imagining this mask to be our adult selves.

We might laugh at someone who wears a physical mask and believes it to be who they are. We’d think them mad. Yet it is rare to meet someone who does not do the same with their mental perceptions.

It is how we survive…or so we imagine.

(And here lies my interest in the Enneagram, a remarkable friend in this exposing and jewel-laden journey.)

If someone is to help us – and only the sane realise they require help - we need them both to expose the mask; and to see behind it to the figure in us God sees.

There is no magic in this journey to self-realisation; just kind and compassionate dismantlement.

Leonid, an 18th century Russian starets, put it nicely: ‘If you were as simple in heart as the apostles were, you would not hide your human faults, would not appear pious and would live without hypocrisy. This way, which seems so simple and easy, is not given to or understood by many.’

Most casual conversation I hear in the street is concerned with people justifying themselves; explaining their rightness in some dispute or other. ‘So I told him straight etc etc…’

Most do this without thinking; constant self-justification, their imagined selves to the fore.

But all judgement is hypocrisy; and all self-righteousness denial…it is better to stay with our own fractures, and not worry if they are on public display. This is what it is to be free.

And in this manner, the mask begins to dissolve, becoming unnecessary; and something more beautiful and freer begins to appear.

We cannot always change our circumstances. But freedom lies within our grasp, as we ease the redundant mask slowly from our faces.

I suspect this is holiness.

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On being a lake

Posted by Simon Parke, 16 October 2018, 5.40pm

Some of us are easily upset, whether it’s a remark, an unexpected event or even a look.

Our equilibrium is disturbed and our peace destroyed. Like salt in our tea, small events can ruin everything.

Of course, if you put spoonful of salt in a cup of water, it has a horrid power. It may well make you sick.

If you put a spoonful of salt in a jug of water, however, there’s less impact. The salt will be noticed, but not to the same degree, because there’s simply more water to absorb it.

In the jug, the salt will be struggling to gain your attention.

But here’s a thing: if you put a spoonful of salt in a lake, it won’t be noticed at all! Really not. The lake is too large a mass of water for it to have any effect, with the salt being exposed as a spoonful of not very much.

However you look after your wellbeing, when upset arrives, remember the enormous lake; breathe in its depth and capacity, it’s glorious size.

It’s a bigger, truer and happier place than the cup.

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