a coherent source of energy for living
the horizon is no illusion
it defines your place
even as it draws you out
of your fixed ideas of self
even from beyond closed blinds
you can imagine the horizon
and remember who you are
your self is not something fixed
but rather a sense of freedom
experienced in each moment
an act of loving
(Simon Williams, 24.9.2012)
This stuff we are made from –
dirt, joy, unknowing, mess, forgiveness –
this is what we live with.
There is nothing ‘out there’,
not even the absence of these things.
This time we are living in –
cluttered with our mistakes and delusions –
is the time for telling our love.
Don’t let that thought you tripped over,
nor that gaping wound you made,
stop you from being in love.
(for Meredith who tells her love daily, Simon Williams 24.9.2012)
Thank you to Kara Matheson from ed21c.com for sharing. This is the essence of mindful practice for me as a partner, parent and children’s worker
In this lecture, Dr. Mark Greenberg, Director of the Prevention Research Center at Penn State University, examines the relationships between intrapersonal mindfulness activities, such as sitting and walking meditation, and interpersonal mindfulness activities, such as deep listening, regulating one’s emotional reactions, and practicing compassion. He highlights the ethical dimension of mindfulness, which is often de-emphasized. He concludes with a call for a research agenda that explores how intra- and interpersonal mindfulness activities and outcomes are related, as well as an examination of the outcomes of mindfulness activities in different contexts.
I gratefully dedicate this post to my second son Quillan who has now turned 1, and to my first son Finn, who will soon turn 4…
I am your calm face;
You are my giggle.
I am your wait;
You are my wiggle.
I am your carriage ride;
You are my king.
I am your push;
You are my swing.
I am your audience;
You are my clown.
I am your London Bridge;
You are my
I am your water wings;
You are my deep.
I am your open arms;
You are my running leap.
I am your way home;
You are my new path.
I am your dry towel;
You are my wet bath.
I am your dinner;
You are my chocolate cake.
I am your bedtime;
You are my wide awake.
I am your finish line;
You are my race.
I am your praying hands;
You are my saying grace.
I am your favorite book;
You are my new lines.
I am your night-light;
You are my sunshine.
I am your lullaby;
You are my peekaboo.
I am your good-night kiss;
You are my
I love you.
(Maryann Cusimano Love, 2001)
So you mustn’t be frightened…if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better. In you…so much is happening now; you must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like someone who is recovering; for perhaps you are both. And more: you are also the doctor, who has to watch over himself. But in every sickness there are many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait. And that is what you, insofar as you are your own doctor, must now do, more than anything else.
Don’t observe yourself too closely. Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions from what happens to you; simply let it happen. Otherwise it will be too easy for you to look with blame (that is: morally) at your past, which naturally has a share in everything that now meets you. But whatever errors, wishes, and yearnings of your boyhood are operating in you now are not what you remember and condemn. The extraordinary circumstances of a solitary and helpless childhood are so difficult, so complicated, surrendered to so many influences and at the same time so cut off from all real connection with life that, where a vice enters it, one may not simply call it a vice. One must be so careful with names anyway; it is so often the name of an offense that a life shatters upon, not the nameless and personal action itself, which was perhaps a quite definite necessity of that life and could have been absorbed by it without any trouble. And the expenditure of energy seems to you so great only because you overvalue victory; it is not the “great thing” that you think you have achieved, although you are right about your feeling; the great thing is that there was already something there which you could replace that deception with, something true and real. Without this even your victory would have been just a moral reaction of no great significance; but in fact it has become a part of your life. Your life…which I think of with so many good wishes. Do you remember how that life yearned out of childhood toward the “great thing”? I see that it is now yearning forth beyond the great thing toward the greater one. That is why it does not cease to be difficult, but that is also why it will not cease to grow.
And if there is one more thing that I must say to you, it is this: Don’t think that the person who is trying to comfort you now lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes give you much pleasure. His life has much trouble and sadness, and remains far behind yours. If it were otherwise, he would never have been able to find those words.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)
Please listen to a wonderful exploration of these words in a Dharma talk by Diane Eshin Rizzetto, The Life That Holds Us
‘What can I say that I have not said before?
So I’ll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.’
(Mary Oliver, Swan)
Meditation, like poetry, can seem obscure and intangible but it is simply what happens when you begin to notice what is happening. In this way meditation positions you in the very midst of your experience of life. If nothing appears to be happening, noticing that is meditation too.
Meditation inhabits a common ground of all religious traditions and no religion. It is simply us turning up to life. There is a trick to this, because we attempt to remain in moments which have already passed, to locate an abstract self in the moments where we feel most alive or would like to be. Even when we are not ‘being present,’ this is where we are. Right under our noses.
‘Meditation can mean all kinds of things. But when I use this word, what I’m mainly using it for is that sense of centering, that sense of establishing, resting in the center. The only way that one can really do that is not to try and think about it and analyze it; you have to trust in just a simple act of attention, of awareness. It’s so simple and so direct that our complicated minds get very confused. “What’s he talking about? I’ve never found a still point in me. When I sit and meditate, there’s nothing still about it.” But there’s an awareness of that. Even if you think you’ve never had a still point or you’re a confused, messed-up character that really can’t meditate, trust in the awareness of that very perception.’
(Ajahn Sumedho, Intuitive Awareness)
What’s this awareness? What is it? Does it follow knowledge? Mystics have often articulated knowledge as pointing toward something. My eleven-month-old boy has recently been pointing – sometimes he first sees something which he then points too, other times he simply points and then looks to see what he is looking at.
‘The bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain,
To see what he could see.
And what do you think he saw?
And what do you think he saw?
The other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
Was all that he could see.’
(Traditional children’s song)
What do we really know and, after all, what is there to know? It is enough simply to notice. Awareness will look after itself. I am not talking about separating ourselves from our experience of life. What I sense is that there is a motivation within this awareness, more powerful and imminent than the grasping of ideals or the collecting of information. Like the river’s flow. ‘You have only moments to live,’ writes Jon Kabat-Zinn. This is it. And this. And this too.
What I am talking about here is known as mindfulness meditation. I am describing more than concentration meditation, which you can practice by focusing on your breathing, your footsteps, a candle flame, a notion of holiness or interconnectedness – and this experience will help you to notice the nature of constant change which imbues these moments of life.
Mindfulness meditation, or simply mindfulness, is living this awareness of constant change in every moment:
‘Awareness is your refuge: Awareness of the changingness of feelings, of attitudes, of moods, of material change and emotional change: Stay with that, because it’s a refuge that is indestructible. It’s not something that changes. It’s a refuge you can trust in. This refuge is not something that you create. It’s not a creation. It’s not an ideal. It’s very practical and very simple, but easily overlooked or not noticed. When you’re mindful, you’re beginning to notice, it’s like this.’
We are aware of our breathing and each breath brings us into a new moment and we find we are still here. We know we feel angry and are yelling at or silently resenting our partner and each constricted breath brings us into a new uncomfortable moment and we are still here. We can see we ‘missed a great moment’ by not being present with our children and each moment of their presence tells us this is a new moment and we are still here. We often mistake children’s presence for lack of concentration or intention and their willingness for impatience, ‘I want it now.’ This is all they know and they will continue to live for it. And it is not such a bad thing, when you know how to let go in the same manner. Life undermines our constructions and mostly leaves us standing.
Geoff Dawson, a Sydney-based psychologist and Zen teacher writes of meditation, ‘The motivation for practice comes simply from looking into this present moment as it is and being willing to experience its edge of unsatisfactoriness if that is what is present or seeing its immeasurable wonder and love and joy if that is what is present. There is no practice or motivation for practice outside of this.’ Where does the motivation for this motivation arise? From our experience of life.
It may seem unwise to offer a simple answer to this difficult question, and it will certainly sound tacky to further say the solution is to be here now. We have an idea that a solution is something fixed at the end of everything else. We have another idea that there is, somewhere, an experience of life more significant than this particular moment we are living through. A solution can be a helpful metaphor in that we can allow ourselves to dissolve into each moment, knowing that we cannot do anything else or be anyone else other than who we are in this moment. And this very moment will dissolve and disappear until we look anew:
‘I know that nothing has ever been real
without my beholding it.
All becoming has needed me.
My looking ripens things
And they come toward me, to meet and be met.’
(Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God)
If there is a significant ‘me’ to be found, it is in the pointing, the noticing. Engaging in living.
So, I encourage you to be here. To bear witness to your experience of life. To bear life, to bring forth living with noticing. Kara Matheson, who applies mindfulness in the contexts of parenting and education, defines it as: ‘learning to pay attention to what is happening in and around you, learning to bring kindness, curiosity, and acceptance to your experience, and learning to not take it all so personally.’ If you are like me in finding kindness challenging, you may be surprised to see it bubbling up like a hidden spring, a fresh balm for those you have hurt and where you have also been wounded. And if you think you do or don’t know what is good for you, then good for you. Talk to someone about it. This is it, is it?
One of the most famous contemporary meditation teachers in the world, Sogyal Rinpoche, explained recently, ‘when I meditate … I do nothing.’ A ten-year-old boy in the audience responded by asking, ‘but how can we do nothing, aren’t we always doing something?’ Leave your mind where it is – if your life is anything like mine your present mind will probably get trodden over by muddy feet and forgotten sooner or later. This is most welcome.
(Simon Williams, 24.8.2012)
Thank you for reading. I invite you to explore these links to teachers who make mindfulness practice accessible and enjoyable…
found the path with no end
if he can be everyone and no one
then my friend
found a rock in his shoe
if that makes him imperfect
the peeling of paint
interrupts my sleep
a young girl sings, now I wake
is a short poem
which fits nicely
in a breath
love is even shorter
leaving you breathless
with its sudden
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'...If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive...'
‘Yeah, you who must leave everything that you cannot control. It begins with your family, but soon it comes ’round to your soul’
'To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax and you float.'
'Nothing outside yourself can cause any trouble. You yourself make the waves in your mind. If you leave your mind as it is, it will become calm.'
(Shunryu Suzuki Roshi)
'If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything. When a child presents himself to you with his smile, if you are not really there-- thinking about the future or the past, or preoccupied with other problems-- then the child is not really there for you. The technique of being alive is to go back to yourself in order for the child to appear like a marvelous reality. Then you can see him smile and you can embrace him in your arms.'
(Thich Nhat Hanh)
'There are three aspects of mindfulness: learning to pay attention to what is happening in and around you, learning to bring kindness, curiosity, and acceptance to your experience, and learning to not take it all so personally.'
'The motivation for practice comes simply from looking into this present moment as it is and being willing to experience its edge of unsatisfactoriness if that is what is present or seeing its immeasurable wonder and love and joy if that is what is present. There is no practice or motivation for practice outside of this.'
'The affairs of the world will go on forever. Do not delay the practice of meditation.'
'Finally, just sit, just breathe, and if you feel like it, allow yourself to smile inwardly.'
I honour my birthplace Jos, Nigeria
and I acknowledge the Darug and Gundungurra peoples as traditional owners of the places I inhabit
Blue Mountains, Australia
ALLOWAH NGARRA TIATI
"SIT DOWN AWHILE - LISTEN AND LEARN"
'The seed in the soil, the dirt on our hands
is the story I know, and the song my soul understands'
'A man lives again through his children,
the trees that he has planted,
the words that he has uttered'
(Massongo Oral Tradition)
'The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.'
'We don't think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of thinking.'
'...As for us: We must uncenter our minds from ourselves; We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident as the rock and ocean that we were made from'
(Robinson Jeffers, 'Carmel Point')