Sunday, 9 June 2013

What It's All About

A journey is made rich by the experiences we have along the way.

When I go walking, it's always the people I meet, who are strangers 99% of the time, that give it depth and colour.

I enjoy meeting new people at the best of times, but there is something unique and hugely rewarding about conversing with these new faces whilst out walking. Straight away it feels like we have something in common; something that can remain unspoken; something that can only be experienced when out trekking. Because of this unspoken, yet not at all unknown bond, first impressions are usually made up of a smile, a nod, a simple greeting and sometimes a whole conversation may develop.

This is what happened to me yesterday.

I had just entered the gaping mouth of the woodlands, and noticed a man looking up at a tree, standing quite Poirot-like with his hands behind his back.

He didn't have a backpack on, nor was he dressed in outdoor gear. His attire simply consisted of blue jeans, navy blue t-shirt and white trainers.

As I got closer, the snapped branch underfoot got his attention. He smiled at me and continued his walk in my direction.

'This is what it's about,' he said. 'This is what it's all about.'

When something like that is said whilst standing in nature, you don't need to question the meaning. In fact, if you truly understand what has been said, and if the person who said it meant it, silence will surely follow.

And it did.

Two strangers sharing the experience of stillness.

We listened.

We looked.


'I don't understand,' he said after a moment or two, 'how people can be cooped up inside. They're stagnating. They're wasting away. They don't know what they're missing when they're sat in front of their TVs and computers. This is why obesity is on the rise. This is nature's gym! And it's free!'

He was right, of course.

Walking in nature isn't just good for you physically, it's also good for you mentally. It alleviates stress and depression. It calms the mind, producing inner space. It boosts creativity and lifts the spirit. After a brief look on the net; studies from 2010 showed that 25%  of obese people are diagnosed with depression.

'People would be generally happier if they spent more time outside doing an activity like walking, than inside doing something like browsing the internet and watching soaps,' said my new friend.

I told him that I have a TV but it doesn't have an aerial, and he smiled.

'I enjoy Springwatch,' he said, looking almost as excited as a child does on Christmas morning. 'I never miss an episode. Now . . . you might not have a TV, but I don't have a computer.'

He began to tell me about how he had recently changed cable companies. 'They gave me something to connect to the internet and then insisted that I plug it in. I told them I didn't have a computer but they didn't understand. They told me to go to their site - this .com that .com - stuff your .com, I said!'

He instantly looked like a rebellious child. 'I can't be bothered with it. You know, even if more people did go for walks, they wouldn't see a thing because their eyes would be glued to their phones and their ears would be only alert to the next text message.'

It's sad, but I think he's right.

I just hope that in time peoples' gaze will rise from their phones, computers and TVs - just once in a while for them to see what it's all about.

There is an unfathomable amount to see - and I don't mean within the TV guide.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Shadow and the Song

We really are surrounded by the most breathtaking beauty - it's a wonder we get anything done!

The reason why we don't see the opulence of beauty around us, is because we have become numb to it.

All the time, our senses long for more. What is right in front of us isn't good enough.

The Just Mode of Perception is the term I coined a few years ago. It's how the majority of us perceive the world around us.

And it comes about by believing that what we observe, be it a tree, a flower, a cloud, an animal or a person, is the label we attach to it.

I touch upon this in my book, The Girl with the Green-Tinted Hair.

Krishnamurti is known for saying, 'As soon as you teach the child the name of the bird, he will never see that bird again.'

We look at a blackbird and we say, 'It's just a blackbird.' But, as a child, when we first saw a bird we were no doubt amazed. Then someone tells us the name of the nameless thing we were amazed by. 'That's a BIRD.'

So we attach BIRD to this object, which before was without a label. Then when we see another BIRD we say, 'Oh, it's a BIRD.' Then as time goes on, the ornithologist in us might want to know what kind of BIRD it is. 'What bird is that?' you ask. 'That's a blackbird,' you're told.

Then the inevitable happens; the next time you see a BLACKBIRD you say, 'It's just a blackbird, I want to see something else now.'

Magic and wonder - gone.

If we become conscious of this pattern of perceiving the world, straight away it starts to undo itself. And as soon as that happens the light of immense beauty begins to scintillate around us once again.

I'm not saying labels are wrong or bad. They're very useful for communicating. It's how we differentiate between a tree and an ant, for instance - we describe the different characteristics. But what has happened is that we have formulated a habit of believing the object is the label we attach to it.

Labelling has always been a method for separating this from that.

It's not a tool to know what something is.   

A few days ago I was on my delivery and I heard a blackbird sing, but my perception of it changed instantly. It changed so that I didn't actually hear the blackbird sing. I don't know what I heard. But I can tell you how it felt when I heard the unknown: it was like nothing I had ever heard before. It flowed so smoothly and dipped and dived and swept and curled - and it did none of those things! Because it just was.

Then instantly a pigeon flew overhead and splashed its shadow on the pavement in front of me. The whole process, but this time with my eyes, not my ears, started all over again. I saw the shadow of the pigeon but I didn't see the shadow of the pigeon. It just was. And because I observed it without a label what I perceived was breathtaking.

Simple, day to day, occurrences, and with a flick of a switch their real identity - which will always remain unknown - becomes known.

You can't beat a good-old Zen paradox.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Break that Damn Dam!

My last post was about the benefits of smiling. Well, I think this entry is also heading in that direction.

The other day, whilst on my delivery, I got talking to a lady who was doing a bit of gardening. It was a beautiful day, the second one in a row, and I was preparing my daily weather comment, such as:
  • Nice day today
  • Don't hold you breath, it might snow next week!
And then I prepare to hear in return:
  • What a job you have in this weather
  • A great day for posties!
But as I got closer to this lady, she stood up straight, wiped her brow on the back of her garden glove and simply said, 'I have one question for you . . . are you nice to your parents?'

I was a bit taken aback. All my weather replies were useless.

'Yes, I am,' I said. 'Why do you ask?'

'I thought you would be,' she said, smiling. 'You see, our son is a consultant. We put him through all the education he needed, but he doesn't want anything to do with us now.'

I know this is only one side of the story, but honestly, if you were to meet this lady and her husband, you would instantly want to be their friend. They come across as genuinely nice people, really warm and caring . . . and they're always smiling and willing to talk.

Don't you think life is too short to hold grudges?

I personally feel tainted when I hold a grudge, as if I've created a ball of tension in my mind. It clouds my senses, making me numb to life and it's breathtaking expression.

So much time is wasted when we're unwilling to move on from past hurts. I know the deeper the wound the longer it takes to heal, but come on, people - LIFE, HERE ON EARTH, IS GONE IN AN INSTANT.

Unwilling to forgive someone for their past actions (or reactions) keeps you in that space and time when whatever it was occurred. You can't move on from it. It's like you've built your own mental dam; it prevents your life from flowing with ease.

How much regret one must have when the person (a member of our family, a friend etc) who we have issues with, who we've given the silent treatment for months or years, suddenly dies. (How do you feel about the permanent silent treatment now?) Surely then, when they've died, it must hit home that the only person who suffers for holding the grudge, unwilling to forgive, is the one who is holding the grudge and unwilling to forgive.  

I'm sure it was the Buddha who said this (I apologies if it wasn't . . .) 'Holding onto anger is like holding onto a hot stone with only the intention of throwing it at someone. You are the one who ultimately gets burnt.'

And the same applies to grudges.

If you hold a grudge, if you're unwilling to forgive someone, then it is you who suffers. The grudge is within you, and so is the resentment, the hatred, the anger and the frustration - it's all there in you, poisoning your body and your mind, making you blind to the wonders of life that forever surround you.

Therefore, it is true that forgiveness is a selfish act, but that's fine, right? We can live with that. By forgiving, you're not letting the person off the hook, you're letting yourself off the hook.

How sad it is when people go through life blinded by their grief and their hatred for certain individuals. They have no idea (because surely they wouldn't do it if they did) of the damage they are causing themselves.

The lady then said, 'I've been telling everyone about my postman, and how he's always smiling and happy.'

One of the reasons why I'm always smiling and happy is that I forgive . . . I forgive others . . . and this is an important one - I forgive myself for any past actions that may have caused pain to others.

I know it's hard to forgive some people for the things they do and say. You only have to tune into the news to see how hard it must be to forgive people for the atrocities they commit. But when we choose not to forgive, we choose to suffer. And the last thing we want for ourselves when going through a tough time is more suffering . . . self-inflicted suffering at that.

Breaking Down Your Mental Dam

In your mind, picture the person who you find it hard to forgive.

See them standing before you.

Smile at them. (Try! Notice how it feels)

And say, 'Thank you, but I'm letting you go now. I'm taking my life back.'

And then make the image of them get smaller and smaller until it vanishes.

Take a few deep breaths and smile.

Notice how it feels to be back in control of your life? The burden as been lifted. If you don't feel like it has, then keep doing the exercise until the burden begins to feel lighter until eventually it vanishes.

You're in control - break that damn dam!