What I learnt from staying in bed

Kaspa writes: 6.00am. One of the cats comes in to the bedroom, meowing like the drawn out glissando of a singing-saw. I roll over in bed. The room is already light; the bedroom curtains are too thin and appear to glow in the dawn.

I try to ignore the wailing cat, who is just looking for attention, or breakfast, and pull the duvet over my head.

Satya slips out of bed and whispers to the cat. I hear her going downstairs and the quicker footsteps of the cat following her.

It’s quiet again. Perhaps I can go back to sleep. But it’s too hot underneath the duvet and too bright in the room. I reach over the bedside table, where I keep an eye mask (like the ones they give you on long haul flights), cover my eyes and return to dream-land.

An hour and a half passes. I begin to wake up again. My awareness wakes up slowly, first into the middle of a strangely fraught dream. Some time passes and the dream drops away like a backdrop falling at the back of a stage, to reveal another scene behind.

Incoherent thoughts wash across my mind. They are a mixture of old memories and fantasies about the future, none of which are grounded in reality. There is a selfish quality to these thoughts. I watch them grasping at superficial ideals, and angrily pushing other things away.
Some more time passes. The curtain of these thoughts falls away too.

I’m conscious of the room, of the bed beneath me and of the day ahead. The thoughts I have now are more grounded in reality, and less selfish. I’m ready to get up.

Sometimes this process takes just a few moments. Sometimes the thin tendrils of the dreams and selfish thoughts hang around throughout the morning, like silver threads of cobweb caught on my jacket.

Becoming aware of this waking up process leads me to be kind towards myself. I feel less guilty about the days when I struggle to bounce out of bed bright eyed. I have learnt to respect my unconscious mind working things out in its own way.

My ‘waking up’ karma will be different to yours. Perhaps like Satya you will wake up early and do an hour of something before anyone else in the house wakes up. This morning Satya spent time gilding whilst I was still emerging from sleep. The standing Buddha I bought last week is almost completely covered in ‘gold-coloured leaf’. Perhaps like me it takes your more enlightened mind longer to wake up than your foolish mind.

Those early morning thoughts and dreams are a window into my unconscious mind and show me what fears and hopes are swirling around in there, affecting the actions I take in my daily life. As I get to know myself more deeply and accept those hidden parts of myself I can begin the process of letting go.

If there is an exhortation in this email it is to become truly intimate with your own processes.

What can you learn from watching your own minds rhythm throughout the day? Can you work with the nature of your own mind, rather than against it? What can you see in the liminal spaces of your own mind as it wakes up or in the twilight moments before falling asleep?

Image: Asleep by Ginney, shared under an attribution share-alike licence.

What variety of seed are you?

Artichoke by Zen SutherlandSatya writes: This alien artichoke came from a tiny seed. So do green beans. Oak trees. Peonies. Grass. Raspberries.

I’ve been thinking recently about how we unfold, over the course of our lifetime, from little seeds into the hugely complex people we are now. How strongly do our conditions (our families, the culture of the country we live in) affect our personalities? How much is already prescribed by our DNA?

How much control do we have over the plants we turn into?

I’ve spent this month revising all the materials in our e-courses and preparing them for their next incarnation as self-study.

As I read the exercises, essays and emails I remember the journeys of the hundreds of people who have taken the courses over the past few years. Their curiosity and energy, the insights they had, the changes they made in their lives.

These people definitely had control over the shape of their unfolding.

This is true in my own life too. There is certainly much that is beyond my control (including all other people and objects) – more than I would like to acknowledge. But, however compulsive or unconsciously-driven my behaviour, I believe that I always have a choice. When I encounter something difficult, I can make a difference by staying open and being curious about what is happening. I can stay and not walk away. I can say sorry. I can learn more about my own fears and habits and joys and passions. I can take in new information about others and about the world.

Our journeys aren’t always easy. But, as I tell my psychotherapy clients, when it gets difficult it’s often a sign that there’s a really good bit just around the next corner. The final letting go of an old habit, or the peeling back of another layer of prickly defence which allows us to let some more good stuff in (and out).

Just like plants, adverse conditions can help us to grow stronger. But, as people, we don’t have to stand out there in the garden and hope for the best. We can work on surrounding ourselves with supportive friends and colleagues. We can feed ourselves good food. We can offer ourselves contemplation time and forgiveness and love. Lots of forgiveness and love. It’s like well-rotted manure!

If you would like to be accompanied on your own journey, you now have the opportunity to study in your own time with WOWH – receiving the same materials & daily emails for half the old cost (£25/$40). Read more & register here today.

And you might want to spend some time today or this weekend feeling curious about what kind of plant you are, or what you’d like to become. Is it time that you changed some of your growing conditions? Have you been fighting against something that is too deeply ingrained in your nature to change drastically? Have you spent enough time basking in the sun?

I’m an uncovering-the-truth plant. What about you? Tell me in the comments below.

Grow well : )

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Artichoke by Zen Sutherland, with gratitude

What is your song? Are you singing it?

hillsSatya writes: A book I’m reading tells a story about the three most important tasks of being a human being: we need to quiet the busyness of our minds, find our song, and sing our song.

Our song might be keeping things clean and tidy, or making tables, or loving people who are difficult to love. I’ve been wondering about what my song might be.

Last week our esteemed Dharma teacher visited our little Buddhist group in Malvern. Before he arrived I was a teensy bit frantic – making sure that everything was ready, wanting to make a good impression, running at a million miles an hour.

Afterwards my friend thanked me for getting into such a state, because as he watched me he had an insight into a similar trait he recognised in himself. He hadn’t realised how he’d behaved at the beginning of a group he ran himself, and suddenly saw it reflected and magnified in me. As he told me the story I smiled wryly, glad to be of service to him.

Maybe my song is to be foolish : )

On reflection, I think my song really is to be foolish. Singing my song means writing newsletters like this one, where I own up to being very human and show you that it’s really okay. We are acceptable just as we are.

This is also what happens in my novels. My characters find out about their own foolishness, and then have an experience of being accepted – Joe by his aunt Nel, April by Art, Ruth by Red and by herself.

Being foolish and being loveable anyway. Even when I really don’t feel loveable. I can live with that. I’ll keep offering my foolishness up.

What might your song be? How are you currently singing it in your life? How would you like to sing it? Do share your thoughts in the comments.

A final confession. My friend forgot that he’d told me about noticing my foolishness, and he told me about it again in front of some different friends. The first time he recounted it I’d been amused, but this time I was a teensy bit tired of having my foolishness pointed out and I pretended not to hear him.

There are layers and layers and layers. Trust me. And it’s all okay.

In other news I’m planning a big online event, Grateful May, I hope you’ll join me. And if you’d like to listen to me talking about burning flapjacks (with my Buddhist priest hat on) you can do so here. Go well _/\_

Big changes at WOWH & your last chance to do an e-course for a while

bunnySatya writes: We’ve extended the sign-up deadline for our e-courses Eastern Therapeutic Writing, Writing Ourselves Alive & my Creative Intensive until the end of tomorrow (4th). This is to give you a final chance to sign up, as we won’t be running them in their current form for some time, maybe never. Here’s why…

Have you ever made a decision, and as soon as you’ve made it you realise that it’s been nagging at you to make it for some time?

Today Kaspa & I had another conversation about the fact that it’s become more difficult to fill our e-course spaces over the past year. We have just as much faith in the material as we’ve always had (lots), and our course participants agree. So what’s happened?

Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe there are thousands more e-courses out there. Maybe we’re terrible at marketing. Maybe it’s because we’re repeating the same six courses and sharing them with the same three thousand odd people on our mailing list. It’s impossible to know for sure. But as it’s become more difficult to fill the spaces, I’ve gradually moved from ‘look what I have to offer, it’s great! I bet you’d like some!’ mode towards ‘go on, please take it’ mode.

This is not good for me, and it is not good for you.

I only want you to take something from me (and give me money in return) if you really want it – like this little bunny. I’m not going to hand my favourite baby bunny to someone who is ambivalent about keeping a rabbit. I’m not going to go on to you about his teensy ears or his whiskers. You either think he’s cute and start thinking of names for the little chap, or you’re just not in the market for a bunny right now.

And so we’re going to take a pause. Maybe we’ll offer the courses without the private group for a bit less money. Maybe we’ll write something different. Maybe we’ll take a long break and be back. But when we do come back, we want to be ready.

Thank you for your support, which we very much appreciate. We’ll keep sending out our newsletters (sign up on the right) and you can still buy our 31 Days courses. We’re not going to disappear, just transform. Watch this space.

Deep bow.

And so - Eastern Therapeutic  Writing with Kaspa, using writing exercises to investigate your place in the world, & learning to take positive actions towards our goals. Writing Ourselves Alive with me, using mindful writing to explore curiosity, honesty, compassion and passion and help you to WAKE UP. Or a Creative Intensive including two 1:1s for anyone wanting to get serious amounts of creative work done during March. Get ‘em while you can!

A clash with Satya

heartOur e-courses Eastern Therapeutic WritingWriting Ourselves Alive & Satya’s Creative Intensive start today – register now & join us.

Kaspa writes: I was at London Piccadilly, wondering if I would make it home.

I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing on the information boards. There was a burst of static over the intercom, and then an announcement apologising for all the trouble.

Eventually I found myself on a train to South Wales, knowing that I had to change at Reading, without knowing how long it would take to get there.

After about half an hour the train slowed. I pulled my heavy bag down and went over to the doors. There wasn’t a station; we were just pausing, waiting for a signal to change. It was dark outside. I could just make out a few darker shapes, trees and buildings, against the near black sky. As the train started up again I sat on my bag, in the cold space by the doors, waiting for the station. I was a little worried I would miss the stop and end up further away from home than I had started.

It took me over six hours to get home, a journey that usually takes just over two. I arrived home mentally exhausted.

Unfortunately this was the same weekend that Satya wrote about in a piece called, “From pain and anguish to somewhere different…”

Satya had been through her own difficult process that same day and in our tired and vulnerable states we crashed into each other. We each missed seeing the other clearly; we were immersed in our own worlds.

In the quiet space after that painful bumping into each other I wrote in my journal, unravelling the day. I slowly peeled back the layers of my own experience, trying to see what I had not seen before.

It was through writing that I realised that I had been nervous throughout that whole journey home. I’m a Buddhist priest and I have travelled half-way across the world and back without any problems. I had spent the day telling myself that I wasn’t the sort of person that was anxious about travelling, but the truth was different.

Through that writing, I saw the day more clearly: I saw a part of myself that I had been denying. I was able to begin the process of accepting that nervous part of myself.

I began to relax. I no longer needed to put energy into hiding that part from myself.

What a relief.

As I was unpeeling the layers of myself, Satya was going through her own parallel reflective process and when we came together again we saw each other clearly (and with more love again), rather than crashing our respective defenses into one another.

Sometimes I use my journal to look inwards in this way; investigating what I am contributing to my own suffering. Sometimes I use my journal to write about the world and to come to a clearer sense of what is happening around me.

Starting today I am running one of my favourite mindful writing courses, and I’d love you to join me.

In Eastern Therapeutic Writing we’ll use writing exercises to investigate our place in the world, and to see the beauty around us through writing Japanese style poems. We’ll also learn to take positive actions towards our goals.

Satya is running Writing Ourselves Alive, using mindful writing to explore curiosity, honesty, compassion and passion and help you to WAKE UP. She’s also running a Creative Intensive for anyone who’s working on a project (or who has one in mind) and would like to get it moving during March.

Sign up now and receive your course materials today.

Life is short. What are you going to do with yours?

DSC00132Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer. ~ Barbara Kingsolver

Satya writes: Yesterday our old man cat Fatty was diagnosed with a condition which means he’ll be on medication for the rest of his life.

This year, I turn 40. When I look in the mirror I find more and more white hairs.

We all know that life moves relentlessly onwards, and that we don’t get to do it again, but it’s very hard to really know it. To remember it.  When we’re fretting about a project at work, rehashing our anger at someone who slighted us a long time ago, or feeling upset about running out of golden syrup to put on our porridge (this happened to me yesterday!), we forget that in the grand scheme of things these things don’t really matter very much.

What does matter?

Everyone will have a different answer to this question. I could answer it in a few different ways…

1. My writing. This is what is at the centre of my life, and everything else must arrange itself around it. Despite (because of?) this, it is the most difficult thing for me to get done.

2. My Buddhist faith. This keeps me steady, and allows me to take risks that I otherwise wouldn’t take. It holds me safe in an impermanent and often-scary-and-difficult world.

3. Paying attention. This is the path to enlightenment… (whatever enlightenment is). And it brings us many treasures and insights along the way.

4. Giving to others. I feel the most joy when I can freely offer to others – a cup of tea or a meal, a mindful writing e-course, my ears, my experience, a place to stay… this is what it’s all about.

I could go on. But none of this really matters if I don’t practice putting what is important at the centre of my life.

This, as we all know, is easier said than done. But it helps if we remember that life is short. Which is why I wrote this blog before I looked on Facebook…

If it’s time for you to find out more about what matters to you, get an important-to-you project going or move it forwards by joining me during March for my Creative Intensive. From Monday you’ll receive daily inspirational emails to keep you going, weekly prompts, a private online group where you can share your process (and difficulties and successes) and two 1:1 conversations with me to get you started/keep you going.

What does matter to you? What have you been putting off? Do let me know in the comments.

How are you? Tell me.

blue flowers by Pim StoutenThe world is so amazingly interesting, I want to be completely here for its moment. That longing is the truth I try to follow. ~ Coleman Barks

Satya writes: How are you?

Are your shoulders tense? Are you flicking across to read this blog in between the million things you have to do this morning? Are you putting something off? Are you cold? Hungry? Trying not to think about a Difficult Thing?

Are you bored? Bouncy? Lonely? A little bit sad?

We often don’t really know how we are until we take the time to ask ourselves, to tune in. There is a befuddling fuzziness that surrounds the truth – made up of too-busy & not-wanting-to-know denial.

This great fuzziness thinks that it is protecting us from ourselves, or from something outside of ourselves, but unfortunately it also cuts off all the good stuff – the sweet sharpness of this apple & rhubarb juice, the sounds of falling water from the shower upstairs mingling with the rain pattering on the windows. The tiny flowers that, when you look closer, are a blasting, iridescent blue.

The befuddlement can also cut off our means of healing – messages from the Universe (or from people who are giving us good advice), our ability to shift the focus from ourselves to someone else. The fuzziness makes it harder to diagnose our condition, make a prescription (more sleep? contemplation time? a good cry?) and offer ourselves what is necessary.

The antidote? Curiosity. Increasing the things we do that help us to feel safe. Making time for contemplation. Improving our relationship with our Higher Power, if we have one. Mindful writing. But most of all, curiosity. If you practice one thing today, practice that. Ask why, where, how, what. What can you see right now? What can you hear? Take a moment. It’s important.

How are you now? As you are curious about your knitted-together shoulders, do they loosen? As you wonder about the faint sadness, do you remember the little girl you saw on television last night? What is unfolding in you?

If you’d like to reduce the fuzziness in your own life and bring everything into a sharper focus, join me and Write Yourself Alive during March (starting this Monday 3rd). We’ll be using mindful writing and other tools to help you tune into what’s already being offered, gloriously, all around you.

How are you? Tell me in the comments.

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Blue flowers by Pim Stouten with thanks.

This is not your week to run the Universe

Germs by Rusty RussThis is not your week to run the Universe. Next week is not looking so good either. ~ Susan J. Elliott

Satya writes: I am just recovering from being poorly.

I am terrible at being ill. I hate it. It’s not so much the achey head, swirling guts or snot, which is bad enough. It’s something more.

I’m always (slightly reluctantly) curious about the things that are difficult for me. They show me things about myself that I can’t see any other way. And when I can see these things really clearly, they start shifting and there is space for something new to emerge.

And so, this morning while I was doing my spiritual practice, I made a mental list of what makes it so hard for me to be unwell. It’s quite a list.

1. I like to be someone-who-is-productive-at-all-times. Being ill makes this very difficult. And so I feel guilty, even though I know I’m not capable of being productive when my head hurts.

2. I don’t get things that I want. I wanted my friends to come round for dinner yesterday – we were going to make two kinds of nut roast, and I’d been looking forward to feeding them and enjoying their company and eating crispy roast potatoes.

3. I feel suspicious of myself. Are you really ill, Satya, or are you just avoiding things or being lazy? Is it really true that you can’t clip the faded flowers from the hydrangea bush? I often end up trying to do the things I feel I ought to be doing when I’m ill, only to come in from the cold a few minutes later. Permission-to-be-ill isn’t granted very often.

4. I like to be someone who looks-after-other-people-at-all-times. Not so easy when I can’t even look after myself properly.

5. I hate being dependent on others. It makes me feel like I ‘owe’ them. I don’t like to put them out. I’m rubbish at receiving things, like the amazing dahl soup Kaspa made me, after he’d clipped the old hydrangea blooms.

6. Okay, here is the one that I think underlies all of the others. When I’m ill, I’m not in control. If I was in control, I could avoid this whole uncomfortable list quite skilfully and without even knowing it.

I’m self-employed and so I have a lot of freedom to decide how I do things, with who and when. I can pretend that if we’re not earning enough money or if something is happening that I don’t like, then it’s entirely in my control to change it. I just need to try harder/work longer hours/get the right advice…  

When I’m ill, it’s really not my day to run the Universe. Most of the time, I think I manage to fool myself into thinking it is possible to be in charge. Of this little portion of the Universe, at least.

Being ill reminds me that I can’t rely on my body, or other people, or anything, 100% of the time. It reminds me of the things that answer to a different authority than me – other people, the weather, the germs happily swishing around inside me.

Although there is something that I can rely on 100% of the time. I can rely on my faith – some sense that even when things aren’t okay, and I’m feeling rubbish and guilty and out of control, that they really are okay. I’m learning what I need to learn, and I am being looked after. By Kaspa, by my friends, by my warm house, by the sunshine, by the air I breathe and the food I eat, by my body which is busy fighting off those germs for me… Even as I’ve been writing this blog post, two friends have texted to ask me how I am. I’m really an extremely lucky slightly-poorly person.

What do you find difficult? What is difficult today? What is it showing you about yourself? What bigger truth might it be pointing towards? Let me know in the comments. And go easy, get support, and do what I say, not what I usually do ; )

If you could do with some more support in your life, especially if you’re not very good at receiving it, I’ve just decided to run a Creative Intensive during March. This means there are limited spaces available for anyone who wants help in starting, continuing or completing a project – creative or otherwise. Read more and register here.

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Germs by Rusty Russ with thanks.

 

The exquisite pleasures of surrender

Divided from herself by drpIf you think about the things we like doing, sex, drugs, art, religion; they’re all forms of surrender. ~ Brian Eno

Satya writes: I feel as if I’m just emerging from some kind of bizarre tunnel.

Since Christmas I haven’t felt like writing blogs at all. I’ve also been afflicted with a most curious disease – I haven’t felt the compulsion to work-too-hard. My workaholism has been taken away from me…

I’ve been seeing my psychotherapy clients and getting on with writing my new novel, but I haven’t been getting sucked into the computer for ten hour days, or losing myself in social media and pretending that it’s ‘work’. I haven’t been desperately seeking more money (we always need just a bit more) to keep us afloat.

This has been most odd. The days are suddenly full of spaces. I’ve been doing more journalling and reading novels and contemplating. On Tuesday we took a whole day off, and yesterday morning we went on a walk on the Malvern hills. In the middle of a work-day! Outrageous!

I’ve been accompanied throughout this time by a background sense of guilt, and occasional financial worry-pangs. Surely we’re going to go bankrupt any moment? Earning a living is meant to be strenuous and all-consuming, isn’t it? It feels like I’ve been in freefall. Arrghh!

As time has gone on, I’ve been trying to practise surrendering. Beginning to shed some outdated beliefs about an intrinsic lack of worth, which means that I have to work extra-hard than others just to keep up/earn enough. Noticing the feelings of guilt or panic, and allowing them to be there. Acknowledging to myself that I am doing enough. I can trust the universe to hold me.

These deep changes in ourselves are usually disconcerting and painful and they take place in their own sweet time. They won’t be hurried. We’re often not sure if we’re going forwards or backwards, or if we’ll ever move from our current stuckness at all. We can feel lost and alone. We usually react during these times by holding on tighter, by trying even harder to control things, and of course this makes it hurt even more.

Surrender. It’s like lying on my back in water. Floating, not freefall. I pass through pain, yes – dukkha is unavoidable – and out into the light. And again. And again. The sun dappling me through trees. Birdsong. Held safe.

It is an exquisite pleasure.

If you’d like a safe place to do your own explorations, join Kaspa or me during March for Eastern Therapeutic Writing or Writing Ourselves Alive. Or start right away with 31 Days.

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Divided by herself by drp with thanks

Give me three minutes. I’ll give you deliciousness.

Give me three minutes. I’ll give you deliciousness.

Deliciousness. Vivid colours. Sharp smells. Fresh insight.

This is how we experience the world when we pause for long enough to engage with it.

Sliminess, too. Unease. The familiar sad pang of acknowledging impermanence. All this is part of life.

If we’re not careful, we skip past so much. We get caught in the endless stream of emails and to-do lists. We put our heads down. We scurry to ‘keep up’ with everyone else.

I am a Pureland Buddhist, and starting each day with Buddhist practise helps me to remember the really important things – faith, love. Things I can take refuge in, and use as both my anchor and my compass.

My other main arsenal in the continuing battle against mind-fog is the mindful writing practice, small stones.

A small stone is a moment of engaged attention, written down. Poetry, prose, it doesn’t matter. The most important part is scrutinising whatever presents itself, as objectively as you can. Loving whatever is before you.

Each small stone I write teaches me something new:

lime-green periscopes of fern rise through the dead.

This one draws my attention to impermanence and to the beauty and reliability of new life.

white braille-flowers on bone-china mug. the generous earlobes of the grey Buddha. white hairs in the kitten’s black tail. the reflection of the table leg in the golden grate. a tight pain in my neck. the clicking of Kaspa’s mouse.

This one reminds me to pay attention to all those small ‘insignificant’ details that pass us by.

small red berry, so bright I cannot help myself, I bend & pick it up.

This one reminds me to praise.

Deliciousness. The croissant I ate this morning with tart gooseberry jam. Vivid colours. The egg-shell blue of the wide open sky. Sharp smells. Late roses, cutting through the cold air with their honeyed scent. Fresh insight. The world brings me wisdom, wherever I look.

Pause. Look around you. Let your senses reach their tentative fingers outwards.

Allow the world to shock you with its deliciousness.

Use writing to connect with the world during February and take one of our mindful writing e-courses starting today: Finding Your Way Home with Kaspa or Writing & Spiritual Practice with Satya.

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‘furled’ by Darwin Bell with thanks