How are all the different parts of you? Do a quick sweep of your body. Where is there tension? Aches? Lightness? How are you feeling? What has happened this week (or this year) that has been difficult? What different versions of you are living inside yourself?
Life often moves fast, and it can batter us about a bit. I would like to suggest that you give yourself the gift of half an hour and sit down to write a love letter to yourself.
Start with your name – Dear Satya – and then see where the pen takes you. Remember, this is a love letter written from the perspective not of a smitten early-days lover but someone who has been married to you for as long as you’ve been alive – a marriage with ups and downs, but one that has brought you much joy and one which contains much hope.
What do you need to hear? Write it. What questions do you have? Write them down. What do you appreciate about yourself? What do you struggle with, and what would it look like through the eyes of love?
Do make time in your diary to do this, and when it’s done, keep it somewhere safe. You might need to read it again.
I’d love to know how you got on.
Much love from me,
Mindful writing allows my thoughts to move forwards rather than around in circles. It invites me to move towards an experience of the world that is closer to how it really is, and to investigate my own experience. It shows me my life in a bigger context. It grounds me, and creates possibilities for new ways of seeing and of being and of acting.
Join me for Mindful Writing May and commit to 31 days of writing to connect with yourself and the world, to create space and to create new possibilities.
This morning the sun is streaming in through the window beside my work desk, lighting up my dusty keyboard, and my paper journal lying beside it. The journal is full of thoughts and fragments of writing on all sorts of things: there are records of dreams in there, there are questions that I’m living with at the moment, and there are pages of writing which move from questions to something approaching answers.
How to take part in Mindful Writing May?
It’s simple – just commit to a writing practice every day throughout the next month.
You might want to write a small stone every day. You might want to commit to an organic journaling practice, writing about whatever comes to mind, or if you want some structure and support you might download my Eastern Therapeutic Writing e-course and allow that to guide your journaling through May.
“It exceeded my expectations – it opened doors to spiritual practices that are meaningful to me, both in writing and in other ways. It’s helped me to grow. A huge huge thank you.” ~Tammy Hanna
I’ll offer the course at the discounted rate of £9.99 GBP or $12.99 USD. Sign up now.
The course offers four ways of using your journal to support you in creating possibilities, in grounding yourself, and in becoming more at ease with yourself and the world.
If you’d like to you can share your experiences in the dedicated Facebook group, or keep it as a purely personal practice, supported by the idea that people from all over the world will be journaling alongside you, in their own ways, throughout May.
Kaspa writes: If I lean back and stretch my neck and head to the right and look through my window I can glimpse the worn out prayer flags barely moving on this still, clear day. Sometimes, early in the morning, they look as if they are glowing when the sun shines through their thin fabric.
When I ease into a more comfortable position the window fills with the rebuilt walls and roof of the old coach house. The slates and bricks might be two hundred years old, but they have been recently laid in new straight lines. The edges of the slates are rough, revealing their thin layers.
Above the roof the sky is soft white clouds with wispy edges, against pale azure nothingness.
Any of these places are places to begin writing about.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert M. Pirsig talks about a student he once had. She had chosen to write an essay about the town she lived in, but didn’t know where to start. Pirsig directed her to a single brick up high in the side of the town hall and said, “Start there.” She turned in a great essay.
As I sit typing, my neck is zinging pain signals at me. There is tightness there. I can feel an insistent pressure between two vertebrae at the back of my neck. There’s a story here.
I sneeze; hay-fever, I think. The big fields of rape-seed in the valley have just come into golden-yellow flower. I pull a tissue out of the pocket of my red trousers. The tissue is stained pink, and smells like fabric softener. Tiny pieces of soft paper sprinkle out into the room and all over me. There’s a story here.
A blank page can be overwhelming. But anywhere is a good place to start, if you pay the right kind of attention. Be curious, be opened hearted, choose a thread and keep pulling at it.
The sun has moved a little and lights up the dirt on my window. I can make out the shapes of rain drops imprinted in the dust. Brick dust from the building work on the coach house? Dust in rain carried from the desert somewhere? There’s a big old bird poop in the middle of the window. The rain has washed most of it away, but the shape remains like a shadow or a ghost. How many stories are here?
We don’t need to be in the midst of great conflict or feel fraught or like we’re trying to work something out in order to create something good. Just start paying attention. If you need more advice than that, then start by paying attention to the things people usually forget to see.
“Build gaps in your life. Pauses. Proper pauses.” ~ Thom Yorke (Wake Up in March starts tomorrow)
My days, maybe like yours, can get a little crowded. I balance running the temple, my psychotherapy practise, writing, and other necessary things like keeping the flat clean, doing my taxes, going to the dentist…
These days I do a much better job of making spaces. We take every Monday as a Sabbath day, and we keep this sacred day completely free of appointments or duties. I am currently on a ‘checking email once a day’ schedule, which (believe me) creates a lot of spaciousness. I attend the three Buddhist services we run a week – a bonus of living on the ground floor of a temple.
Nevertheless, on days like today my feet don’t touch the ground. Before I know it, I’ve said goodbye to my last client to collapse in front of the television with a bowl of pasta.
And so I am intending to pick up an old habit, which I’ve let drop. During March (and hopefully beyond) I am going to pause once a day, notice what is around me, and write it down. It’s time to create a daily small stone again. I wrote one earlier, in fact:
a concentrated drop of light on the Buddha’s golden chin
Just ten words, but the result of a deep noticing of how the light gathered on the Buddha in the picture, a minute’s search for the word ‘drop’, and a profound feeling of gratitude for the ordinary beauty that surrounds me.
I can’t wait for the small stones to start dropping into my lap again. I can almost feel them queuing up… I wonder if you’ll join me?
Wake Up in March: Writing Ourselves Alive starts tomorrow – maybe you’ll start a daily small stone practice again as a part of this course?
(Write Yourself Alive during March for half price.)
The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. ~ Mark Twain
Lately I have been a little preoccupied with death. It started when my therapist asked me whether I was ‘preparing to die’. Her question burrowed into me.
She was reminding me that we all have a limited stretch of time remaining. More importantly, she was reminding me that I love to paint, and grow vegetables, and write, and to look after this temple. She was encouraging me to do more of those things, and to do them with my senses wide open.
This image of a vibrantly embroidered skull has been haunting me. It hangs around as if it is a message for me – the gorgeous flowers growing over the forehead and through the eye sockets, the rich lusciousness of colour, the clean lines of bone.
Of course, real death involves a lot of mess before the flowers come up. Mess and loss and pain. Life does too – when we bring ourselves into closer relationship with ourselves, others, and the world, we can’t flinch from the stinking compost that nourishes the Spring flowers.
The skull seems to be saying to me – strip it all back. Don’t get waylaid by petty worries or concerns about what other people think about you. Don’t go to sleep when things get difficult. Stay awake. Relish stroking Peter bunny’s soft fur. Taste sorrow deeply. Drink in the pink cherry blossom. Keep your frightened heart open.
What is it saying to you?
If you’d like to spend March opening your heart and living more fully, my self-study e-course is half price until the 3rd – more information here.
Image by Allison Giguere via CC, source of the embroidery sample unfortunately unknown.
(Writing Ourselves Alive, our self-study e-course, is half price for a few days.)
Satya 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.
Deep bow _/\_
(PS This post is from my archives, but it feels like it could have happened last week! Change is slow… and change has happened.)
And 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.
So what’s new?! This seems to be how life is – we think we’ve solved a problem, things go quiet, and then a new complication rears its head. Sometimes it’s not new complications, but old patterns that come back over and over and over again.
How do we work with these tricky situations? Where we don’t know what to do about a relationship, when we get stuck with our creative work, when we can’t make sense of what’s going on, where we feel powerless?
I’m lucky enough to have several sacred spaces in my life where I can look at these complications. Every Sunday we gather together in the shrine room and share from our hearts. I’ve just finished a year’s worth of therapy (over my life I’ve dipped in and out of therapy when I need to). I write in a journal. I do Buddhist practice. I have a supervisor who helps me look at tangles or confusions with my clients. I have supportive conversations with Kaspa.
What all these spaces have in common is a taking care, a respect of the people involved including me. I might do a little bit of moaning or blaming in these spaces to let off steam, but mostly I’m interested in what I’m contributing to the situation, what I can change from my own side, and what I have to hand over to the other person and learn to live with. They are safe spaces, where I can allow myself to become a little vulnerable. They are spaces where I can move towards honesty, and clarity follows.
Do you have enough sacred space in your life? Where could you find more?
If you’d like to book some sacred space with me, I have a couple of Skype slots for coaching, psychotherapy or supervision at the moment – read more by clicking on the words or get in touch to see if we can find a time that works for both of us.
The silver grey sky was streaked with white, and darker shades of grey: slate, charcoal, gunmetal. It was the second day of winter, after a mild autumn. Most of the trees still had a few leaves clinging to them. It felt cold, but the ground was wet, not hard with frost.
I walked into the centre of town. It was late afternoon, and as the sky darkened, drifting through indigo to near black, the Christmas lights became a brighter presence. A few tubes of LEDs, shaped into stars, hung from shops where the flags hung in the summer. There were Christmas trees in the windows of all the shops; some dressed with multi-coloured lights and gaudy decorations, some with white lights and silver baubles.
I walked past the pub. A bartender dressed as an elf was having a sneaky cigarette, just outside the door. A couple of men unloaded scuffed, steel barrels from the back truck.
I walked into the park. Light from the cruise-ship look-a-like theatre streamed out of glass doors, and warmed up the dark park. It lit up trees, the bandstand, the benches and shrubs with a soft yellow glow.
A small girl in a summer dress ran past me. Her parents followed a few steps behind, carrying her winter coat.
Christmas has a bitter-sweet flavour, sometimes. It throws our greed, and the disappointment that inevitably follows, into sharp relief. We are greedy to receive the perfect gift, or to create the perfect experience for someone else. Or we wish that the year behind us had been different. The soft-focus, happy ending, made for T.V. Christmas films act as a mirror for our ordinary lives, showing where we fall short of some imagined ideal.
This is propelled by our materialistic culture, but greed as human instinct surely goes further back. We are programmed for survival, we are programmed to fear being cast out of the group, we are programmed to climb to the top of the pile and hand our genes down to our ancestors.
And yet – in the midst of all of this self-centredness – there are moments of genuine love, of real connection, of tenderness arising towards the human condition, of selflessness.
All of life is like this, of course. The mind props itself up, and desire conditions our words, and actions, and yet, it is possible to love and be loved.
This time of year is an opportunity, an opportunity to give way to greed, and an opportunity to give way to love. It is inevitable that both will happen. Perhaps the best way forward is to simply pay attention: to notice greed arising, and to notice love arising, and appreciate it when it does.
Journaling January – special offer price for Journaling Our Way Home e-course – sign up now and pay just £9.99 or $11.99, instead of the usual price of £19.99 or $24.99