The Power of Loving Attention

When I haven’t written for a while, it is as if the stream dries up.

The lack of care and attention to the muse, means that the stream starts to seep quietly underground. I know it is there, it hasn’t vanished forever, but it goes very quiet and I cannot even perceive it until I stop everything else and start to listen. I need to be willing to hear nothing, just hang in the empty space. I need to wait, and I need to remember that it works by magic, and it is a precious opportunity to love.

It seems to me that all things thrive when they are given loving, spacious, attuned attention. And that in the lack of attention and interest they go dormant. Or start to run amok! What is neglected either dies, retreats or kicks up a storm.

When I stopped holding back, began writing this blog and got onto a roll, something extraordinary started to happen. I felt something come alive in me; the more I gave attention to the process of writing on a daily basis, even if for a short time, the more material started to present itself, saying This! And this too! Oh and please will you write about this!? Things were begging to be expressed from within me and I felt alive in a way I hadn’t for some time.

Then for various reasons I began to lose confidence, I stopped giving my time and attention to the process, and – just like that – inspiration dried up: if I did take some time for it, there appeared to be nothing there.

So today I am showing up again. Today I am listening with a kind of awe at how love works. Love? Yes. Today I am calling the process of giving attention to something precious, an act of love. As I turn my attention to writing, the writing itself starts to respond like a dried up plant responding to water, or a neglected child responding to loving attention. And words start to flow. And that, to me, is magic! And it is how love works.

When I sit with someone, whatever is going on for them, what becomes more and more apparent is that there is nothing more potent than simply being there, resting in my body, and bringing my loving, attuned attention to them. No need to do something, resolve anything, fix anything.  A spacious presence is what allows a relaxation and a blossoming to happen more than anything else. Whatever is given loving attention thrives.

Twenty years ago, my teacher, who I had only recently met, said – “Where you put your attention becomes your experience.” This was radical to me. And it began to become clear that wherever my attention went, that would be my experience. My attention is on my breath, suddenly my primary experience is the soothing, constant, tidal rhythm of inhaling and exhaling.  And my breath itself seems to appreciate the attention and become more settled, deeper. I put my attention on the problems of my life, my experience shifts to a sense of difficulty, pressure, fear, concern. It is instant and visceral. The problems seem to increase in urgency and number. I put my attention on the little dog which is suddenly rushing towards me and I feel a surge of affection and excitement, infected by his buoyancy. And with my attention, his joy becomes increasingly overflowing. I bring attention to the space in which everything is happening and there is an immediate sense of expansion and spaciousness. It may be fancy, but it appears as if the space itself seems to say Thank you for noticing. It becomes more vibrant and alive.  There is choice here. What am I giving my attention to? What am I making precious in my life? By giving it my attention and therefore my interest and energy, I am bringing aspects of existence to life. I am enlivening what I focus on.

I started to notice that I was habitually focusing on difficulty rather than ease – even though most of the time both were happening, I was more interested in the difficulty; as if, by focusing on it, I would be more able to resolve it and therefore feel more at ease. But the effect of the somewhat obsessive focus, meant that I was perpetually entangled in the difficulties of my – and other peoples – lives. The difficulties intensified.  Realizing this was massive, because I also started to realize that there was far more ease in my experience than I had ever appreciated, and as I began to give it attention, the experience of ease – and enjoyment of life – began to open more and more.

I also began to notice that I would, by tendency, get fixated on whatever I was bringing my attention to, and that the narrow focus of this created stress. As I realized that I could spread my attention to include more of the totality of what was happening in any moment, the stress lessened and the world could open up again, allowing whatever it was I had been focusing on to exist in a bigger frame, it could breathe, could be appreciated more fully; it was allowed to unfurl and often resolve itself.

So here I am, writing again. Happy to be writing. Satisfied to be appreciating the power of my own loving attention which gives rise right now to this expression.

I am awed by life right now. When spring is erupting into summer and the whole natural world seems to be singing, blossoming, offering itself to be admired and marveled at, that awe comes more readily.

I witness the seasons passing, each one so different, and so vibrantly itself; I witness cycles of life in nature, but also in the people I know and in myself. I see my body ageing, and heading into the later years, skin wrinkling, aches increasing, mortality more believable. I see myself move between joy, peace, discomfort, sorrow, confusion, wonder; between knowing my place in the world and doubting it again, between a sense of connection and separation; And in my work, in my friendships, in my family, I witness those I love, as they stagnate, fall apart, rise up singing and full of exuberance, collapsing again under the weight of the next apparent setback or challenge, and at some point rising up again – and I increasingly see how things just change. Constantly. History plays out. Births and deaths, openings and closures, expansions and contractions, winters and summers. There is no end point.

The greatest gift of all is abiding in it all.  By that I mean being here for it all, without presuming it all needs resolving, but bringing loving attention to what wants loving attention, to what is most valuable to us – knowing, that at least in this, we have choice.

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Me in the early days, learning to give loving attention!

Giving Your Gift

 

“If you bring forth what is within you it will save you, if you do not bring it forth, it will destroy you    Jesus, from the gospel of St Thomas

Some fortunate people, seem to know more or less from the get-go what their vocation is, and they give everything to the manifestation of it. Some find it over time and an ongoing trial and error process. Some just follow the thread of their interest and – in some kind of extraordinarily logical or often apparently random process – it reveals itself over time. Many people know deep down or even on the surface what they need to do but keep avoiding it. And some go through a whole life time never seeming to know what they are here for, or how to give their gifts in the world.

I have been fascinated by this for many years now. It seems to me that we all have very particular and unique gifts to give the world. And that the giving of those gifts, nourishes, completes and fulfills us as nothing else can; it allows us to know our place in the world, and to feel a sense of purpose and even belonging in that. It is not the deepest essential truth of who we are, but it is how we manifest who we are in the world. The gifts we have to give may change many times over a lifetime, or there may be a constancy, like a single stream carrying us through our lives even though the way that stream flows will invariably change, mature, even stop and start in different phases.

They are both given to us and need to be given by us.

There needs to be a readiness, a willingness, and a capacity to allow these gifts through, and to dare to offer them, often – and for many – in the face of considerable fear. Fear of failure, of rejection, of not being worthy or good enough; fear of success, fears around survival, fear of not fitting in, etc.  Fears which if succumbed to, can become debilitating.

My father was one of those people who had a calling from a very young age, and had the kind of personality which supported him to follow it, whatever the cost. He ran away from Eton to London at 16 with a bunch of his drawings and managed to persuade the Slade Art school to accept him at the tender age of 16 (two years younger than students were supposed to be admitted). His father announced that he was disinheriting him there and then but he was, if anything, encouraged by that and certainly undeterred. He painted with a passion, commitment and dedication his whole life, until his eyesight and his hips no longer allowed him to. The eyes were less of an issue than his hips; he swore he couldn’t paint sitting down, and when he could no longer stand, that was that – and his muse went entirely into writing which had previously been important, but secondary to painting.  He then wrote avidly until the day before he died.

But that level of drive, clarity and determination is unusual.

What particularly fascinates me is how often we do know what our next step is and what we need to do, and how often we ignore it, deny it, put it off, doubt it, stamp on it, or simply stall, paralyzed, unable to take it. What is that? Given the huge and generally obvious costs of not engaging that step?

When my daughter Lua was a child and and her migraines set in, occasionally it would transpire when she had one, that she had wanted to draw or paint something, and had not done it. And if she could be persuaded by herself or me, to make herself do it, often the headache would miraculously disappear. It seemed obvious that the act of stopping that creative flow – which is the flow of life itself – was creating blocks in her body’s energy system which resulted in a lot of pain and discomfort – not to mention a general emotional malaise. It seemed to be such a direct and immediate feedback loop and she tells me that, amongst other factors, it is still often the case now.

About 14 years ago I went through a period of feeling very low, disillusioned and hopeless. One day I realized that I needed to write a song ,which would be my gateway. I had never written a song before and didn’t know where to start, but I knew I had to do it anyway. The first two verses went like this

“If I let this song come on out of my heart

and turn tortured thoughts into some kind of art,

perhaps I will breathe a deeper breath,

and live life more fully, have less fear of death…

Why, oh why?

Do I shut out this voice,

Or pretend that I do not have the choice,

To be seen, to be heard, to be touched, as I am,

And to see, hear, touch, taste, and then sing while I can?”

It worked. Both the writing of the song, and the singing of it to myself over the next months, seemed to open a doorway through which I could find a happier disposition. As far as I can remember, the process was quite straightforward at that point. I simply had to do it. Seven years later I suddenly became aware that I needed to write some more songs, and perhaps because I was in less of a crisis, the resistance was greater. I felt strangely terrified, and asked a dear friend of mine who was an adept at calling forth peoples’ musical talent and confidence, for help. With his help I was able to come through some of the considerable resistance and actually get on with it. I went through a similar process over the last two years when I first became aware of an impulse to start this blog. I knew I wanted to write and I could speak about it but was fiercely blocked around acting on it. I was surprised by the power of the fear it provoked in me, and it took a year before I finally was able to actually make it happen.

This is small fry compared to some of the behaviors I have witnessed in friends and students who have promptings of what they need to do in stepping forward in their lives.

Once I was teaching in Italy and one of my students ended up, after a particularly powerful session, crouching in a corner of the room shaking like a leaf. I went over to find out what was happening for her. She started to cry and said that she was getting some powerful impulses to put her hands on people. She didn’t feel she had any right to do so, neither did she understand why this was happening. Later on I sat alone with her and told her to feel free to let follow whatever impulse arose in sitting with me. Her hands were instantly drawn to an area of my body which had felt – unknown to her – blocked for a long time. As her hands touched me I started to shake and spontaneously release long stored emotion, and I very quickly started to feel sensations I had never felt before as a life long numbness started to thin. The following day we were opening a spontaneous movement session, and seeing her once again crumpled by the simultaneous force of the impulse to heal with her hands and fear of transgressing anyone’s boundaries, I asked anyone who was willing to have her put her hands on them, to raise their hands. A few eager hands shot up, and eventually she drummed up the courage to risk getting it wrong, and just followed her body’s impulses. What followed was truly remarkable as over the course of an hour she would approach different people and gently move into the areas of their bodies which most needed attention, in a way which blew many of the other participants away, not to mention her.

What I realized following that incident was that – although it is generally not as dramatic as that – many people have spontaneous gifts which want to come through them, but simply don’t have contexts in which they can safely explore or experiment. Or spaces in which they can have realistic feedback of how their ‘offerings’ affect others.

I sometimes create spaces in which this is possible which I call Giving your Gift. Group settings where people can start to attune to what is important to them, what they are passionate about, and what they are longing for. Most often that provides a clue as to what it is that they are hungry to offer. We explore and experiment, and people throw themselves into an alive investigation, often in small but significant ways. And often what they end up offering has no name, or already trodden pathway – because it is new, fresh, and unique to the expression of their being even if on the surface of it it might look like something recognizable – like ‘healing’ or ‘performing’, or ‘teaching’ or ‘communicating with the natural world’ or ‘painting’ … The people who end up in these groups clearly have a particular interest in embodied awakening or they wouldn’t be in my groups. But the principle applies to anyone, in any walk of life. I see an energy unleashed in people when they dare to step forward in these ways which is remarkable and inspiring. It is as if their whole being becomes aligned with a deeper purpose, even if just momentarily, and from there, what comes through becomes inspirational for those around them. Even if the offering is as simple as cooking a meal. It is not so much what is being offered but the wholeheartedness and completeness from which that offering comes. And over and over, I witness how when people hold back, doubt, deny or procrastinate on what they want to bring, their bodies often become exhausted and they can fall into emotional downward spirals beset with self loathing, resentment, envy, competition, self/other judgment and hopelessness.

There is an idea about vocation which is very strong, which is that it should be clear and obvious and that we must ‘find’ it (if it is not already obvious) and give everything to it. But in reality most people I know and who I have spoke to about this, feel that they have not found their true vocation; or they have but for various reasons are unable to fulfill it. Perhaps they do not have the physical capacity or the economic stability or the perfect channel through which to funnel their energy.

We live in a culture which has an enormous value set by ‘what we do for a living’ and for successful careers. We value ‘success’ by very limited criteria, and the result is that many people who, in my opinion, are actually giving their gifts in the world in very real ways, are unseen, unrecognized and undervalued – especially by themselves. The effect of this is low self esteem, and a sense of being out of kilter with themselves which has the looping effect that those very offerings which actually are already coming through are able to do so less fulsomely than they otherwise would.

I have a friend who has just discovered, after many years of debilitating and often mysterious ill health, that she has advanced cancer. Her illness had a massive effect in preventing her doing the many things she was passionate about offering to the world, and now she is faced with the fact that she is most probably dying and she hasn’t been able to fully come through. For her this is a desperate predicament. And I have huge sympathy for that. And yet, what I see is a shining being who – despite massive difficulties in her own life – finds multifarious ways to touch others with her love, her wisdom, her humor, and her outspoken unwillingness to tolerate injustice when she sees it playing out by people around her. Everyone she meets is in some way touched by her, or shaken out of their sleepwalking to see their own lives through different eyes; whether it is the nurses or doctors she encounters, those who come to care for her, the shop keepers, the homeless people on the street or the many friends she has gathered around the world from all walks of life who communicate with her through skype or email. But how is any of this quantified? And when someone asks her ‘ what she does’ how can she put all of this into a neat sentence, which allows the other in a brief few seconds to go, ah yes, a valuable human being.

What if our society valued a persons’ capacity to love, or to think out of the box, or to touch others, more highly than how much they could earn, or what letters they have after their name? Imagine what the world might look like then. Seriously. Think about it.

I was speaking to another friend of mine only yesterday who has decided to finally stop fretting about what her calling is and to trust the unfolding of her life. She said, it is like I just need to turn the dial. It is all about perception. To stop waiting for when I am truly settled in my “Life’s Work’ and realize that my life’s work is already happening as I put one step in front of the other, and follow where I am called; as I relate the the people around me, do the work I do, make the many choices I make. And what a difference happens when I relax and drop the idea that there is somewhere else to get to, and land where I am and love the offering I am giving in each moment.   Perhaps, in that deeper trust and self respect, the next step becomes obvious and I will be truly doing the work I am here to do. And perhaps I end up doing nothing different to what is already happening, and the very fact that I am not looking ahead or searching for something more defined, means that I will have arrived where I am. From there whatever I offer becomes imbued with another level of confidence, of power, of clarity and presence.

In ‘The Invitation’, Oriah Mountain Dreamer says, “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing…” She goes on inspiringly speaking about what is most precious in being human.

Imagine if I or you had no need to prove that we were somebody through the descriptions and labels of ‘what we do’, but were already settled in being who we were, and in that our vocation would be a given even if it didn’t fit into any kind of box!?

…and the day came when the risk it took to stay closed tight as a bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”   (Lassie Benton – not as is generally thought – by Anais Nin!)

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In that settling into being who we are as we are, there is a blossoming which happens. And it is a risk, because we cannot hide in the shadows when we blossom. We start to emit a fragrance, we start to shine and we get noticed; those who are not able to blossom yet may hate us for it, even as truly as we will inspire, and be loved for it.

It is also, for most people a risk economically. My stepdaughter Tamar took the risk of leaving the work which she relied on over the last 10 years and which was wearing her out, to give everything she had to her art. This took a lot of courage but the timing was right, staying ‘tight as a bud’ in her work life was doing her in; in some ways she had no choice if she was to thrive… and within two years she is now most definitely happier, earning enough and being received as the true artist she is.

And this brings me to one more essential point. Although I have heard of those whose muse was so strong that it had its way with them with no need of outward recognition, I would say that is very rare. We do not exist in a vacuum. What we give needs to be received, seen, heard, appreciated, for the giving to keep flowing in a healthy way. We need to know that what is given has value not just to us but to the greater whole, even if that greater whole is apparently no larger than the family system we live and work in, or our immediate community. On the most simple level, if I smile at someone in the street, and that smile is seen and responded to with warmth, there is a sense of completeness, connection, inherent value in being part of something bigger than me. It is life affirming.

To bring this around in a very personal way, if you have read this far, and if you have enjoyed reading or are stirred by it, please do let me know as your interest and/or encouragement makes all the difference to motivating me to continue on this particular line of blog writing! And I am interested in the possibility of these musings opening up conversations between us all rather than being shots in the dark…

 

 

Bowing to driven-ness

I feel the pull of silence

Like a deep, dark pool;

A simple gentling embrace,

Filling and nourishing every cell of my body.

And, at the same time,

I feel the momentum of my driven-ness,

Searching for anything my mind and body can do

To fill my time and take my energy

Up, out and away from this precious moment;

Up, out and away from this silence and this

Embodied breath.

 

As my head bows down to this,

And my body becomes heavy and alive:

suffused with the generous gravity of presence,

Small and tenacious tentacles reach out,

Searching, searching…

For what?

To hold on:

To hold onto something, anything,

As if my life were at stake,

And keeping busy were the only hope of survival.

 

Who or what wants to survive?

Who or what bows down to this?

All I know is this:

The bower simply, humbly – in bowing –

allows,

And maybe even kisses,

The one who is intent on keeping busy –

Being somebody,

Achieving something,

Filling every moment for dear life.

 

 

Unfathomable beauty

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There is so much beauty.

Unfathomable beauty everywhere I care to look.

When I slow down enough to actually take it in; when the endless preoccupations of my humanness have the space to recede even for a moment, and I can enter the stillness of my heart, the unfathomable beauty of this world becomes available.

And then there is the wonder that I have eyes to see, and a body to receive the effect of that seeing.

Right now, as I sit quietly breathing in the sight of sunlight on the bright, white, snow-covered ground, and watch the movement of the holly branches gently responding to the breeze and how the light bounces off their shiny leaves; and the intricate patterns of the bare branches of the ash tree against the pale blue sky and tiny rainbows appearing and disappearing in the stream of water pouring off the roof as the snow melts… my body is suffused with wonder. My breathing deepens and a sense of nourishment fills my body. Nourished by beauty; and, even more importantly, nourished by the capacity to be here for it, to receive it, to allow it in.

I remember becoming aware, many years ago, that it was hard to really let the beauty of existence in.

In fact I became acutely aware of all the ways I turned away from it, perversely preferring to focus on what was difficult or more complex than the simplicity of the beauty of the world. I remember thinking, ‘this is too much for me’.

What was too much was not the beauty itself, but the painful realization that I was unable to enjoy it. The starkness of my own closure highlighted by the quiet offerings of the world around me. Displays of extraordinary design in every flower, tree, cloud formation, bird; in every natural fragrance, in the flow of river, of raindrops, and the fluttering of leaves tumbling in autumn; to let this all in in any moment is utterly mind-blowing. And to feel the tight holding of a heart too arrogant, too afraid, too self involved, too stressed, to bow down to creation – that was what was too much.

There was a spell of beautiful weather in the late summer of 1985. I was in Norfolk, walking with my sister who was severely depressed; I remember commenting on how beautiful it was, and her replying, ‘it just makes it harder’. I was shocked by the starkness of what she spoke, and I got it. When we are locked in our own misery, beauty, openness and even love itself, can appear like an insult; because it is there showing itself to us, and we cannot have it – like a banquet put before a starving creature but out of reach. And if I suspect that the key to letting it in, is in my own hands but I am unable, or unwilling to turn it, that is doubly unbearable.

I remember when my second daughter Amy was born. It was an extraordinarily perfect water birth and she emerged out of me so gently, guided by my own hands as I delivered her little body into a watery world. She was born without the waters having broken, the ‘coul’ was intact. With one contraction, half her body appeared. Her little perfect face, her shoulders and arms, her torso. Then her right hand was released from my body and her arm gently floated free making a wondrous arc from my vagina, spreading out until it was stretched above her head. That movement tore open the delicate sac which was still holding her in amniotic fluid and as the temperature and quality of the water she was being born into changed, she opened her beautiful big eyes under water and seemed to take in the world.

I knew at the time that I was experiencing something which was beautiful beyond words. And yet what was shocking to me was that I also knew that I couldn’t actually feel it. I felt distant, like I was watching a film about someone else which perhaps should have touched me, but didn’t. At the time I was vaguely aware of feeling bad about feeling so distant from what was happening. What I didn’t realize was that I was actually in a state of shock brought about by subliminal memories of her sisters’ birth which was very traumatic for me. I couldn’t feel anything.

That whole experience, the subsequent hemorrhage and the seemingly miraculous healing which happened when it became clear that I was simply reliving an old trauma, was a strong awakening moment for me. I realized in that moment that how I was perceiving life and my experience – consciously or unconsciously – was having a devastating effect on my body. An effect so powerful that it could kill me. And waking up to the realization that I had agency in the situation, blew my mind.

The ambulance was on its way to rush me and Amy to hospital. I asked Angus (Amy’s father) to call a new friend who was psychic (and also happened to be a midwife which made me trust her guidance way more than I otherwise might have done). The ambulance was on it’s way. The message which came back from her was this – “Fanny experiences birth like death. Tell her it is purely emotional, and tell her firmly to stop bleeding NOW”.

I remember lying on the sofa looking out of the window and seeing the grey clouds. I remember having lost the will to live. I could hear Amy screaming and saw her in her grandmothers’ arms, but I wasn’t interested. When that message came through, something woke up in me. It was a strong experience. I saw pink light streaming through the clouds, I came out of a bubble and suddenly I wanted my baby. I stopped bleeding there and then. My blood pressure normalized (I can’t remember whether it was high or low but – along with all the other symptoms – it had the midwife worried), my temperature came down, and the contractions to expel the placenta started up again. When the ambulance arrived, my midwife was courageous enough to send them away again, and I was able to begin to fall in love with this precious new being. Suddenly I wasn’t just seeing beauty but I was touched by it, I could let it in, I was part of it.

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Amy, two days after her birth

 

When there is some kind of traumatic memory operating unconsciously it can be hard to appreciate beauty even if I objectively recognize it. Or if I am depressed or shut down, I might miss it. And then sometimes, by grace, beauty will come and find me, and reach into my heart through the fog of that closure, and open me up again.

This world is so unreasonably beautiful when I have the eyes to see it and a heart open enough to feel it. Wherever I turn in nature, there is beauty. Every living thing has beauty when I really take it in, even things I don’t think do it for me like slugs, earthworms, spiders or people I perceive as ugly. But if I look a bit deeper, or look through the eyes of love, something very magical happens.

Sometimes I can look at someone I care for and see them through a critical eye which sees bags under eyes, triple chins, wrinkles and jaded expressions. I can think, ‘you’re not looking so good’. And if I catch myself doing that, it is possible to shift where I am looking from, and see with the eyes of my heart, and suddenly what appeared to be ugly is transformed. Beauty is revealed. I didn’t used to be able to do this. It requires dropping all my ideas about what is or isn’t beautiful and just seeing what is here. And allowing myself to be in wonder.

It seems to me that we are SUPPOSED to be opened by life. Life is designed to blow us away by its sheer beauty. It keeps calling us back to the garden which it naturally is, and keeps saying, “Come! Come home! Drink me in! Open up! Be blown away in love!”. It is offering itself to us in a constant reminder of what is precious in the midst of all the inevitable difficulties which being human entails.

 

 

 

 

Nobody Needs Saving (2)

 

I need to say more about this.

Some people, like me, are hard wired to attempt to save others from their predicaments. And there are countless awful and apparently-impossible-to-remedy predicaments we all find ourselves in, so the task is truly endless.

To the degree that my mission is to save others, I am constantly busy, if not in actuality, in my mind, trying to figure out solutions for everyone’s problems.

This is may be exhausting and debilitating, but also serves to make me feel stronger, and more capable than I really am, because, as the savior, I can hide how much, deep down, I want saving myself. This may be very buried as it doesn’t really suit my self image to admit it. And we seem to have the most extraordinary capacity to not see what we don’t want to see about ourselves (even when it is obvious to everyone else!)

The activity saves me from feeling how lost, lonely, inadequate and desperate I feel myself, in fact I rarely need to touch this. It also saves me from feeling the peace, relaxation and ease of being which goes hand in hand with facing feelings I have spent a life time avoiding.

And it prevents me from realizing a deeper calling, which is to live as love.

So when I say, nobody needs saving, I am not suggesting a cold indifference to the suffering of others. Not remotely.

I am calling to my own heart, and yours, I am calling for a deeper realization of love, which is endlessly called to respond to itself and everything. Which wants nothing other than to give of itself to every human being, every creature, every situation, without agenda, without knowing how to do that, or what the result may be. And is not convinced in any way of being indispensible to the flow of life, because it is not separate from life, but simply alive. And has no fear of crisis in myself or others, recognising it as part of a necessary process of revelation. It has no separate compartments for ‘your needs’, ‘my needs’ or ‘the world’s needs’, but more an intuitive sensing of ‘what’s needed?’ which includes it all. And the movement towards that, happens within a flow which is already free, already whole, not dependent on results but responsive to life. And it includes a willingness to feel every feeling from the fear, confusion, bewilderment, emptiness and anger to the joy, wonder, compassion and hilarity (and everything in between) which this extraordinary existence offers to us.

 

Meeting Death (again)

 

A dear person named Gordon died very suddenly last week.

He came to many retreats Colin and I offered over the last 7 years, and was a gentle, loving, tender presence in this community.

As happens with sudden deaths, there is a lot of shock. How is it possible, that one minute there is this being, this alive, embodied heart touching all around them in the ways that they do, and the next there is nothing. An empty body, recognizable and yet so not who that person was? No life; no spark, no love, no intelligence, no humour. Nothing. How can the mind truly comprehend this mystery of mysteries? Perhaps for some there is still a tangible presence or essence that can be felt even though there is no body through which it can express itself. And yet for most what remains is nothing. A sense of an indelible bond which was, and is, and yet no longer a feel-able, touchable presence. And the emptiness this leaves.

I first experienced this when my half sister Soph died from suicide 33 years ago. It was utterly incomprehensible to me, even though in theory I understood about death. Unfathomable. Impossible. That she who I had known my entire life was now gone. Many times over the years I have dreamed that she came back to life, or had never died in the first place, but had just been somehow hiding. My unconscious still trying to work it all out.

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Soph

It seems to be easier to comprehend and allow when the death is more expected, timely, and has been prepared for.

Next week it will be a year since my father died. I was ready for his death and I felt it as a deliverance; I felt waves of grief, but I most strongly remember two days after he died, feeling swept through with a wild joy, as if I could feel his letting go, his freedom, as if he were soaring through the skies. And seeing his body in the casket brought with it a gentle sense of the mercy and the beauty of death even as it seemed strange and incomprehensible.

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My father Tim, not long before he died

I have spent most of my life in fear of death. Terrified more than anything of more loss. Afraid to truly open in love because somewhere I’ve always known that everyone I love I shall eventually lose, and this seems utterly unpalatable. Slowly, as I face into my essential aloneness and come to terms with it, make friends with it, soften around it, the prospect of deep loss seems easier to allow for; the dread is easing. Not that the heartbreak stops.

The simplicity of Gordon’s death is heartbreaking – and even more keenly so when I sit with those for whom his death leaves a vast chasm, and feel them as if I were them for moments in time. And more so because he was in a time when he seemed happier, less burdened, more available and brighter than those of us who knew him had even seen him before. He died knowing he was loved, and his love was received.

And more generally, it is heartbreaking that we are all going to die. Each and every one of us. And none of us really know what, if anything, happens next. And that is both awesome in its incomprehensibility, wonderful, terrifying and yes, heartbreaking.

There is so much love. For so many people, for the birds and all the creatures, the trees, the earth itself… and if I am not willing to have my heart broken again and again, I cannot truly surrender to love.

I remember hearing that quote from Tennyson,

“Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

It struck me from the young age when I first heard it. It gave me courage even as I questioned it. Really? Are you sure? Can I not protect myself from pain, by loving less??

Well perhaps I can, and have done. But what a price to pay; to love less.

I wrote a song a few years ago about dying and living to the full. In the last verse it says

“…until that day,

I’m gonna gaze into the endless sky,

I’m gonna love and love and love without asking why…

I’m gonna open my arms, and my legs, and my heart so wide,

That I can know I lived, and lived, and lived, until I died…”

So that is my invocation. I don’t always manage to live it, but it is my prayer and intention. For the sake of Gordon, who once again has awakened me to this mystery, and for my father and my sister, for all those who have died and all who are still alive, and because I believe that is what I am here for.

 

 

Nobody needs saving

 

This morning I saw the heron, majestically swooping down through the garden and gracefully landing by the side of the pond where he is now standing, already motionless, keeping watch as the surface of the water shimmers in the morning light.

It is snow drop time.

And as I lay in bed this morning I felt the soft warm glimmerings of tenderness, infused with a quiet, almost imperceptible joy, easing their way through the greyness of my heart.

Nobody needs saving.

Nobody needs saving.

I am being gently released from a lifetime of unsuccessfully – and often barely consciously – attempting to save and be saved.

No body needs saving.

And love can be released from the cocoon it has been relegated to – under layers of manipulations and attempts to do something to change you, myself or the world to make it (or you or me), ‘better’.

Love can be released to do the work… which only love can do

Greyness

Sunday morning;  it is grey and drizzly as it has been for what seems like weeks and weeks. It fits well with a kind of inner greyness which accompanies me.

I tend to busy myself with all kinds of things so as to avoid that inner greyness which is a kind of slow, melancholy, unremarkable and pervasive emptiness. My life long habit is to fill my life with people, activities, beautiful things, music and lots of thinking (about people, activities, things)… and that neglected lost soul of a feeling just wonders around just behind, just above, just beneath me, gently calling for my attention.

My mind can easily give it names – well this is because the future looks bleak, or this is because I was lonely as a child, or this is because it keeps drizzling here in England and I wish the sun would shine more.

I think I shall drop ‘becausing’ for a bit.

What if there is no because?

So I allow myself to dip in to this ghostly feeling and find out what it is really like.

It is quiet. It tastes of nothing much. There is a sense of aloneness in it. It is undemanding and yet pervasive, like this thick grey cloud which hangs over the Devon world. It is monotone and quite emotionless. There is nothing to feel good about and nothing to feel bad about, and yet the nothingness seems to invite a movement towards both or either direction, just to jazz things up a bit.  Uninspected, even feeling bad seems better than this nomansland.

And yet there is a gentleness to it, a simplicity, a quietness when I let myself abide in it, which is soft and relieving. Oh yes, nowhere to go with this. Nothing to do. And something of my drivenness has a chance to stall and let things be as they are.

And this English winter weather can have my appreciation for simply being as it is, with gratitude for this warm comfortable home.

And all those activities I have created to avoid empty, depleted feelings can be seen for what they are, and be allowed to slow down.

And slowly, maybe, I can relax, allow all of this to be as it is, and every lonely, lost, empty, grey feeling can be invited home to roost.

Grandmother delights

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Little Naiagua has been staying for 5 weeks, and yesterday I waved good bye to her and my daughter Lua (her mother) as I headed off to run a group and they go back shortly to the Canary Islands. I saw her passport yesterday. It is a proper Spanish passport with her funny little brown 5 month old face rather crossly gazing out of the page.

 

She has changed since she first arrived. Her skin was browner then and her face more serious. Recently she has started to talk much more and sometimes shout and screech with delight when she sees us, kicking her little strong legs vigorously, dancing with joy. Joy sweeps through her uncontained and within a second it might change to concentration or a quieter, more inward feeling, or sometimes distress, irritation or frustration. Absolutely nothing is held on to. Her attention moves freely to what is most interesting in any moment. And there is SO MUCH to be interested in!

I love to see the fascination with which she explores objects with her little hands and her lips, tongue and gums. Her mouth is investigating everything and loves to find new textures and shapes to check out, whether it is a wooden spoon, a plastic donkey, a jam jar lid or a spatula. Best if it can fit into her mouth. Sound is also fascinating. She has learned to hurl things across the room which sometimes make a satisfying clattering sound. And she likes to scratch surfaces with her little nails to see how they sound. The sofa is a good linen surface which we sometimes scratch together. And music! Oh, how she loves music! Sometimes she will go very very quiet and simply listen with her whole being. A moment before it started, she may have been winging and bored, and suddenly she is still and silent letting it soak into her. And if it is more rhythmical her little legs kick in time to the music and her arms open and close alongside it. When she is held and danced with she will sometimes screech with delight and properly dance too. She has also learned that she can SHOUT to get someones’ attention.

She likes to explore my face or fingers with her little hands and mouth. She cannot sit up on her own yet but if you put her on her back on the floor she will flip round onto her front and kick her little legs and hold herself up on her upper arms; I reckon she is keen to move and yet hasn’t figured out the muscle groups required to propel herself forward from her legs and arms, so she just kicks and gets easily bored after a while.

I shall miss her. It has been an utter delight to share this month with her in her growing and witness her discovering the world and gaining confidence and dexterity. And to be reminded of how wondrous it is to be born into this world in a healthy body surrounded by loving care. There is so much to discover! So much to enjoy! So much to be upset by!

It also makes me realize acutely how much an infant needs and how often those needs cannot be met adequately in so many circumstances and the consequences of that in the early growing in terms of whether the world appears as fundamentally benign or threatening.

But most of all I just feel grateful for this opportunity to accompany, witness, enjoy and share an abundance of love with this new beautiful person.

The mystery happens now

My mind may be convinced there is something to be realized in the future…

But I know there is only this precious moment

where everything I am longing for is revealed.

It always was so.

This mysterious moment is

quietly whispering,

“Come here…

Stop.

Listen.

I am breathing you,

Stop.

Just for a moment.

Because I am what you are seeking.

Stop.

Listen.

Just here, closer than your skin;

don’t look for me,

just breathe me in,

just love this.”

 

Thank you.

And I don’t know if I am thanking the mystery,

or the mystery is thanking me,

or what the difference is.