Author Archives: Kaspa

Where can I begin?

Prayer Flags by Diamond Mountain shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Prayer Flags by Diamond Mountain shared under a Creative Commons Licence

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.

 

 

 

Bitter-sweet Christmas

Image by Vicky Brok

Image by Vicky Brok

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.

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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

Finding beauty

Dawn Sky by Gerry Machen

Dawn Sky by Gerry Machen

Kaspa writes: Today there is a watercolour sky. There are hints of colour in the lightening day: baby pink, bone white, champagne pink, corn silk yellow…

On Friday morning, everything was grey. There was a pale mist in the valley and dark clouds low in the sky. Wisps of mist and tales of cloud brushed against each other like ink dropped into a pool of clear water.

On Wednesday there was a hard frost, the ground was white as far as the eye could see. Trees and the roofs of houses were white. The morning sky was streaked with peach, and orange, the clouds had golden edges.

On days when the world is lit up with a clear bright sunlight, I find it easier to see the world as beautiful. On damp mornings, when everything is wet, and the colours are dull, it is a little harder to connect with that sense of beauty, and for me, a little harder to get out of bed.

This morning I padded out to see the rabbits; my indoors-only-winter-slippers slapping on to the wet muddy path that appeared in the wake of the builders renovating the coach house. The nasturtiums that wilted in the hard frost last week lay limply in the weed scattered veg patch, curled up like sleeping creatures. I brushed past the browning edges of Japanese anemone leaves, the plants tied up to a fencepost with green/brown garden string, the string beaded with mist, each bead silver in the dawn light.

The beauty of the world doesn’t break through my fog of thoughts so easily when there is also fog outside. But when I remember how beautiful everything looks in the sunlight, it encourages me to look again at the world, and when I do I find that it is still beautiful.

Poppet, our brown and white, tripod bunny, nestled into my hand when I reached down to her. Peter, her short sighted, long black haired companion, was too excited about his breakfast to enjoy being stroked this morning.

On my way back inside I noticed the lemon yellow flowers of the mahonia, a few baby pink roses on the rose that climbs over the black iron archway, and the new buds on the magnolia tree, still clinging onto one or two leaves.

Remembering that we have seen beauty once, can remind us to look again. And how often we find it, when we take the time to look.

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If you’re interested in getting some help to see the world more clearly, Kaspa is offering our self-study Journaling Our Way Home e-course for half the usual price between now and the beginning of January.

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Photo by Gary Machen

Radical acceptance = relaxation

Bamboo by Arneliese

Bamboo by Arneliese

Deeply accepting yourself leads to relaxation, and better writing

A few days ago I helped my brother move house.

We drink from throwaway cups – water beads on the clear surface, catching the mid-summer, mid-day light.

For about three weeks I have had a knot of tension about half way up my back, on the right hand side. I don’t notice it much, apart from when I’m bending over, or when I press my thumb into it and it sends a shooting pain through my body and makes me feel slightly sick.

I had mentioned this to a friend, and at the beginning of moving day he reminded me to be careful of my back.

Underneath the sofa, the extension lead is a still eel, coiled in a deep sea of dust

I said that if I was honest, I probably wasn’t going to be, and that if I saw something that needed lifting, I would just lift it up, regardless. This wasn’t recklessness, but extreme honesty.

Ironically, if I had paid too much attention to his advice; I might have ended up making my back worse. I know that if I set myself an ideal I can’t reach, or will struggle against, I unconsciously introduce tension into my body. More tension means it’s much easier for me to injure myself. When my body is relaxed, I’m more at ease in the world, more in touch with sensations in the body that might be telling me to slow down, and more aware of my environment – less likely to bump my head or stub my toe. When I’m tense, the opposite is true, and of course I’m much more likely to damage a muscle. Flexibility is more robust than firmness. Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls it anti-fragile.

I used to have sleepless nights. They are rare these days, but still happen once in a while. If I try hard to get to sleep, it makes the sleeplessness worse. The conflict between reality – I am having a sleepless night – and my ideal – being asleep – pushes more energy into the sleeplessness, wherever it comes from – and I get frustrated. If I say to myself, “It looks like I’ll be awake for a while”, I begin to relax, making it more likely I will fall asleep, and in the meantime, because I’ve accepted the situation, I make the best of it: make a cup of deep-green mint tea, read another chapter of my novel, sit with the Buddha…

The half turned on light hums and crackles. We have bought the wrong bulb again.

When we tune into our real situation, when we accept what it, moment to moment, we stop struggling against what is true and relax. We open ourselves up to the world. We notice what we couldn’t notice before, when we were busy trying ourselves in knots. We can write more clearly about the world, because we are touching more of the world, and we can write more clearly about what it means to be human, because we are touching more of our humanity.

The first five days

A Summers Evening, by Darren Flinders

A Summers Evening, by Darren Flinders

What a wonderful first five days of Awake August! It’s been very special to see so many people engaging with the world, and with the written word.

There have been some days this week when I have encountered something in the world and I have known straight away that it’s what I’ll be writing about.

On Monday morning Satya and I walked alongside the River Severn, heading towards Worcestershire. There were many things that caught my eye; some unusual wildflowers that I hadn’t seen before; a female blackbird, feather’s all puffed up, sitting on the arm of a canal lock; snuffling dogs; water rushing over the weir; a beautifully painted narrowboat chugging along the river more slowly than we were walking; but when I saw the skeleton-like ruins of an old boat, half-hidden under the overhanging trees, I knew that’s what I would be writing about:

the dirt coloured bones of an old narrowboat
brambles with white/pink flowers, nettles
a swan turns in the dark water

There have been some days when I reached the evening and my notebook page was still blank. Once, I cast my mind back over the day, searching for something to write about; once I wrote about the wall in front of me; and once, as the day drew to a close, I saw a fox playing in the garden:

In the twilight, half-light, quarter-light, we watch a young fox in the bottom of the garden. He’s chasing his tail, or something I can’t see, a moth maybe. He rolls on the lawn. Then back on to his feet, playing or hunting, or both. The sky darkens, the fox becomes a deeper shadow in the night. Then suddenly he’s gone, the white spot on his tail disappearing into the dark.

Every day I have checked in with the small stones group on Facebook, and the #AwakeAugust on Twitter, and have been deeply impressed by some of the writing I have seen. I have connected with other people’s lives, and with places on the other side of the world. I have seen beautiful things that I wouldn’t have seen, and I have seen mundane things made beautiful through your writing.

pre-dawn, the desk lamp throws its light into the room casting long shadows
my morning tea, the banana plant, a stack of notebooks
they lighten as the sun rises

Reconnecting with small stones, has also allowed me to reconnect with beautiful writing in general. As I was setting up this month’s challenge, and over the past five days, I’ve sought out good poetry, and beautiful creative non-fiction. I’ve slowly sunk into these longer pieces of writing; I’ve entered the eye, the ear, the nose, or the mouth, of the text; I’ve touched the writer’s world with their skin, and my skin together; I’ve steeped myself in their words, and come out differently the other side.

Thank you to everyone that’s written even just one small stone this month, I hope you are getting as much from this practice as I am. I look forward to spending the rest of Awake August with you.

 

 

Preparation is key – mindful writing

by Calgary Reviews

Image by Calgary Review

Kaspa writes: I didn’t notice the sun streaming in through the frosted window until I felt too hot.

I was crouching down, squeezed into the bottom of the shower cubicle of one of our resident’s bathrooms here at the temple. The silicone between the tiles and the tray was black. It was dry to touch, with fine white cracks. As I scraped away the old silicone, ribbons of it coming away at the edge of my knife, I found a pink/orange layer too. A mineral deposit? Or the pink slime of Serratia marcescens?

The job was to re-seal the shower tray. It took me an hour to prepare – injecting the silicon around the tray took around ten minutes.

What’s all of this got to do with mindful writing?

If we spend most of our time preparing to write well, then the act of capturing a beautiful small stone only takes a few moments.

If we make being in contact with the world, rather than our own preoccupations, a way of living, aiming to clearly see, hear, taste, feel and touch whatever is in front of us, and immerse ourselves in writing that we love, the words for our small stone will rise up from the blank page, or form themselves around our encounters with the world, without us having to do really very much at all.

Of course it isn’t always like this.

This morning, the silicone had hardened up inside the nozzle of the tube. I cut the top off, and dug down inside with the knife (don’t try this at home) trying to clear the blockage. I squeezed hard on the trigger of the sealant gun, hoping it would push out the solid gel at the end, but knowing that it wouldn’t. I squeezed, and the nozzle came off, and great gobs of clear silicone swelled up out of the tube covering me and the gun.

Once I had finished sealing the shower tray it took me an age to wash my hands. Someone recommended sugar and washing up liquid. The abrasive, sticky, lemon-scented soap cleared most of the gel off, but I’m not convinced it’s all gone.

Sometimes writing is like this: hard work, moment to moment.

But sometimes the words appear like magic – especially when we put in hours of preparation.

Join me in August and deepen your contact with the world. Write a small stone every day in Awake August.


liquid meadow
the wind disturbs the grass into waves
a single tree leans towards us, twisted and spare
we don’t even notice the noise of the combine harvester, fields and fields away

 

 

reconnecting with mindful writing

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.

Franz Kafka

Writing by Bianca Moraes

Writing by Bianca Moraes

Kaspa writes: I am reconnecting with writing small stones

marigold dawn – cardinal red poppies  

We have been in the temple for 20 months. We never really know a place, of course, but there are shallow and deeper ways of knowing, and I feel like the temple and I are close to each other. We know each other’s rhythms, and foibles, and it’s easier to rub along now than it was in those first few weeks, and months. Not just easier, but a joy.

alice blue clouds in a powder blue sky

Satya and I have just returned from Buddhafield. A festival in the hills of Somerset, two or three thousand people, camping together for a few days, taking part in workshops, listening to music, eating good food and walking barefoot in the grass. A couple of people mentioned mindful writing to me. My teacher recently mentioned it to me, as well.

dry petals – slivers of finger nails – around the vase of wildflowers

I have been writing. Satya and I wrote a book. I have written articles for local magazines, and my journal is full of words that no one will ever read. But my small stone practice has slipped, and I feel poorer for it.

The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer.

Edward R. Murrow

I’m starting up my small stone practice again. I’m running Awake August so that you can join me, and I can have some support. It helps me to write knowing that you are writing too.

Writing takes me out of my own small concerns and brings me into the world. It lets me see myself from a distant place, in the context of this vast, beautiful, universe. I’m looking forward to mindful writing again.

the echo of a coffee stain on this old carpet – red pen on the side of the chair – cat hair sticks to my damp hand 

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.
 
 
 



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.

Why I love “Finding Your Way Home”

pastKaspa writes: A few years ago Satya and I sat down to create an e-course that encapsulated the spirit of writing our way home. Of course that’s true for all of our courses, but this was the first course that we wrote together and we wanted to make something special.

Satya wrote four stories to go alongside the course. In them Joshua slips into the lives of the un-seeing and helps wake them up. He sees small stones all around him and encourages others to do the same. He changes the lives of the people he meets, and although these are fictional characters in a story, we have seen the mindful writing practices we champion making a difference to real people’s lives.

We recorded four videos to go alongside the course too. Watching them now is like looking back into the past. Since then Satya has become ordained, received a new name, and published another novel, I have started a private psychotherapy practice and my hair has grown!

What pleases me when I watch them again is that the ideas we are talking about still hold up. We talk about our relationships with special places and with people and about coming into a new relationship with ourselves. I find myself nodding along and saying, “Yes, that’s right!”

I love this course. It guides you through exploring your whole world using mindful writing, leading to new ways of seeing and to a deeper acceptance of yourself.  It shows us what’s important, what we’ve got left to work on in our lives, and helps us hold what we’ve got left to work on with compassion.

We called the course Finding Your Way Home because it helps you find your home wherever you are, through exploring your place in the world right now.

Sign up now for Finding Your Way Home (Starting Thursday) or for the e-course Satya is running, the wonderful Writing and Spiritual Practice.

 

Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Ian Sane