Monthly Archives: March 2016

Beginner’s Mind

Have you ever felt the frustration of being back at square one? I have, often. It would seem that any time I have had the ambition to start a new practice, whether it be exercise, meditation, or reading a philosophical text, I flounder and fall along the way and find myself, twenty years down the path, at what appears to be the starting point.
Physically, after so many fitness plans, I still have a slight aversion to physical activity and prefer to be in a more cerebral pastime. To look at it superficially, you could say I’d gone backwards more than forwards. Am I at the starting point? In one sense, always. In another, I’m not even on the same road anymore….
I look in the mirror now and see a face that is older, a body that is rounder. But I see also eyes that meet any gaze head on, and a mouth that can’t prevent curling up at the corners. I see someone who is more sure of their place in the world, and a person I accept in their entirety. I’ll take that over the reflection of yesteryear; younger, prettier but uncertain and needing to earn approval.
So many years into my career I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. At eighteen I was overwhelmed at the panic of not knowing how to make my mark on the world, to make everything better somehow and find my calling. I’m not sure what my calling is, but I have a sense of pride after fourteen years as a health professional. I didn’t always have the solutions for my clients or patients, and I don’t expect many of them remember my name. But there are hands out there, somewhere, that I held in a time of need. There are people coping with more than I can imagine, and just for the brief time our paths crossed I did what I could and I hope, lightened the load. I witnessed a lonely face lighten up with the joy of a child as she opened a letter from the Queen on the occasion of her 100th birthday. There was the frail hand I held when I reassured her that her loved ones would be okay, when it was time for her to let go. I have no prizes, but I have a lifetime of moments.
I am heartened by the writing of Julia Cameron, who tells us that if the view looks the same, we can be reassured that we are merely observing the same vista from a higher vantage point on an ever upwards path. Scriptures tell us that to find the truth we must be like children. No great teacher ever asked of us to be fully fledged in our wisdom, or infallible in our efforts. We are never asked for more than we can do in this moment.
Today I try to be gentle with myself in my wish to begin a meditation practice. I am reminded that mindfulness exists in the present moment. If I didn’t meditate yesterday, that is past and I meditate today. If my mind wanders, that is past and I return to the breath. If I’ve sat in this way a thousand times before, always at the start… That too is past, and I sit now with a blank slate and beginner mind.
The greatest gift in mindfulness is the futility of thinking what could have been, and the relief of living with what is. For it is in the present moment that we are given the opportunity to run, to hold hands, to breathe. Not in the past or future, but only now; there is someone to reach out to, an error to forgive, oneself to accept. The moment is here. Choose it.

Seasons and Chickens

Before we moved to a country village, I thought our new life would be all about gathering the evening meal from the veggie garden, mingling in our community and wintry forest walks.
So far, country life has been about seasons and chickens.
Chickens weren’t part of the plan. Oh they were – some day. I just planned it that once we’d settled in I would do lots of research, visit friends with chooks and consult. Then, when I graduated from Chook College I would somehow be “ready” and, with measured consideration, acquire chickens.
Not to be. The exiting family hadn’t made a plan for their two hens and asked if we’d keep them. It seemed my induction into the world of chooks would be a “learn by doing” experience rather than a theoretical one. Possibly a good thing. I tend to overthink situations!
There’s been a few comical scenes – such as when I herded one hen off to bed only for the other to escape (I discovered later they take themselves to bed at sunset). Or, just today, when I got locked in the chook house while cleaning it and pondered the sudden question of “how long will it take my husband to notice my absence?” Fortunately for both of us it wasn’t long – but it wasn’t just the kookaburras who were laughing at me!
The seasons of town are magnified and glorified in the hills. Final glimpses of Autumnal reds and yellows welcomed us to the neighbourhood. Now we rejoice in winds through the forest that remind us beautifully and ominously of Who is in charge. Watching electrical storms over the valley is magnificent. The early morning mists amongst the ferns and trees along the drive to work suddenly seem like the best way to start the day. Inside, we are warmer and cosier than ever before, with crackling fires, mulled wine and cooking up a storm.
For anyone else like me who’d consider chickens but doesn’t know the basics, here’s what I’ve learnt so far:
* chooks will turn the soil in your veggie patch for you – and fertilise it! But they’ll also eat the plants so for me, chooks in the veggie patch will be a seasonal activity
* chickens will eat all day; there doesn’t seem to be a particular amount to feed them – just keep their trough full and scatter a bit outside with some veggie scraps
* chooks need shell grit. I had no idea about this for about two weeks – poor Henny and Penny. Now I just keep a takeaway container of it in their house and scatter some outside
* they need regular worming and flea treatments. Who knew? You can get a natural flea powder, and putting cool wood ash out for them to bathe in is meant to help too. I’m going to try that this week
* take themselves to bed, but you have to lock them in safely just after sunset to be sure foxes don’t get them
* I still need to discover how much cleaning and new bedding they need each week. At this rate I’ll spend more time cleaning their house than ours – I’m sure there’s a balance there somewhere.
I’d love to hear your chook tips – especially natural worm and flea treatments and please explain how their bedding is meant to be maintained!
Next week I’m going to get to know the compost bin! Nothing like a day in my red polka dot gumboots surrounded by kookaburras, rosellas, cockatoos and trees.
As I finish this post the sun is setting over the valley. Bed time for the chooks. Mulled wine for me.

Remembrance and Renunciation

This year, for the first time, I was inspired to “give something up for Lent”. I had been toying with the unpleasant idea that it was time, at 37, to wean myself off the very teenage addictive relationship I have with caffeinated soft drinks. I am truly all or nothing about them, I must drink them every day; or never. I don’t think it would have happened so soon though, except that I was swept away by the tide of Lent. In hearing of others’ renouncing of their various vices I suddenly found myself declaring “I’m giving up energy drinks”.
I truly believe that there are two features of Lent that are quite powerful. The first is the collective strength generated by the energy of people participating all around the world, and across time. It’s a sweep of momentum that can carry us and help our resolve. The second is in making a declaration. It’s less vague and deniable than just having the notion that drinking lolly water is becoming ridiculous.
Having given up this delicious vice, I found myself feeling liberated rather than deprived. It occurred to me that this was a wonderful spiritual irony. Giving up what we are attached to makes us happier. I became interested in the whole idea of Lent. A ritual to renounce a luxury or attachment, it is also a time to reflect and develop spiritually. Suddenly it wasn’t even about the attachment anymore, but rather what could be discovered in the empty space created.
Lent is a time that honors the forty days that Jesus spent preparing himself by battling demons to emerge spiritually triumphant and free. This idea of renouncing in remembrance of our great teachers is universal. In Passover leavened bread is given up and those who escaped slavery to form the people of Israel are remembered and honored. In Ramadan the revealing of the Qu’ran to Mohammed is reflected on while abstaining from food and drink. These great traditions I believe show us how remembering is best done, by lessening our mortal attachments and lifting our minds and hearts to something greater and more noble.
On a more personal level the opposite can become true, and we hang ever more tightly to what we perceive as lost. The idea of loosening this attachment horrifies us and we can feel heavy inside. Maybe the lessons of our spiritual traditions can help us more than we realize, and there will come a time for each of us where we offer up our personal sorrows and tribulations. Throughout these times we can remember those who travelled the same path before us; and in renouncing the attachments of the ego allow space for their wisdom to guide us. For we each have our demons to face, our courageous journeys to make and our great lessons to receive.

New Year’s Resolutions

When I read about New Year’s resolutions on the Internet, I learn about ancient customs of reflecting on the year that’s been, and committing before one’s God to a new beginning as a better person. January is named for Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions. He has two faces, one looking to the past and one gazing into the future…
I must confess though that most years when January comes, my reflection on the past is lost amongst plans of What To Do For New Years Eve, and my resolve to the future largely revolves around quick fixes for whatever is currently causing me dissatisfaction: losing weight, saving money. Goals can be motivating and drive us forward, but they can also be thinly veiled discontent.
This year I’m trying something different, maybe more in keeping with the original season of new beginnings.
First, I look back on the year that was – not in the form of dwelling in the past, but to ground myself in the gratitude for the blessings I was fortunate enough to harvest. I list all these blessings, large and small, and take a moment to acknowledge each accomplishment, kindness, and act of love. Some blessings are easily recognized – my happy wedding day, my travels, the supportive people in my life. Others are lessons of non-attachment when finally accepting that life has its own flow, and no amount of paddling upstream or expecting others to conform to my expectations will change this. There have been some moments where the only option was futile resistance or complete surrender and trusting in grace. For these moments I am grateful that I can surrender, and that I do trust.
Part of this acceptance leads to putting aside the events of the year, and letting go to the moments I wish could last forever, as well as the ones I’d go back and change.
Facing forward, I decide this year not to base resolutions on my goals. The goals are still there, but perhaps more as surface details. Today I reflect on the commitment I’d like to make to my higher self, in order to progress along my journey in this lifetime.
Two commitments occur to me as essential for true progress. First, to spend time more frequently in reflection with my inner guidance. The only way this guidance can be stronger than external distractions is by paying it more attention. And after all, it is only inside myself that peace and happiness reside. I will never find out there what I’m not connected to in here.
Next I accept that I can only progress if I am willing to forgive. Every slight or hurt I perceive as being done by others – but also those I see in myself. Every event that has happened – but also every dream that hasn’t.
For it is in forgiveness that acceptance, peace and compassion reside, and only in forgiving are we free to reach our potential for happiness. We forgive not for those who hurt us, but for those who didn’t who deserve our less distracted attention, and for ourselves. We forgive not for the dreams that died, but for the ones that still have the chance to live. Forgiveness is not an exercise in righteousness or weakness, but a choice for happiness, and an act of extreme courage.
Lastly from all this reflection I bring myself back to the present moment, the sounds of my dog snuffling in the hope a treat might be waiting on the kitchen floor, and my husband cheerfully fixing something in the next room. It is in this present moment that my resolutions ultimately can be effected, not in either past or future.
So this year, I resolve:
To look back only in gratitude
To reconnect with my inner guidance
To be willing to forgive
To be present
Wishing everyone a truly happy new year.

Wabi Sabi Compost

Sometimes I am a lazy gardener. I want the harvest without the hard work. When I think of my garden I’m besotted by the seedlings, in love with the blossom trees. I anticipate the fruits and vegetables and herbs to come. But the compost heap can be untended and forgotten.
There’s something richly imperfect about compost. Its stinking and decaying goodness is the first ingredient for a lush garden. But how many of us love the process of lifting that lid to the rotting stench below, turning and wetting and inspecting? Given the choice of spending this fine Spring day in the garden, could you blame me for wanting to propagate seeds, inspect the new growth, admire the buds?
I confess that while we’ve been adding religiously to our growing heap, the turning of it has been somewhat of a standoff, neither John or I willing to draw. Today I decided to embrace the turning of the compost… Both in the garden and in Life.
Falling in love and moving to paradise has drawn up a stark contrast to the parts of my life in decline and those parts I’ve neglected, with a lid firmly closed to hide the stench. But I know nothing new can hope to grow unless the lid is lifted; the crumbling parts wet with sweat and tears; that which has been hidden in the darkness, turned. In some cultures they have learnt to embrace the imperfect, unfinished and impermanent. In Japan this is called Wabi Sabi, and the embodiment of this simplicity and accepting Life in its entirety is considered the first step to enlightenment. Turn compost, find peace.
The funny thing is, when I finally lift that lid to the rotting scraps and crawling insects and start turning… It becomes easier, nicer, more wholesome. As I tend, it turns into something that is simply part of the garden, vital.
I promise myself to tend all else that’s neglected… Starting with my writing. I accept the pieces of the past I can’t hold on to, the hurts and even the things that stink. I see how the water shed onto these impermanent and imperfect pieces of my life and my Self are richly preparing me to grow. The fire that rages up my spine makes me stand taller, take action. The projects and relationships and stories that seem unfinished are ok, just as they are. For even the parts that appear in decomposition are, after all, Wabi Sabi. And that’s perfect.
What I’ve learnt about making compost so far:
* Leaf mould is a great way to make compost where there’s an over- abundance of fallen leaves. These are simply raked up and placed into garbage bags. I pour in some water, tie them up, stab holes in them with the garden fork ( great way to vent by the way) and leave them in a pile to decompose into something glorious
* A worm farm is kinda cool too. I had one years ago but I was unmotivated and forgot to feed them. The worms went on strike and then got fed up and moved out. I’m ready to start the farm again. This time I’ll give them lots of food (no meat, I’m veggie and they are too; no citrus, onion or dairy), and keep their newspaper blanket the perfect kind of damp.
* the old fashioned compost heap isn’t as funky as a worm farm but it just works. Throw in dirty chook bedding, plenty of chook poo, leaves, fruit and veggie scraps. Be more disciplined than me and water and turn weekly or when you can bear to.
* I’ve recently discovered a fancy compost bin that comes with a turning device. We’re going to give this a go to supplement rather than replace the old-school heap.
I’d love to hear your compost stories… From your garden, and from Life.

The Problem with Goals and the Death of Should

As far back as I can remember, I have been driven by goals. Particularly in the New Year. And I’ve reached many of them, too. The problem is, a lot of my goals are big, and can leave me overwhelmed and filled with procrastination. And others are at least in part out of my control, and when I’ve done everything in my power and the goal recedes further out of reach, I find myself feeling dis-empowered, defeating the purpose of goals altogether.
The other thing I’m aware of as I look back, is the pattern I have of being upset at others’ behaviour or random events in my life. The one thing these all have in common is – you guessed it: Me. More relevantly, what they have in common is that I judged them against the way things “should” be. There’s a lot to be said for the way I believe people SHOULD behave and how the world SHOULD be. If I had my way it would be a peaceful, happy place. Only one small issue, but it’s a deal breaker: that’s NOT how the world is. I don’t get to be the benevolent dictator making everyone play nice. They’re all going to continue exactly as they choose, like it or not.
As long as I continue to view the gap between where I’m at and my goals, and as long as I respond to people and events in terms of how they “should” be, I will be discontented, frustrated and stuck. Instead, this New Year I will consider the path I wish to walk and start walking, one step at a time. I will practice mindfulness of what’s happening around me and choose my actions in response based on my values and chosen direction.
As for the word “should” – my great intention is that it will die forever from my vocabulary, and certainly from my thoughts.
So, without goals or shoulds or even resolutions, my intentions for 2014 are
* to practice mindfulness
* to practice acceptance and surrender
* to respond to life with value and purpose
* to make daily choices based on the above
* to practice gratitude for whatever unfolds
I think the word “practice” is important too. Although life isn’t a dress rehearsal, it’s not something we perfect either. Let’s all be kinder to ourselves on the journey.