August 31, 2012
Just obeying orders. More on the move.
In the middle of the move, I am surrounded by chaos seeking order.
And most of all, I feel like a Concentration Camp soldier, deciding on a whim the fate of various aspects of my life.
Which to survive? Which to be thrown, cast aside?
All I know is only half can come with me.
'You, come over here. You're remaining in my life. You, join the queue over there. You're not.'
Sometimes a reprieve is granted, after inner negotitaion and they're allowed to leave one queue and join the other. They're so happy!
But I'm not. I'm just the soldier following the orders of the possible.
August 30, 2012
A moving story
I'm packing up my little life as I listen to Bach.
I'm packing things up for my move on Saturday when the excellent Clive will bring the hired van round. And bring some much needed competence, kindness and strength to proceedings.
And boxes of course, because fluid life becomes box-shaped when moving.
How long has it been? Nine years.
Nine years of life in this little garret flat above a pub, in one of the uglier parts of London. It's where the riots started last year. But as my daughter says, 'It's your ugly.'
So I pass through the lasts. The last runs through the early morning streets; last tearful visits to the launderette, last fish and chips from 'Neptune's'.
Everything suddenly precious, everything seen with new eyes, for this is what death does; enhanced vision, it says: 'Behold the glory you leave!'
Sadly, we don't always notice it before we leave.
I notice I'm clinging to my past with books and note books mainly, but also old clothes: 'It may be useful one day.'
But that sort of past is rarely useful. Like a staircase to a landing, it has got us to where we are but that was it's only purpose and it can be let go of now.
If I haven't looked at/worn something during the past two years, it's perhaps time for it to go.
No, during the past one year, that's better....or six months...last week?...
Bach plays on in the eternal present.
August 29, 2012
It was a great honour to be able to reflect on solitude at the Greenbelt festival over the weekend.
And a particular honour to be part of such a searching and honest gathering of people.
We were thinking about solitude not being an end in itself, but an active word, a journey, the path towards a clearing in the jungle of our emotions and thoughts; a clearing of inner stillness,silence,receptivity.
We may not always make it to the clearing. That's OK, we're allowed to fail. But at least we know the purpose of our journey, to get to the clearing where we can reclaim ourselves, reclaim our light and glory - the life beneath our life.
Meister Eckhart calls this space the emptiness which God can't help but fill.
In this space, there is a wonderful sense of union with ourselves, the world and therefore God.
But emptying is hard. We fear such emptying and the foliage through which we struggle can be disabling, the foliage of our thoughts and emotions. We'll need to say hello to these tangled growths, acknowledge their presence, before saying goodbye to them and passing through them to the clearing beyond.
This will be particularly difficult if we don't like ourselves very much. Why would we want to be alone with ourselves if we don't like ourselves? Some people like to be with other people not because they like them, but because they don't like themselves and avoid their own company whenever possible.
They'll perhaps like some noise when going to sleep. Perhaps the TV on? Or they'll seek out frineds they don't like for the evening. Anything but the dreadful silence.
So as you set off towards the clearing, notice the particular foliage you do battle with. It is better noticed than unnoticed, better seen than secret. And awarness begins to dismantle its power.
This foliage is not who you are, of course but something hiding who you are.
In the clearing beyond, we get the best sense, the truest sense of who we are away from the world's definitions and our own learned self-definitions.
In solitude we exchange tat for gold, confusion for identity, busy for still, fear for discovery, urgent for important, machine for human, separation for union.
August 26, 2012
A flower with attitude
I've never been challenged by anyone's challenging words.
But people's attitudes challenge me profoundly.
I have been pulled up short by the kindness of others, melted by their gentleness.
Though yesterday, it was the humility of the wild flowers in my downbeat local park.
They're in no flower show and are passed without a glance.
But such simple beauty, happy in itself.
Walking in the park, the humility of the wild flower brought me home.
August 25, 2012
Conan Doyle and his alcoholic father
I'm reflecting on the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at Greenbelt on Monday. 12.30pm if you're around.
And so many aspects of his life to consider!
This morning, I was thinking about his relationship with his father, Charles Doyle. In Conan's memoirs, he had nothing but good things to say about his father. His writings, however, told a rather different story.
Charles Doyle was an alcoholic. He began drinking early in life but it intensified after marriage. It was not long before he could neither support nor cope with his family.
There was embarrassment for his wife and children as he spent time in nursing homes for alcoholics and then the last eight years of his life, from 1885 - 1893, in three mental asylums. It was the young Conan who had to sign the papers that committed him there.
As I say, none of this is mentioned in Doyle's memoirs where he is keen only to tell us what a good painter his father was.
But in his writings, his buried feelings seep out.
In 'The Sealed room' for instance, a father who is unable to pay his debts locks himself in a sealed room, takes poison and dies there not wishing to place yet more stress on his wife who has a heart condition.
While in 'The Japanned Box', a man who has lived a life of drinking and gambling, sits by a record player several times a day, playing back his dead wife's pleadings not to indulge in the drinking which had ruined him as a young man.
Here is a world of locked doors, thick walls and dark secrets where the dead wield power over the living, where advice is tragically unheeded, where alcohol destroys and where pain lives on.
In his later years, Conan Doyle also said that alcoholism and sexual immorality were sent by God to weed out and destroy the weaker souls, to make for the evolution of a stronger humanity.
In public, and perhaps even to himself, Conan Doyle had nothing but good words for his father. On the surface, everything was fine.
But then when did the surface ever tell the truth?
My book 'Conversations with Conan Doyle' is published by White Crow and available on Amazon if you'd like to discover more about the man. It's not elementary at all.
August 23, 2012
Your views on the world, please.
Some people think we live in a good world in which shit happens.
Others think we live in a shit world in which good occasionally occurs.
The former can understand words like 'hope' and 'trust'. For the latter, they are strangely elusive, irritating, meaningless.
We'll not go into the origins of it all now.
We'll just notice which group we identitfy with...at the moment.
We all have default positions. Which is yours?
We may have change, of course, for we speak not of permanence here. I've seen myself change from one to the other and then back again.
As I say, we're just noticing where we are at the moment...today.
It makes a difference.
August 21, 2012
When is a tree not a tree?
I enjoyed this man's response to some troubles in his life:
'I am a living tree. Together we form a forest, all rooted in a common ground. Though we are not the ground, we cannot live apart from the ground. Uprooted, I am lumber, fuel or furniture but not a tree. I have lived so concerned about my fruits. I mean to focus now upon my roots!'
August 20, 2012
Is my cup happy or sad?
I've just finished an afternoon cup of coffee, which I drank while writing.
(No milk so it was black coffee today.)
The cup is sitting next to me and my keyboard now, empty and slightly sad.
Or is that just me transferring my feelings onto the cup? If I fear emptiness perhaps I imagine my cup does too.
I'm saying, 'Poor cup!' when I mean, 'Poor me!'
But let's be brutal, a cup cannot always be full and neither can we.
A cup must become empty sometimes so that more can be poured into it.
We tend not to warm to this idea and keep ourselves busy to make ourselves feel full.
'Heaven knows what I'm full of - I don't dare look! - but given how busy I am, at least I'm full of something which is so much better than being empty!'
The spiritual journey is a constant emptying because that's the only way to receive new things.
On reflection, my cup looks deleriously happy.
August 19, 2012
I was having a conversation with the father of one of my nursery children.
He was telling me that he was taking his son to visit his Grandmother
'She's amazing, 99 years old, still living in her own home and looking after herself'
'Although her taste in food has become a little more adventurous' he added as an after-thought
Eager for the full story I encouraged him to tell all
'Last time I visited, she made me Peach Melba yogurt sandwiches, slightly soggy but I did manage to eat them'
Brave man, I would be taking a packed lunch.
At what point? On discerning health
At what point?
Discerning health is hard for us all. Sometimes it's easier to discern in others than ourselves. We can sense when others are living from a beautiful or damaged space inside, but not always ourselves.
At what point, for instance, does spiritual openness, flexibilty and questioning become confusion, aimlessness or lack of resolve?
Or there again, when does stirring commitment and determined faith become blind, rigid or arrogant conviction?
And at what point does love for another become manipulative, jealous, or idolotrous? Or the desire for a higher spiritual plane become an escapist and hallucinatory adventure of denial and spiritual by-passing?
And other questions: when, for instance, does regular spiritual practice become compulsive, unexamined activity?
At what point does a healthy commitment to personal growth become a damaged, dull and disabling pursuit of perfection?
And when does a healthy reclamation of control in your life become an unhealthy commitment to control of everyone and everything in your life?
There are no clear borders between the desert of clarity and the wilderness of despair. So at what point do we notice we've passed from one to the other?
We listen to these questions not for others but for ourselves.
We won't see the point until we've passed it, of course, but what joy there is in the return.
No fear, no self-blame, just joy.
August 17, 2012
These are the questions to ask
For the grieving husband, facing the loss of his young wife, it was simply the wrong question:
'Some people ask why this tragedy happened to me...you know, I never asked that question.'
So what were the questions to ask?
'These are the questions to ask,' he said. 'Was her life rich? How many lives did she touch? Was she a blessing to those who knew her? Will she be missed? Did she take her joys humbly and gratefully? Did she meet her sorrows courageously? Was her life opening rather than closing? Was God present? Who can doubt it?'
August 16, 2012
Retreat News: I have sadly had to cancel the Beautiful Life Retreat in Glastonbury set for February 2013.
But three wonderful Glastonbury retreats remain standing, two this autumn and one, autumn next year. They are:
Enneagram Retreat, Sept 24th - 28th, 2012
Beautiful Life Retreat October 29th - Nov 2nd, 2012
Beautiful Life Retreat October 21st - 25th, 2013
August 14, 2012
With the Olympics over and the Football Premiership yet to begin, I suppose the main sporting story today is the fact that, after six weeks, the plaster has finally come off my arm, removed with a remarkable vibrating saw.
As you may know, the plaster was protecting my fractured elbow and did a cracking job in a really non-cracking sort of way.
They were going to operate three weeks ago: 'We usually operate on elbows because they do not mend easily,' said the consultant. 'But looking at the X rays, yours is doing all right. So let's give it another three weeks in a new caste and see.'
Well, this morning we saw and discovered that the elbow is clinically healed - though still fragile.
Apparently - and I'll keep it simple because I don't want to blind you with science - because the elbow is a busy little joint, getting up to all sorts of things during the day (and night probably, who knows?), the bone has to have healed to within 2 millimeteres of accuracy. And here's the thing: my healing was within the required 2 millimetres.
When he told me, I insisted on us standing for the national anthem as I felt like an athlete with a gold medal round his neck:
'He's done it! Simon Parke has nailed it! He's healed within the 2 required millimetres! What a remarkable story for one, so, well - old.'
Anyway, away from the medal ceremony, I'm now learning to move my arm again but I've noticed one or two good things already.
Good things about plaster coming off.
1) I don't have to hold my hand up in the bath anymore as though I'm constantly trying to catch teacher's attention: 'Sir, sir!'
2) It now takes less than three hours to do up my shoe laces. This definitely frees me up for other things during the day.
3) During the past six weeks, I have had to become as a Chinese body contortionist in order to put deoderant under my right arm. (Another Olympic gold or is that being greedy?) I hope to keep the skills acquired - perhaps join a circus even - but they're no longer strictly necessary.
4) Left hand on the piano considerably freed up. Before, I was like Rowan Atkinson in the Olympic opening ceremony...
You may be wondering about my running. Well, keep this under your hat, especially if there's a consultant in the room - and isn't that so often the case? - but me and my plaster have been enjoying some good long runs for the past two weeks in Finsbury Park. He wanted to go, honest! And ah, the delight of being back in my body again, working my heart as the sun plays on the early morning dew. Wonderful.
Physios are all a bit busy unfortunately so help from them is some way off, but I will improvise.
In the meantime, I do apologise if this has been in any way dull. Other people's medical stories can be even more tedious than their prolific collection of holiday photos...
'Well they were great. Really great.'
'No, that's only the first day!'
'There are thirteen more days still to enjoy!'
'That's a relief.'
'Yes, we really got going with the pics from day two. We've hardly started!'
'I couldn't be happier. Truly.'
August 13, 2012
The Untold Secret of a Successful Olympics
Today, the London Olympics packs up and sets off to Rio.
Farewell, my friend!
The Games have seized and shaken us in a way no one expected. Aren't we all meant to be bitter and cynical? Wasn't the whole thing meant to be a disaster from beginning to end?
But it wasn't. Far from it. So what happened?
Wonderfully hosted of course and there were huge numbers of medals for GB as well. Remarkable achievements littered our screens on so many levels. But is that the whole story of its success? Or did it also become - beneath the waterline of our consciousness - an unexpected parable of psychological health?
The integration of our psychology and spirituality, between reality and aspiration, is a slow journey; a cheerful marathon rather than a frenetic sprint.
And along the way, as in the hurdles or the rowing, there is no journey free of failure, longings and pain.
We face our challenges in life as best we can while accepting our limitations as humans. Rebecca Adlington wasn't worse in London than in Beijing. It's just that others were better.
And we accept certain things as a given: we accept, though its hard, that we can't eliminate suffering, that we cannot experience all there is to experience and that every choice we make is also a loss of something.
That's alot of acceptance but worth it.
'Integration means a life that is constructed as much around defeat and hurt as it is around attainment and joy,' writes the psychologist Kenneth Pargament.
And perhaps this is why living the Olympics these past 17 days has been so powerful. In the Olympic arena, as in our lives, defeat and hurt jostle with attainment and joy, all held together, all contained, all part of the whole. How could anyone win without someone else losing? For Mo Farah to have his hour, others had to forego theirs.
And we must somehow allow it all, hold it all, make sense of it all, love it all.
And nothing puts out the fire.
Throughout the games, nothing put out the Olympic flame and nothing can extinguish yours.
August 11, 2012
Truth V Ego
Truth V Ego
How violent the attack that protects false truth
How eager the Ego rises, to hold and to claim her territory
Oh what weaponry she keeps in her battle bag
False smiles and sugared words
Gifts with strings attached
Warmth and help held at arm's length until the victim's resolve breaks
And tactics they change
Words that belittle
Power implied and played out in grand circumstance
Threats issued with intent to scare and frighten the victim into submission
The Ego always needs her victims compliant
And her manipulation comes in many disguises
But Fear Not
Presence lives and fights for Truth
Who is always pushing, causing cracks to appear in Ego's costumes
Truth, the fragile sapling searching for the sun
Eager to break out and grow strong
So how can we recognise the difference between Truth and Ego's lies?
Truth brings tears that always heal and nurture the water starved land
Ego's tears are of self-pity and blame
Truth brings pure anger that breaks through walls that have imprisoned for far too long
Ego's anger always wants to hurt and dominate
Truth brings bubbling laughter that recognises all Ego's madness and tricks and understands that they no longer wield power
Ego's only laughter is shallow and often at the expense of another
Truth brings gentleness that receives and accepts the hurts that are uncovered
Ego knows no gentleness
Truth brings healing action that gets to work as soon as honesty reveals the wounds
Ego denies any wounds
Truth brings happiness, hope and love that lives in and accepts each moment exactly as it is
Ego's only happiness is when she feels in control
Truth V Ego
August 10, 2012
When people have power over us
Sometimes we notice that people have power over us.
We've spent our lives reacting to them, complaining about them, running them down, recounting stories against them.
But we're doing this because for some reason, we have granted these people power over us and so we are not free.
We have become their slaves and this is both sad and unnecessary.
If we were free, they would have no power over us and we could chuckle at the old days when they wielded their absurd - and perhaps unknowing - power.
So how do we dismantle their power and become free?
We become free by becoming aware of our present with acceptance. We notice our reactions, we acknowledge them, accept them but we don't worship them. Instead, we allow them to pass through, again and again and again. And then again, returning always to the perfect now.
So, no more tired and endless retelling of our angry and twisted history; no more dull and endless forward projections of all the terible things that will happen, as if we were the grand god of outcomes.
Just present awareness with acceptance, and with trust because creation is on our side.
Here we are free and no one has power over us. So we can deal with others cleanly and without fear.
And if we are fearless and free, others become fearless and free in our presence. We stop sharing negativity, and share freedom instead.
Some may cower and spit, of course, threatened by our freedom.
But that's their story not ours, for we are the laughing ones, the present ones, too happy to be hurt and wishing the spitters well.
Now we respond to them rather than react to them; we hold them rather than harrass them.
This is Freedom Friday.
August 06, 2012
Olympic Special: The hardest interviews to hear
It's easy and delightful to listen to interviews with Olympic winners.
Thye're happy for themselves, trainers and family; and we're happy for them. Let's be honest - it's not hard for the successful to give an interview. It's easy for them to be gracious and we're with them, caught up in their achievement.
What is a great deal harder is to listen to the losers' interviews. Those who when the moment came, couldn't deliver. Twice yesterday I heard the phrase 'I fell short'. They feel frustrated for themselves and all those who helped them; they feel they've let everyone, including the crowd, down.
And it's not as if they can get up tomorrow morning and put it right; the next Olympics is 4 years away. A long time in any one's life, but particularly in a sporting life.
Of course they did supremely well to get to the final. Remarkable achievement. But these things are quickly forgotten and count for nothing in the pain.
Negative experiences have tremndous potency in most people's lives; greater potency than positive experiences generally.
You're having a lovely meal in a restaurant. You see a cockroach and the lovely meal is ruined. A small negative has destroyed a big positive.
And religion does not always help. In most religious traditions, it takes years and years to become a saint; but only one or two 'sins' to compromise this state. As has been said, it seems that 'It's easier to pollute oneself than purify yourself.'
So sometimes, whether athletes or not, its good to brush the thick dust of negativity off the good experiences and have a look at them again. I remember one of you recently telling me about three remarkable words you were given while driving your car.
Such was their impact that you had to pull over and stop for a while.
They were such appropriate words for this person; and all the more remarkable for the fact that her psyche was pretty destroyed at that time, she had run a long way from health.
And then suddenly good broke through with exquisite beauty, accuracy and power. Where did that come from?
'Is that God speaking?' she asked.
She'd forgotten about the incident. It had lost its shine, overlaid with the dust of negativity.
And she's hardly alone in allowing that.
Maybe it's 'Dust-Off' Monday for those of us who feel we're coming fourth in life.
August 05, 2012
Are religion and spirituality different?
From a collection of interviews about spiritual journeys, (gatherered by Wade Clark Roof) these words from Molly.
Interviewer: Religion and spiritual are two different things?
Molly: Yes, they are. With religion you have to choose one, you have to be locked in, which I don't want to be.
Interviewer: Is spiritual more open?
Molly: Uh huh. It's like an individual definition of your relationship to God and nature and religion and family and humanity.
How do you respond to that?
August 03, 2012
Prince William and Harry at the Olympics!
As Anthony Wilson tweeted today, 'How lucky Prince Harry and Prince William seem to have been with their Olympic ticket allocation.'
Imagine the excitement at Buckingham Palace as they opened their post with the news.
Which events would they get tickets for?
The fifth round of the Under 18's weight lifting? The quarter finals of the Beginners breast stroke competition?
The tension mounts.
'Oh look, we've got - everything!'
'And we didn't even apply!'
Solitude and Conan Doyle at Greenbelt: Shock New Times!
Here are the new - and hopefully final - times and venues for my Greenbelt talks on Bank Holiday Monday.
They're slightly different than those originally advertised. Bring your croissant and coffee to Solitude if necessary...breakfast's important:
Monday 09:30am : Solitude - recovering the power of alone
Monday 12:45pm : Conversations with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Was he remarkable? Or remarkably mad?
Venue: The Hub
See you there!
August 02, 2012
Oliver Cromwell on air-brushing
In these days of air-brushed image, it's wonderfully refreshing to listen again to Oliver Cromwell's instructions to his portrait artist, Mr Lely.
No air-brushing is encouraged on this occasion. Though as you'll see, he didn't actually says, 'warts and all'....
'Mr Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint your picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughness, pimples, warts and everything as you see me. Otherwise I will never pay you a farthing for it.'