Author Archives: Kaspa

October – Find Your Way Home

flowersKaspa writes: This can be a busy time of year. I don’t know if it’s because of the academic year beginning in September, or the build up to Christmas and other winter celebrations, or just landing back in work after a more relaxed summer, but I often feel like I have a lot to do.

When my ‘to do’ list feels like its spilling out of my mind and I start to worry it can be tempting to jump onto the computer early in the morning and dive into some kind of work.

There can be a short term gain to this – I do get some work done; but there’s often a cost as well – it leaves me in a flustered, harried space where I’m disconnected from what’s really important.

This is why a renewed commitment to the practices that keep me grounded are especially important at this time of year: meditation, chanting, movement practices and mindful writing.

It’s important to me to make time to sit down with my notebooks. To write ‘bad poetry‘ or a letter to my higher power, or to spend some time using pen and ink to unravel some knot or worry on the page.

If I’m honest I’ve given to the temptation to jump into that harried working place more than I would like recently.

Offering a mindful writing e-course to you in October is also a way to get me back to my own writing practices.

Sign up now for October – Find Your Way Home – and join me for some mindful writing.

It’s at the special offer price of £9.99 GBP or $13.99 USD.

You’ll get a mindful writing booklet with reflections on mindful writing and prompts and exercises. You’ll get 28 daily emails, including a poem a day. You can join our Facebook group and share your writing with other mindful writers.

Sign up today and I’ll send out the materials on Friday so we can all begin at roughly the same time (if you sign up after Friday I’ll send them out straight away).

Read widely and often

13686397863_788745ee6c_zKaspa writes: The last time I posted on here I talked about writing lots and often. Today as I come to the end of a three week summer break I’ve been reflecting on the wisdom of reading widely.

Just before our break I went to our local library to get some holiday reading. I checked the opening hours before heading down and saw that the library was about to close. I jumped in the car, rather than walking, and when I arrived I stopped at the first table of books through the door: the new books. I picked some that looked interesting and vaguely literary without paying too much attention to what they were. There wasn’t even time for me to look through the Sci-Fi books as I usually do.

What a great crop of books I came away with. One of them was a little too odd for my tastes but the rest were excellent. I’ve just taken them all back so don’t ask me for the titles… I *might* be able to dredge them up from my memory later – I’ll let you know sometime 😉

I’ve also had time to dive into some poetry again which was wonderful. Old poets, new poets, English speaking poets, poets in translation. Good stuff.

To read widely is old advice but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good advice.

Sometimes I read for comfort, going back to old favourites. Sometimes when I’m feeling more spacious and relaxed I read to open my eyes a little wider.

Reading widely encourages empathy. We get to see the world from lots of different points of views. It can teach us about style, and give us permission to find our own way of writing when we see how many different choices authors make. It can teach us the impossibility of writing a book that pleases everyone, as we’re disappointed in a book all our friends have been raving about (or the other way around). It can show us how many different ways there are of exploring some universal human truths, and how each person’s experience of those universal truths is special and unique.

Libraries and independent book shops are great for introducing you to new writers. Unlike online shops they don’t have algorithms set up to feed you more of what you already love. In amongst the shelves of real paper books there is the possibility of something different and unexpected

Keep enjoying the books you already love – but take a chance on something new as well.

 

Image: reading rainbow by emily kneeter

Write lots and write often

Writing by Bianca Moraes

Writing by Bianca Moraes

Kaspa writes: I have started keeping a journal of bad poetry. I don’t set out to write bad poetry (who does?) but calling it a journal of bad poetry has taken away the pressure of performing.

These poems aren’t for anyone to read. I try and write at least one every day. Sometimes I manage it. Sometimes I don’t.

These aren’t calculated poems. There is a lot of value in practicing forms and in searching hard for the right words. But that isn’t what my writing needs right now. What my writing needs is permission to be rubbish.

I open the book. It’s a slim unlined notebook that was left behind when one of our residents moved out. It’s full of welcoming empty pages. The page is slightly rough to touch, like recycled paper. I have a favourite pen that I use .There is something about the ritual of using the same pen and the same book that feels supportive.

I have numbered each of the poems. For no good reason, but it helps complete the ritual.

I open the book and I just write. A line appears, and then another one. I don’t worry too much about changing words that don’t fit, although I have once or twice. Mostly I just want to keep the flow of words going.

Some days it feels great and I think that I might not be writing bad poetry at all. Sometimes it feels like I am writing bad poetry. But writing bad poetry is better than not writing at all.

I started writing bad poetry after reading “Why you should aim for 100 rejections a year” on Lit Hub. Kim Lao writes:

“In the book Art & Fear, authors David Bales and Ted Orland describe a ceramics class in which half of the students were asked to focus only on producing a high quantity of work while the other half was tasked with producing work of high quality. For a grade at the end of the term, the “quantity” group’s pottery would be weighed, and fifty pounds of pots would automatically get an A, whereas the “quality” group only needed to turn in one—albeit perfect—piece. Surprisingly, the works of highest quality came from the group being graded on quantity, because they had continually practiced, churned out tons of work, and learned from their mistakes. The other half of the class spent most of the semester paralyzed by theorizing about perfection, which sounded disconcertingly familiar to me”

My own project was nearly disrupted when I saw a call for submissions recently, and started to imagine writing something to send in. The writer’s block began to loom. I dismissed the idea of submitting and went back to writing bad poetry.

Maybe next year I’ll start collecting rejections too.

Write lots and write often.

 

~ Kaspa

Mindful Writing May

DaisyMindful 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.

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.

***

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.

*

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