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 

What terrifies me

mulled wine by rpavichSatya writes: Lately I’ve been kept awake at night by horrifying visions.

We have booked an open day for our new temple in Malvern despite not having exchanged yet (maybe faith, maybe foolishness). This will be an opportunity to show people around and to start building links with the local community.  

At three o’clock in the morning, I imagine us running out of mulled juice. Arrghgh! Imagine the terror. I lie there in the dark with my eyes wide and compose emails to the people who’ll be helping us out as volunteers, make lists of things to be bought (stepladder, doorstops) and arrange the zafus in rainbow colour order, just like they were in that shrine room in Hamburg I was jealous of. 

Why am I being kept awake by these trivialities? 

In my experience, trivialities are usually containers for more sinister and deeply affecting feelings. They act as symbols or stand-ins. We don’t want to admit to these fears, verbalise them, or even get in touch with them at all. They get covered over by layers & layers of mulled juice and lists. 

What am I really afraid of? Let’s see if I can get any closer to it…

If we run out of mulled juice, people might see me as incompetent. They might go away unhappy. They won’t like me. I will feel like a failure. I will have an experience of my limits in being-able-to-cope.

This last statement gives me a wobbly feeling. We’re onto something.

I need to see myself as being able to Cope With Anything, because I don’t trust anyone else to look after themselves or me. If I don’t write it on a list, nobody else will. If I don’t order the doorstops, the whole temple will fall into chaos. The idea that I am actually a fallible human being with limits is deeply terrifying to me, because it means (if taken alongside the ‘I can’t trust anybody’ belief) that I am completely and utterly unsafe. 

Of course, on a rational level, I know that these things aren’t true. I am and will be supported by competent and lovely people. But we’re not talking about the rational part of me – we’re talking about the deep murky parts that have their own ideas about what is terrifying and how to stay safe. They have their reasons – they may be outdated now, but they are still doing their best, and they are desperate to keep me away from the monsters under the bed.

I thank these parts of me for defending me, and gently suggest that they are no longer necessary, that they can let me see a corner of the monster. I feel a little bit of the fear – not too much, just what I can take. I understand why this new project is terrifying for me. There is always more of the monster, but every time a teensy bit comes out from under the bed and into the light, I feel a fizz of relief. There’s nothing there!

You will be terrified of something different. You will use other trivialities to cover it up. Are you ready to see a little corner of the monster? Maybe just his little toe? 



You can sign up to our monthly Amida Mandala newsletter here. We’re planning an event during January to help you take action on a project of your choice, but if you’ve got an appetite for some mindful writing before then check out our self-study e-courses here or our less time-consuming 31 days here.

Mulled wine by rpavich, with thanks.

Everything is changing for us (& how it could change for you too)

Bredon HouseSatya writes: Soon, Kaspa & I are going to move into this beautiful place in the heart of Malvern.

We are going to run it as a Pureland Buddhist temple. There will be a shrine room & four residents & two more floors cut into the hills & a view over the Severn valley that knock your SOCKS off.

In April this year, I had a tentative conversation with Kaspa about not just getting a permanent building for our Buddhist sangha in Malvern to use, but living in this building ourselves. Making it our home – creating a sacred space and welcoming people in.

At the same time the Trustees of our little Buddhist organisation had already started discussing selling the temple we’ve had in London for many years.

We put in a proposal. It was agreed that some money would be made available to us, maybe in a year or two.

A few weeks later, this June, one of our sangha asked us if we were ‘looking at houses yet’ and we said no, it was way too early – she said that was a shame as their friends were selling their 10 bedroom B&B. We looked at the picture and imagined living there and laughed at our audacity. It looked magnificent. We guessed it would be way out of our budget, and anyway it was far too soon to sell in London.

Two weeks later the Trustees walked into the property and fell in love with the view, the elegant staircases, the tiered garden. They decided to buy it.

So what advice do I have for making your own dreams come true?

We’ve had a huge amount of luck. We’ve got plenty spare – contained in this email if you need it.

All the clichés do help. We’ve put in a lot of hard work, building up our sangha in Malvern for three years on a voluntary basis. We listened to our hearts and took what they were saying seriously. We took small actions consistently. I confess to not being very patient, but it does help if you are. We’ve weathered some difficult bits already (there will be more to come!) without giving up.

But here’s what felt most powerful, and surprised me. My dream came true faster when I got out of the way. When I stopped trying to decide exactly what form this project should take, and allowed the Universe to show me the way instead. When I stopped trying to micromanage everything and instead trusted more.

If it was down to me, we’d be in a much smaller centre out in the countryside. We definitely wouldn’t have any residents. The Universe (Buddha, God) often has much bigger plans for us than we have for ourselves. Plans we’re not entirely sure we agree with at first, until we grudgingly admit how much better things are this way.

What would happen to your dreams if you held them more lightly, and let the Universe help you?

We’re not out of the woods yet – everything can and often does go wrong with house purchases. But whether it’ll be this building or another one, the temple already exists. It will be called Amida Mandala – named by our Buddhist teacher Dharmavidya David Brazier, and without whom none of this would be happening. If you would like to be a Friend of Amida Mandala, just email with ‘friend’ as the title and I’ll add you to our monthly newsletter so you can keep up with our news. Maybe one day you’ll come and see us there.

We’d love to be in by the beginning of December, for our annual Bodhi retreat… which is cutting it VERY fine. Maybe you could send us some of your luck!

Go gently. _/\_


If you’re reading to take some action on your dreams, try Kaspa’s self-study e-course, 31 Days of Positive Action. With the 31 daily emails and accompanying material it gently holds you by the hand and helps you move forwards – one step, then another…

How to stay sane

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

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

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

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

I said: Namo Amida Bu.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namo Amida Bu! Go gently.

E-course adventure with groups during September

wasppansyFancy an adventure during September?

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to it!

Do you miss the world?

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

Satya writes: I’ve been neglecting the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thanks to Aussiegal for the lovely photo.

Step one: Relax…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit my therapy website or leave a comment here.

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

Find joy at the edge…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning ourselves towards what is good


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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