December 30, 2011
The closing of the door
The week after Christmas is my favourite week of the year.
I have the honour of attending to the needs of others for much of the time.
But after Christmas, I attend to my own - the only needs I can truly attend to.
So I disappear, retreat, close the oven door and let the heat build.
I'm sure you're enjoying my silence as much as I am.
I look forward to seeing you next year.
We'll have such adventures....
December 23, 2011
Glad tidings for damp technology
Glad tidings for all those with damp technology.
I had said good bye to my ipod. It provides the music on my runs but had got utterly soaked one day and had never recovered.
I'd put it in warm places, dry places, hot places - but it wouldn't charge, months had passed and its lights remained determinedly out.
It was an ex-ipod. One soaking too many it seemed. An Ipod can only take so much.
And then last week I saw a detective programme in which the police found a phone on a dead body in the water.
'Put it in rice' said the detective mysteriously.
But it worked because later they were able to pick up phone messages stored there.
Well, forget finding out who the murderer was - I was in my kitchen before you could say 'Kim jong il.' I placed my dead ipod in a bag of rice and left it there for two days.
Miracle. A Christmas resurrection. I took it out of the rice and suddenly there was light - ipod light saying, 'I'm ready to rumble'. The boys are back in town, me and my ipod.
So if you drunkenly drop your mobile into the toilet this Christmas or fall backwards into your bath whilst on the phone to your uncle in Paraguay or indeed find yourself in a tropical storm of monsoon proportions while out running - remember the rice.
But once carefully lodged there, remember also to remove the item from the rice before making risotto - or indeed any rice-based dishes.
Cooking your phone will not aid its recovery...
December 21, 2011
I'm sitting here writing something else, but I'm strangely drawn to you with this thought:
Why do we imagine the famous will be interesting? Almost all have got there with a gift - and gift has nothing to do with substance.
You knew that already. But the media is determined that you forget.
December 20, 2011
On window cleaning
We seek it out not because we're bad but because we're good; because we know that if we take time to wipe our window clean, we see only beauty.
Some people fear solitude. They're like those who leave the window well alone because they fear the view transparency might offer.
But what if the view from your window is wonderful?
Would you not then seek some soapy water and a cloth and get to work?
Whether we call it sin or karma, both describe the same thing - the consequence of separation from goodness and as we know, there's alot of it about. Alot of unpleasant consequence.
Sin/Karma are like a leaden lump in the world, a lump of separation from goodness which our ego dates and drools over when down.
But when we collude with the lump, we collude with illusion; our personal truth is a whole lot more substantial.
For neither sin or karma have any ultimate existence; only your goodness has ultimate existence.
As Julian of Norwich observes: 'I believe sin has no real substance or real existence. It can only be known by the pain it causes.'
Which is why in solitude there is no fear and we find dirt and stain give way surprisingly easily to transparency and fresh vista.
We step on to the path of solitude because we are good; and because beyond our goodness, nothing else exists.
December 18, 2011
Truths waiting to unfold
Choose to be still, allow time for the myriad voices which jostle for attention to quieten.
Say hello, then goodbye to each one and watch as the wisps of distraction they bring evaporate into the sky.
There is nothing to fear in this place beyond words, but there are many truths waiting to unfold.
Truths which bypass the machine mind and can only be revealed to the open human heart.
These universal truths are gift for all, but if we wish to claim them, each one of us has to brave the dismantling of our own point of view.
We need to be willing to step out from behind our protective walls and begin our own personal journey to find them.
These truths can not be borrowed, they will only ever be meaningful if we discover them for ourselves.
It's sad, but those who take short cuts and try to understand these truths with their minds will not be fulfilled.
Because of the way the mind works it can only ever attempt to 'process' these truths by breaking them down and changing them to suit it's own limited understanding and purposes.
This often ends with confused mixed up half truths or truths with no roots that only suffice while everything is ok but which can not be held on to when difficulties arise.
However when we discover these truths for ourselves, we melt into a experience that feels 'becoming' and yet 'constant'.
The illusion of time passing falls away and we are held and infused with a deeper knowing.
This knowing stands strong through the 'good' and 'bad' times of surface existence.
Difficulities will still need to be faced, but held within this deeper knowing they lose the power to overwhelm.
We have found our gold, we have been reunited with our inner strengh
We can now hold the world in compassionate arms and boy can we love
Because with our barriers removed we discover that loving kindness is our true nature.
December 17, 2011
The writer's greatest nightmare?
What is the writer's greatest nightmare?
What is it that's most likely to make them bin their quill for good?
Context; the reliance of meaning on context.
As Laurence Freeman observed, 'Are they off?' means something different when said at a race track or in a fish and chip shop or smelling an old bag of fruit.
Take quotations. No doubt you'll get a book of quotes for Christmas. I dread them myself but we do live in a 'quote quoting' culture. The media love a quote for they are enlightenment for the lazy.
This ain't necesarily so. They can be doorways to good. If a quote is the start of something within us, they can be wonderful.
But this is not usually how it is. Usually the quote is the end of something, a coup de grace, after which we can all go home. Done, sorted, End of! Thank you and good night!
Quotes are so often not the start of listening but the end of listening which is also the end of life.
Who said it?
Why did they say it?
What was the context of them saying it?
What inner light did they enjoy at the time?
And what truth did they fear?
These are important questions. For if the external context matters a great deal to how words are heard, the internal context of writer and listener matter even more.
For the writer, the only call is to compose from the clean air of inner listening which purges inappropriate intention. But with intention duly exposed and considered, there ends the writer's power; they have no control after that. All is then in the heart of the listener over which the writer has no power.
You might write something with a twinkle in the eye but another hears it as heavy judgement.
You might write something truthfully sad but another declares it 'just depresssing'.
You might write something universal to all but another can only hear it as personal to them.
You might even be silent for a while and someone will write bitterly saying how your silence speaks volumes! And then they proceed to write/invent those volumes for you.
What we discover is this: alot of listeners don't listen. They react.
This is why a long time ago, Jesus told the story of the four soils - to encourage all of us as we risk communication. In the story, the same seed is placed in four different contexts with varying outcomes. Some seed died instantly, some struggled for a while and then gave up - and some flowered magnificently.
Exactly the same seed but four different outcomes.
This is how it is. It's all about context.
Maybe Jesus told the story to reassure himself for my goodness, his words brought varying reaction. But it's also encouraging, sort of, for the writer and for any who try to make themselves known in the world.
We are responsible only for our intentions; after that, our words are the play things of psychological whim and as sturdy as straw in the wind.
So daily we sit in the sweet emptiness of our souls and warm oursleves by the fire of listening. We listen. And in the light of this fragile flame we examine our intentions.
And wait a minute, is that a smile? Of course! For this is no nightmare.
If our intentions are good the world is good.
Isn't this so?
December 16, 2011
When you can't find heaven, heaven finds you.
I'd given up on finding a carol service this year; so a carol service came to find me.
I was on my way to the second of my 'Solitude' evenings at Breathing Space in Barnet.
I got off the tube at Arnos Grove where I was to be met. Tired faces surrounded me on the escalator, weary beyond telling but wait - what was this? The sound of angels, filling the air above us! Was the escalator taking us to heaven?
I know how the shepherds must have felt.
For behold, just beyond the ticket barriers was a little choir singing carols while others, in Father Christmas hats, collected money for a hospice. Hallelujah!
They were backed by a CD player, a saxophonist who kept disappearing and a woman with an alto recorder.
I gave with pleasure and then listened with pleasure until they asked for a request. I suggested 'Silent Night' and so it came to pass that a choir member came over and shared her words with me so I could join in. A ticket collector also wandered over, sheepishly.
And later, as I sat on the wall outside waiting for my lift, I pondered these things in my heart:
Nine lessons and carols from Kings la-di-da College Cambridge?
Don't need it, mate, don't need it.
Arnos Grove tube station. Heaven found me there.
December 14, 2011
Christopher Columbus and the moment of truth
Along the way, it's helpful to find examples of brave humanity, true existence because such people warm us to our own adventure.
For instance, it was not when Christopher Columbus proved that by sailing westward you found America, that he opened the way.
No, he opened the way when he quietly set sail westward with a small number of companions and little support, the first to make the attempt. That was the real moment of truth.
Everything consists in living in the truth of ourselves; if we are there, everything is good even if there are uncharted waters ahead.
If we are not living in the truth of ourselves, we become part of the great un-truth and devalue and diminish everything we touch.
So we will be happy just to be in the truth, however unfruitful it may seem. We trim our sails and tend our heart and make our way through the water.
No one in the world could do anything better.
December 13, 2011
'It's ok to let the baby cry'
I went to the first Solitude session in the Yurt last Thursday eveing.
The Yurt belongs to Amanda and is placed in her garden. It has been used for many different events and was once even transported to Cheltenham to be part of the Greenbelt Festival.
As always Amanda used her creative gifts to make the space warm and welcoming. I enjoyed listening to Simon talk, the outer space helping me to hear his words in a deep listening place. I always find this type of listening helpful and healing.
After wonderful refreshments, another of Amanda's many talents, everyone gathered back into the Yurt for a short shared silence.
Simon invited us to speak any words that arose into the silence if it felt helpful.
Now I enjoy shared silence and like it to be silence and my most comfortable position would be to keep quiet. However after about five minutes I felt words struggling up my neck, not helped by the fact that I was trying my best to swallow them back down. I felt myself fighting not to speak but after another few very uncomfortable moments the words forced their way out
'It's ok to let the baby cry'
At first these words horrified me, what on earth could they mean?
I work with children, I would always go to the aid of a crying child and encourage others to do the same.
I left feeling slightly uncomfortable but trusting that these words were important, after all they had pushed themselves out despite my best efforts to hold them back.
I have sat with these words during this week and I feel they are about not silencing any pain, but allowing it to be heard.
They are about allowing what is and accepting difficult moments without reinventing them. Allowing time for a healthy and natural transformation to take place.
Fears, Pain or any other uncomfortable emotions such as Jealousy, Anger or Judgement will only sit and fester if they are hushed up.
If they are covered over and denied they will turn bad inside and force themselves out in all kind of unpleasent ways. However difficult these voices need to be listened to
'It's ok to let the baby cry'
This wordless cry was our first ever voice and it deserves to be heard.
This wordless cry is behind all our negetive emotions.
If we are able to allow it, if we can bear to listen, then I believe it is possible for us to transform our dross into gold.
December 11, 2011
My Outward Roles, the wind whipped through
It felt like murder of all I knew
I gave my clothes, I gave my skin
My flesh, my bones, my breath within
Now the face in the mirror, is all but gone
I'm lost not knowing if I belong
Once I stood tall, now nothings there
Just empty space and clear cool air
Fear and Courage walk the same path
Caught between them, I hear the angels laugh
'Nothing can come if you can't let go
Open your heart and allow life to flow'
Awaiting discovery, there's a path to be found
Leading towards my inner ground
A path that leads to an important door
A door that opens on a secret store
I rest in time, I allow the space
I feel myself bathed in grace
Things they come and things they go
When life is ready, the new will grow
The inner door now opens wide
Inviting me to step inside
Fear subsides and courage grows
I melt into the one who knows
December 10, 2011
Thank you for coming, thank you for going
I was at the wonderful 'Breathing Space' yurt on Thursday, doing the first of three December evenings on 'Solitude'.
Afterwards, I had an interesting conversation with someone who in their work life is presented daily with particularly challenging people and situations.
We were reflecting on how different staff members handle it.
1) Some are tough-skinned and ensure everything and everyone bounces off them before it gets inside.
2) Others allow the dangerous person in but then find the experience lodging inside them, stuck there and turning into something negative: anxiety, fear, rage, spite.
3) Others allow the person inside them, process the experience and then allow it to pass through them.
While each of the three responses is understandable - we each do the best we can - the third response is the healthiest as the one that both receives and releases.
We are a guest house, through which peole pass. Inwardly, we turn no one away but neither do we let them lodge.
It's not their space.
December 09, 2011
It's a timeless story, much talked of recently and performed by actors you've heard of. But the question remains: should you have to pay to see the school nativity?
Traditionally, nativities have always attracted anger. A long time ago, Herod was absolutely furious about events in the stable. More recently, parents across Britain have battled it out to see their daughter given the role of Mary:
'Just how many end-of-term bottles of wine do I have to buy Miss Jones? Or was she not in charge of casting this year? And why that Alison girl was chosen ahead of my Stephanie is a complete mystery to us all! Steph would never have knocked over the manger when reaching out for the myrrh. Mind you, the wise man was an idiot.'
But this year has seen a new wave of rage around the school nativity play and it's all about money: with a make-shift til in the foyer, some schools have been demanding between £1 - £5 for tickets. Without nationwide statistics, we don't know how many schools took ths option but social networking sites like Mumsnet and Netmums have been hosting a lot of upset.
Mumsnet Chief Executive Justine Roberts says: 'Lots of our users are shocked at having to contribute for the first time.' There's a general feeling that charging for the nativity 'isn't quite cricket' - or rather, 'isn't quite Christmas.' As a parent whose child is at a faith school said: 'I feel to charge for the nativity goes against the Christmas ethos. Is nothing sacred - not even the Christmas story?'
Nor is it just the mums. Former England fast bowler Freddie Flintoff has also felt 'bounced' by the practice. A millionaire maybe but he wasn't pleased at having to reach into his wallet to see his daughter perform. As he tweeted: 'Just about to watch my daughter's school play, hope it's good - they've charged £4 a head! Only in Surrey!'
Though schools are publicly-funded, the practice is legal. The Department of Education says schools can ask for a voluntary contribution as long it's clear it's voluntary. One doesn't sense Mr Flintoff felt he had a choice and for many schools, of course, the nativity remains free.
As one head teacher said to me, 'We ask the parents to make all the clothes - we couldn't ask them to pay as well.'
Should you have to pay for the sacred? It becomes a problem if it makes people angry, because angry eyes, whatever the century, cannot see the truth. Herod couldn't and neither could Stephanie's mum, both unable to break free from their cramped and negative agendas. When yoked to the negative, we cannot journey to awareness; it's only when yoked with love that we make that journey.
The foyer is an important part of the spiritual experience; it opens us to the possibility of receiving. The shepherds were greeted by angels in the sky while for the Magi, it was a star.
If the foyer makes you angry, it may also make you blind.
December 07, 2011
Perhaps when it's all over
And the impossible is true
And my desperate fear of living
Has finally left the room
Yes, perhaps when its all over
And there's none to do us harm
We'll see the past for what it is
The storm before the calm
Perhaps when its all over
And a fire burns in the hearth
And peace and right and justice
Have come to make us laugh
Yes, perhaps when it's all over
And there's none to do us harm
We'll see the past for what it is
The storm before the calm.
December 06, 2011
I mean I'm all for charity...
Has my publisher, White Crow, gone completely mad?
There must be some mistake, surely?
But until Christmas:
'Solitude - Recovering the power of alone' http://amzn.to/w0E3o6
And 'Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth' http://amzn.to/rwnPVU
are both available as e books for £1.71 or the dollar equivalent!
I mean I'm all for charity, but - more oxygen please, I'm feeling faint...
National Trust Day
We're declaring this National Trust Day - that's the angle on this site today. (The countless staff who run this massive operation have all been informed.)
But no misunderstandings. When I declare this to be National Trust day, this has nothing to do with the maintenance of Tudor stately homes and their marvellous estates in the rural parts of Britain, good cause though this is.
Rather, it's about trust, nationally. We can all wobble occasionally, and perhaps you are wobbling today. The world can appear to be collapsing around us in so many ways and trust can be the first thing to go and serenity and kindness soon follow.
So we pause for a moment, breathe deep and ponder. How are you? Maybe in time you can say this to yourself:
'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.
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, myself or others;
become smug on my imaginary moral 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.'
Welcome to National Trust Day.
December 03, 2011
Enneagram: reasons to avoid
I'm presently revising my book about the Enneagram, which will be re-published by White Crow in the New year.
Here's a small section about avoidance:
'One thing I am aware of: being a truth mirror can make you unpopular. Tell someone the truth about themselves and they can become angry because you're threatening their perception of themselves. This is dangerous territory and the spectre of self-knowledge is consequently something many run from.
I can still hear the woman who had worked with the starving. She was furious at the idea:
'Psychology? Self-knowledge?' she muttered. 'The starving don't have time for psychology and so neither do I. What's important is that they're fed!'
We all run from ourselves in different ways and sometimes our running has the appearance of virtue. We may say the starving don't mind who gives them bread and on a level, this is true. But on a deeper level, we take ourselves wherever we go and most of the healing we bring to harsh situations does not flow from what we carry in our hands or speak with our lips, but who we are in ourselves. Self-knowledge is concerned with being good as we do good; it is for those who wish to bless crisis, rather than hide behind it. The world is full of those who wish to be a light to the world, without first being a light to them selves.
I hear also the terror of the religious man:
'Psychology? Self-knowledge?' he says. 'Why waste time talking about ourselves, when we should be talking about God!'
We all run from ourselves in different ways and sometimes sanctuary is a religious cocoon. Yet how surprising that a religious man should decry psychology! In many ways, it was religion that taught it to the world. For tell me: how can someone unknowing of them selves, know anyone else - let alone God? At the root of our philosophical and religious heritage, from both East and West, is the call to 'know yourself'. I do not ask you to believe one thing or another; what you believe is your concern. But I do ask you to know the person who is making the choices.
I also hear the criticism of the cynic:
'Psychology? Self-knowledge?' they say. 'It's just another fad for those with more money than sense! What's there to know which I don't already?'
We all run from ourselves in different ways and some escape into despair, closing down on themselves and the human adventure. They've listened to more nonsense in their lives than they care to remember and certainly have no desire for more. But the only listening in this session is to your self. Close down on anything but do not close down on yourself.
Good psychologists give you the tools to excavate your inner light. The rest is up to you.'
P.S. And away from the book, but on a similar theme, I've finally been persuaded to run a 4-day enneagram retreat next year. Details on the site if interested.
December 01, 2011
Job interviews: what not to do
I was recently at a job interview.
It was apparent the two who were interviewing me were aware of my book on Solitude.
'There's not much chance of solitude here!' one of them said. 'It's much too busy!'
The other agreed - interestingly, a bishop.
'It's all about performance, from the start of the day to the end of the day.' he said, fingering his large cross. 'Believe me, this is is not the place for solitude!'
I said you didn't need to be alone to experience solitude:
'I'm sitting here talking to you now, and on one level I'm with you. But on another level, I'm sitting here aware of the inner silence, the free space within me. I'm with you and I'm not with you.'
Yes, I was aware they didn't understand, aware I was stepping off traditional job interview territory but I didn't want to give any nourishment to their dull and self-important activism.
I didn't get the job.