You do not have to be good

Angel by Ron MueckSatya writes: All week my husband has been on Buddhist business in India.

I had planned a solitary retreat day on Monday. I had it all worked out – virtuous food, no television, reading holy books, gazing wistfully into the distance as I contemplated the great mysteries of life… you know the sort of thing.

Here’s how my retreat day actually looked. Glued to email and Facebook. Far too many muffins. Trashy television (I’m ashamed to tell you what I watched). Agitated. In denial. To bed too late, fizzing with caffeine from all the chocolate I’d guzzled. 

Before I went to bed I emailed Kaspa a long confession, detailing the extent of my failure. When I woke in the morning he’d sent me a single line. 

“You don’t have to be good.”

We think we do. We think that in order to be acceptable, we need to try harder. Do more spiritual practice. Be nicer. Build up multiple passive income streams. Post more beautiful photos of our beautiful lives on Facebook. Get rid of all those snitty and mean-spirited thoughts. Work out every last psychological tangle. Improve improve improve!

We don’t have to try and be good. We just need to notice what is there, offer it up, and turn towards the light. 

We can be curious too – that helps. Oh, I’m eating another muffin. Oh, I seem unable to stop myself from checking my email. What is that about? Does this relate to the dream I had last night where there was garbage covered over with plastic? 

What process am I currently engaged in? Where is my soul heading? How can I be kind to it as it transforms? How can I be more patient, more understanding?

Oh, I’m checking email again. There’s a feeling in my stomach too. Is it loneliness?

Let me remind you – real change is slow. Deep down transformation – not the change of affirmations and stuck-on smiles. For it to happen, we need to get out of the way. It’s counter-intuitive, I know. But it’s a great relief. We can hand it all over, and get on with the job in front of us. Do the washing up. Call a friend. Write in your journal. Weed the garden. Chop wood, carry water. 

In the meantime, you do not have to be good.

True grace comes when we let go of this endless self-building project and allow the love of the universe to enter us. It’s just there – take your eyes off yourself for a minute and you’ll start to feel it.

Namo Amida Bu _/\_

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Here is Mary Oliver reading the beautiful poem from which the title of this email is taken. Much gratitude to her, for her luminous and loving presence in the world. The image is ‘Angel’ by the amazing Ron Mueck (check his work out here). 

And here are the links if you’d like to study with us – despite adding a group back in we’re keeping the fee for essay, weekly exercises, daily emails & group membership at the self-study price of £25/$40 rather than the old price of £50/$80. Kaspa will be running Eastern Therapeutic Writing looking at getting things done & resolving difficult questions, and I’ll be exploring praise, clear-seeing, perseverance & faith with Writing & Spiritual Practice

How to stay sane

cupcakeSatya writes: something special for curious folk & mindful writers, & how I stay sane…

I just bounded upstairs, scoffing a coconut cupcake. The radio was blaring in my office. I’d spent the morning faffing about on my computer, avoiding writing this newsletter and getting tangled in thoughts about my future.

A word rose in me: enough. I turned the radio off and stood in the middle of my room. As I settled into the silence I became gradually aware of the wood pigeons calling to each other in the garden, and noticed that September’s orange berries are already beginning to form in clusters on the pyracantha.

The tension in my neck rose into my consciousness and ever-so-slightly melted.

I said: Namo Amida Bu.  

These words are my way of remembering the divine, and of connecting with something that is outside of my small mind with its endless chatter and its compulsive preoccupation with ego. 

I wonder if you have a phrase too? Something that connects you with God or, if you’re not spiritual, nature or the best of humanity or the Universe. Pausing to write a small stone, which many of you are doing as a part of Awake August, does exactly the same job.  

This practice allows us to step outside ourselves every so often – to remind us that we’re not the most important object on the planet, and that (for some of us this is hard to believe) we don’t always know best. 

In my experience, connecting with something or someone that is not-me also allows me to loosen the grip of those sticky compulsions which keep seducing me. When I’m less befuzzled by these distractions I usually find more focus, and have more time and compassion for those around me. I also remember that I am loved just as I am, which is at the base of everything good in my life.

It keeps me sane. Or, at the least, moves me along the scale from fractured towards full of faith.

What happens when you do something that shifts your focus outside of your self? Look out of the window for a few minutes and see.

I took a deep breath, and shhhhhussshhhed it out. I sat down at my computer, and started typing.

If you’d like to get some focus on what you need to be doing next, during September Kaspa & I will be running moderated groups for people who want to study one of our mindful writing e-courses together. This is a rare opportunity to work with us and with fellow students, as the courses are usually self-study. We are keeping the fee for essay, weekly exercises, daily emails & group membership at £25/$40 rather than the old price of £50/$80. 

Kaspa will be running Eastern Therapeutic Writing looking at getting things done & resolving difficult questions, and I’ll be exploring praise, clear-seeing, perseverance & faith with Writing & Spiritual Practice. Click on the links to read more & to register and guarantee your place (we want to keep the groups to a manageable size).

Do tell me how you stay sane (your equivalent to Namo Amida Bu or writing small stones) in the comments.  

Namo Amida Bu! Go gently.

E-course adventure with groups during September

wasppansyFancy an adventure during September?

We don’t offer groups with our mindful writing e-courses any more, but in September we will be offering a rare opportunity to study with fellow students in a group moderated by me or Kaspa.

Kaspa will be running Eastern Therapeutic Writing and I will be running Writing and Spiritual Practice, from Monday the 8th of September for four weeks.

Group participation adds a lot to these courses – listening to the experience of others as they work their way through the same exercises and explore the same questions, and giving you somewhere to share your own discoveries, struggles & successes.

The classes will still be at the lower price of £25/£40 – when we ran moderated groups before we charged double that. Read more about what you’ll receive and register now by visiting Eastern Therapeutic Writing or Writing and Spiritual Practice,.

Looking forward to it!

Do you miss the world?

AA Dainty bottom by AussiegalTell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
~ Mary Oliver (this will help!)

Satya writes: I’ve been neglecting the world.

We have a very big and complicated project on at the moment, and lots of things are happening that I’m not in control of. Lots to trust to others. Lots to wait for – sometimes patiently, sometimes not.

It’s not a complete over-exaggeration to say that the next twenty years of my life are riding on it.

As a result, I’m up to my old tricks. I’ve been using the internet compulsively. I’ve been overworking. I’ve been overeating. (Damn you, amazing brownie recipe. Damn you, amazing vegan ice-cream.)

Sorry, world. But I’m coming back to you, I promise.

I’m going to do this by picking up our core mindful writing tool – the one I’ve been neglecting for a year or so. That deceptively simple daily action which has been used successfully and joyfully by thousands of people all over the world.

The humble small stone. Here’s how to do it: open your senses, notice something properly, and write it down. Repeat daily, or as required.

August feels like the ideal time to come back to the world. Everything slows down a little bit. There is a teensy bit more space. There’s reflection about where we’ve travelled so far this year, which helps us decide where we will focus our efforts from September.

It’s important to step back and remember how little we are – how insignificant. However central and deeply-affecting our worries are to us, there is a whole wide world around us – getting on with its own life, unfolding with its own wisdom. In my experience, it often knows better than I do.

Writing small stones helps us tune in to this wisdom, especially if we can step outside ourselves for a moment. I know. I have been hearing snippets of it, all year. I’ve been guided by it, to places I never would have visited if it was just me in charge.

I know there is more for me to hear. If I just slow down, and start listening…..

Do invite your friends to accompany you during August here (it’s more fun to be accompanied) and here’s where to sign up for your daily inspiration and encouragement from me. Put ten minutes aside for yourself every day. This is your wild and precious life.

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Thanks to Aussiegal for the lovely photo.

Step one: Relax…

When we can relax, the change that needs to happen occurs of its own accord. ~ Nick Totton

Kaspa writes: Read below about the importance of relaxing, if we are ready to change. I also wanted to let you know that I have two slots available for therapy clients, via Skype. If you’d like to find out more or book an initial session visit kaspathompson.co.uk or email me.

The facts are always friendly, every bit of evidence one can acquire, in any area, leads one that much closer to what is true. ~ Carl R. Rogers

Early this morning I was sitting in the garden under grey skies, watching a couple of solitary bees buzzing to and from the bee box I had installed earlier in the year, and thinking about a conversation I’d had the night before.

A friend had been worrying about something in their own life and I was encouraging them to see the bigger picture. The more I tried to do this the more their worry increased; this was the exact opposite of what I’d intended.

In the quote above Carl Rogers encourages us to pay attention to all the evidence we can. It is this that will lead to understanding and acceptance, to moving on or to making changes. I thought that’s what I was encouraging my friend to do last night. I thought that I could see some of the facts that they were missing, but I was missing a more important fact: my friend’s anxiety.

We are not rational beings who can impassionately gather up the objective external clues and come to a neat conclusion. The facts we gather can produce emotional reactions as they remind us of something that happened long ago, or plug in to an irrational fear. When this happens we can feel derailed, and fact-collecting on its own is probably not enough to get us back on track.

It often seems to me that the central function of therapy is to support the client in relaxing – as simple as that. When we can relax, the change that needs to happen occurs of its own accord. When we are in a state of tension, it doesn’t matter how much we understand our stuckness – we still stay stuck. ~ Nick Totton  

I should have listened to my friend’s anxiety last night, and given them some space to unwind and relax. They’re not stupid and they would have figured out the facts, the big picture, for themselves. In was also doing the same thing this morning as I reflected on our conversation.
I picked up a pair of secateurs and smiled to myself as I started to dead-head the sweet-peas. I had allowed myself to relax in the garden, and seen that I’d been unskillful in the conversation the night before. It was the combination of collecting evidence and of being relaxed that allowed me to come to the truth and to accept my own unskillful behaviour.

I wanted to rush my friend out of their anxiety for my own sake, and not for theirs. With clients this doesn’t really happen. We meet for an hour once a week and I’m happy for them to work at their own pace – but perhaps I need to keep an eye out for rushing my friends.

Visit my therapy website or leave a comment here.

Image by Line Sabore used under a Creative Commons licence, with thanks.
 
 
 



Find joy at the edge…

Under the tree…for more smiles this month, join Joyful July & write something joyful in your notebook every day. Register for the daily emails here. And here’s what we’ve been up to…

Satya writes: As we walked around our house yesterday it was as if we were visitors, seeing it for the first time.

In a way, we were. We were just back from a fortnight’s retreat in France, during which we sat round in circles like this one, walked the meditation path through the woods, spent time practising together, opened our hearts, witnessed each other’s pain & tenderness, and changed into slightly different versions of ourselves.

One of my working edges is in the area of learning to be supported by others, as well as being the one who supports everyone else (or who likes to thinks I am!). I have a strong story that if I don’t pay attention to everything, things won’t get done and situations and people will fall into chaos.

Over the past couple of weeks on retreat I’ve felt the anxiety of this and waited, observing, as other people have supported me and others. I’m beginning to know in my heart (and not just intellectually) that I am safer than I always thought I was, and that other people will be there for me.

Allowing this kind of change to flow through us is hard work. Me & Kaspa could both do with a holiday, now that we’re back! It also brings us into closer relationship with others and the world, and so everything seems brighter and sharper than it did before – our blooming garden looks even more beautiful, and our cat’s happiness in seeing us is giving us even more joy.

Where is your learning edge? What do you need to let flow through you, in order to come into closer relationship with the world? If you pay attention, you’ll be shown the way.

Happily, as you unfurl and stretch out those kinks and suffer the growing pains, your learning edge will also bring you much joy.

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh

Turning ourselves towards what is good

Daisy

Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

What does it mean to choose joy? How much control do we really have over how much joy we feel?

In life, some of us are dealt a better hand of cards than others. Most of us are lucky enough to have been born in an affluent country, to parents who fed us and kept us safe. This isn’t always true. We’re not all starting from the same place.

A Buddhist way of looking at this phenomena is to see it as ‘karma’. Bad actions from the past (from our ancestors, unethical government, society etc.) have resulted in bad consequences in the present, and bad actions in the present will result in bad consequences in the future. The same is true of good actions.

This is true of our own actions. I believe that if we sow good seeds, we can trust that they will grow and blossom in some form – whether or not we are around to see the results. I also believe that even if we think we’ve ‘got away’ with unethical behaviour, we will still suffer the consequences – even if this is just someone being upset with us, our own feelings of guilt, or the energy it takes to repress this guilt.

Karma is also working in circumstances that are outside our control. Our parent’s dysfunction was partly passed down to them from many previous generations, as is ours. Sometimes the slugs eat our seedlings or we get caught in a rainstorm or we get ill and there’s nothing we did to ‘deserve’ it and nothing we can do to change it.

We could say that we control our future karma when we’re looking at our own actions, but not when we’re in the realm of the actions of other people or of the world.

But I don’t think it’s even as simple as that. I often don’t experience myself as having any control at all when I snap at a friend or take the big piece of cake for myself or avoid looking at my financial situation or the mess in the kitchen cupboard when I should be sorting it out. We often act from strong subconscious prompts, and only justify our actions to ourselves later when the deed has already been done.

In amongst the capriciousness of what happens inside us and outside us, we do have a choice. We can turn ourselves towards what is good. We can slow down and pay attention to what is true. We can be grateful for the beauty that is all around us (yes, right now). We can recognise when we’ve acted unethically, feel contrition, and say sorry. We can remember that we are foolish human beings like everyone else and forgive ourselves for our foolishness. We can make friends with people who support the good in us. We can start again when things go wrong.

We can turn ourselves towards what is good. Just like a flower, turning its face towards the sun.

If we can make this little choice, over and over and over again, then joy will bubble up in us when we least expect it. We will be open to receiving the joy of seeing those huge poppies shedding their papery red petals, or watching our baby being curious about her own foot, or hearing the words we really need to hear when we listen to our friend talking about his own life.

As I type, I’m watching Kaspa plant out the last of our home-grown flower seedlings in the front garden. He has just exchanged a few words with a man and his young daughter as they walked past with their dog. They all looked happy. Their joy has infected me. I hope it might infect you too.

If you’d like to practice joy during July, read more about Joyful July here.

31st of Grateful May – post your gratitudes here

31Our very last day of Grateful MayWhat are you thankful for today? Tell us in the comments & on the blogs appearing here every day.

Satya writes: Today I am grateful for… every single person in my life – the ones who have taught me, the ones who support me, the ones who challenge me! That includes you. Well done for getting to the end. Now – Grateful June?!!

If you’d like to stay in touch with Writing Our Way Home, sign up to our newsletter on the right.

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31 by Hannah Aviva, with gratitude

Cat poo & enlightenment

When slugs attackSatya writes: This morning I led people in kinhin – walking meditation – v e r y slowly around our garden. 

We stepped through the dew-laden grass taking in the purple spikes of erysimum, the sugary scent of the sweet-peas and the giant red skirts of the poppies. 

If you haven’t had your breakfast yet, you might want to stop reading at this point.

Yesterday we discovered that our cats all had worms. They’ve taken their medicine now, but it had already upset their little tummies. We scooted around the garden last night, clearing up all the poorly-cat poo we could find. It was not pretty. I tried to bury it all under a bush, but it still stank.

This morning, as my unsuspecting Buddhist colleagues followed me in silence, I was on the look-out for any fresh poo. There were copious amounts. My first thought was, ‘it is my job to lead these people away from the poo’. 

And then I thought again. As a Buddhist priest, is that really my job? To pretend that our garden (and life) is all weed-free and fragrant? To protect people from the poo?

At first I wondered if I ought to be leading people towards the poo instead. But, in my experience, there is enough poo in life without having to point it out. They’ll stumble across it themselves sooner or later.

And so, what is my job?

To step gently through the garden. To notice the iridescent water-drops on the white papery sun roses, and to watch the slugs as they drag their slime train behind them. To be present. To connect with the world. To love everything.  

Sometimes we have a mini-enlightenment experience when we truly encounter the twirling birdsong sprinkled through the morning air. Sometimes enlightenment is when we step in a big steaming pile of shit.

Deep bow _/\_ 

If life has been handing you more poo than usual, you might want to try our self-study e-course Writing Towards Healing. Or, to point you towards enlightenment, 31 Days of Waking Up.