Saturday, 31 December 2016

New Years Day

Happy New Year. 

Today is the first of January, the beginning of a new year, New Years Day.It is a day on which traditionally we are meant to pause and evaluate our lives, the state of our own being, and perhaps the state of the world in which we live. A day when we are meant to assess what can be done better and also perhaps what needs to change, what needs to be let go of. Perhaps today, more than any other day, we are meant to practice discernment, to sift through our lives, like prospectors panning for gold, we are meant to separate what is of use and what is not. We are meant to sort the wheat from the chaff. In so doing we may well find the most precious gem stones of our lives.

On this day, as we sift through our lives, we may note the size of our waistlines or other measures of our physical well-being? We may well assess our bank balances, how expensive has Christmas been this year? We may well take a look at our wardrobes. Perhaps we will look at the state of our relationships, with lovers and spouses, with families and with friends. We may also look at the state of our employment.

This time of year is often one when people commit to make changes. I know my gym will be over populated this week, no doubt groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Slimming World and other organisations I know intimately, will have much higher attendance rates over the next few weeks. I also know that by February things will have returned back to their normal rate.

Yes this time of year, for so many of us, is a time of assessment, a time when people often feel dissatisfied with aspects of their lives and as a result commit to change, believing that if they change certain aspects of their lives, their troubles will come to an end and everything will suddenly magically be different.

For better or for worse today is a day of measurement; today is a day where we assess where we have been and perhaps where we are going. In Ancient Rome it was the day of worship of the God Janus, the God with two faces, one looking into the future and the other into the past. The God of gateways, of thresholds of the space of change. Today is meant to be the one when we make decisions about what needs to change. The truth is though, that it is a day just like any other day and every day, just like every in moment, everything changes and yet somehow everything stays the same.

Life has taught me many lessons One of the most important being that the only thing permanent in life is change. “Nothing ever lasts for ever” as Echo and the Bunnymen once sang. Life is impermanent. We are all guests in life. We cannot cling to anything. Whatever we are feeling or experiencing right now, “This too shall pass”.

Impermanence is the beauty and the energy of life. Life is forever changing and transforming and turning into something new. Nothing ever stays exactly the same and nothing is ever repeated in exactly the same way again. This was wonderfully expressed by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus some 2,500 years ago. Who said, among many other things, “Everything flows, nothing stands still.” “No one ever steps into the same river twice.” And “Nothing endures but change.” He was saying that the only constant in life was and is change, that life was constantly in flux and that everything is impermanent.

So often in life we try to cling to things, to hold on to things to maintain things exactly as they are. This seems to be going against life and the nature of things. Nothing stays exactly as it is in its current nature, everything changes from moment to moment and to resist this is to resist life. Yes everything changes but life goes on.

The mistake we often make is to try to cling onto things, whatever that might be, in fear. In so doing we fail to experience life itself. We resist the beauty and the power of life.

 As I look back at the year, that has passed, so much seems different and yet if truth be told much is still the same. Much has changed in regard to my own experiences of my personal life. 2016 may well, on a personal level, have been the greatest of my life. If you had told me what was to come at the beginning of last year I would not have believed you. I’m not talking about my personal awards and achievements either, what I’m really talking about is my own experience of my own physical being and how this has opened me up to new and exciting experiences I would never have dreamed possible. I have been set free from so many shame filled chains that for so many years had bound me. So personally speaking 2016 was one of unimagined wonder. I could not be more grateful. I also know if I continue the way I have lived for the last 13 or more years that greater personal freedom will come. Many years ago I learnt the power of living by faith and hope and love and I will continue to do so; I will continue to follow this simple and beautiful way of living.

That is not to say that 2016 was all beautiful and wonderful. As I look around at the world in which I live I witness much that disturbs me. Division and fear does seem to be on the increase as does instability. The political landscape has changed these last 12 months and has left an increasing sense of fear for many of us. And yet as I walk around the town in which I live everyday, life is much the same. People are much the same as they have always been. Yes everything changes and yet somehow everything still seems much the same. People are the same as they have always, let us not become victims of our own bad dreams.

Life is constantly changing, nothing ever stays exactly the same and no moment is exactly like any other. We all experience these moments differently too; we each bring our pasts with us into each moment and this always impacts on the present.

That said despite the changing nature of our material lives there are things that do seem permanent, that do not change. There are some things that hold us and sustain us despite the constant changing nature of life. The last thirteen years of my life has proven this to me, there have been three unchanging things that have held and sustained me and kept me open to life despite its uncertainty. Things that have held me even during some deeply painful experiences. The three are faith, hope and love.

It was Paul of Tarsus, in the 13th Chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians who named these three that have held me and led me these last thirteen years. I have seen many others held by them too, through many storms in their lives. There is something eternal about them, something universal and they were at work long before he wrote about them. We can rely upon these three, but only if we nurture and strengthen them. We can depend upon these three faith, hope and love. But what do these three mean?

Faith is about trusting in life itself; it is about living as openly and honestly as possible; it is about accepting that there is pain in life, but that there is also so much joy; it is realising that the mere fact that we exist at all is life’s greatest gift. This allows us to sing the joy of living, in all its mystery. It is also about seeing that we are all in this together, that we all live in the one lifeboat. We need to connect as much as possible to the boat of life in which we share. We need to ensure that our lifelines are secure and not worn or frayed at the edges. This is something we need to hold onto and not let go of. Why, you may well ask? Well because it sustains us through the vicissitudes of life. Life does not offer much certainty, but we need not despair at this, or at least not stay in despair.

Hope is the second of those eternal, universal truths. Hope is rooted in despair; it grows from the same place. To live in hope is to believe that if we live with conviction and compassion that we can effect positive change in our world, even if we ourselves do not get see to see its full fruition. Hope is about planting those seeds when and where ever we can.

To live with hope is to live with the attitude that the future is genuinely open. The God of my understanding works with us and guides us but leaves life open, it is not pre-ordained. “The Lure of Divine Love” draws us out of ourselves, but it also allows life to develop freely. I accept that the past does have power, I have a strong sense of history, this is very important. That said I do not believe that the past defines the future, not everything is inevitable. The future is unwritten.

Life is definitely a journey worth taking, even during its toughest moments. Yes we all despair at times and we all live with uncertainty, but the beacon of hope is always there. The writer of the book of proverbs reminds us “Where there is no vision (no hope) the people perish.” Hope is a vital lifeline it both holds and sustains us. It is an eternal and universal principle and one that also requires nurture.

What about love? How can it sustain us? By the way I am not talking of romance here, I am talking of spiritual love. Spiritual love is that power that connects us to our true selves, one another, the life we share and whatever it is that connects all life. What I myself call God; that power that is greater than all and yet present in each. It is love that powers the lifeboat, that puts wind in its sails. Love is about caring deeply and passionately about life itself. This of course requires attention; it is a life line that requires nurture. Love reminds me that we do not live for ourselves alone or by ourselves alone. “no man is an island” or as Kurt Vonnegut once put it “one human being is no human being”. The universal and eternal truth is that we need the love, the care, the companionship of others in order to fully experience what it is to be alive. By ourselves we are never fully alive.

If we live by these three faith, hope and love we will know what it means to truly live and experience the joy of living, even in the dark days.

Today, New Year’s Day, is a day of new beginnings; today is a day when if we want to commit to anything perhaps we ought to commit to beginning again in love.

New Years Day is a time for new beginnings, a time for hope of what might be and a time to reflect on what has been before us. And yet it is just a day, much like any other day really. The sun has risen, as it has always risen and in a few hours time it will set, as it has always set.

So let’s look forward with new eyes, with fresh eyes. Let’s look back and commit to learn from our pasts. Let’s learn to live with increased faith, hope and love.

Whatever this year brings us, let us resolve to build lives of faith, hope and love.

 Let’s begin again this day and every day in love.

I will end with some words of beginning by Edward Searl

Always there is a beginning —
a new day,
a new month,
a new season,
a new year.

Forever the old passes away 
and newness emerges
from the richness that was.

Nothing is ever lost
in the many changes
time brings.

What was, in some way,
will be,
though changed in form.

Know this:
This moment is a beginning;
and your lives,
individually and together,
are full of richness, of freshness,
of hope and of promise.

From “We Pledge Our Hearts” by Edward Searl

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Strange Arithmetic of Christmas

The following reflection has been growing in my heart and soul for a couple of weeks now and has inspired my own little relfection that follows...

"The Strange Arithmetic of Christmas” by Jeremiah Jenkins

I deliberately requested your minister to allow me to write to you about Christmas. I was a teacher of arithmetic for fifteen years in a preparatory school, so I want to write about the inverted arithmetic of Christmas.

Christmas differs from figures and sums and dollars and crowds-at-a football game. You can add these together and get more. But with Christmas, you can add all the Santa Clauses on earth and there is still only one Santa Claus. Or all the trees and there is still only one Tree. Or perhaps all the births of children but there is still only one Bethlehem story. Or all the families, and there is still one family – yours!

It is when you start dividing Christmas that it begins to grow. It multiplies with division. It defies the rules. If you have six TV sets and give two or three away, you have less. But when it comes to the richness of love, the currency of gratitude or the document of faith, the more you give the more you possess. To teach is to learn. To encourage someone and give them your faith is to strengthen your own faith. To love is to know love.

Christmas is like a lot of things; it can be misused. I think it was never meant for raucous public displays. Its carols were not intended to be blared into the streets. Its colors probably were not meant to be emblazoned like advertising – or even associated with advertising. Christmas is the artistry of the world; it is the subtle touch, the gentle word, the endearing act, the loving gift. Share these qualities, divide them, and you will find miraculously that they have grown with division. This is the strange arithmetic of Christmas.

"The Strange Arithmetic of Christmas" I've been thinking about this for quite some time now, it has been growing, nay multiplying in my heart an soul...

Social media is full of quotations and Meme’s proclaiming little bits of wisdom. Some make sense to me, others do not. Many seem to contradict one another and depending on my mood, or the status of my soul, I can find myself agreeing and disagreeing with them. The one thing that is consistent about me is my very inconsistency. Or maybe the truth is that contradictions are true, depending on certain aspects of our humanity; two opposing truths can actually be true, depending on what parts of our our lives they are speaking of.

I recently came across the following quotation from that great medieval heretical mystic Meister Eckhart:

“God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.”

It instantly brought to my mind “The Strange Arithmetic of Christmas.” Particularly the following sentences:

"It is when you start dividing Christmas that it begins to grow. It multiplies with division. It defies the rules. If you have six TV sets and give two or three away, you have less. But when it comes to the richness of love, the currency of gratitude or the document of faith, the more you give the more you possess. To teach is to learn. To encourage someone and give them your faith is to strengthen your own faith. To love is to know love…”

“…Christmas is the artistry of the world; it is the subtle touch, the gentle word, the endearing act, the loving gift. Share these qualities, divide them, and you will find miraculously that they have grown with division. This is the strange arithmetic of Christmas.”

Gosh I love this…What beautiful un-common sense!!! Makes sense to me…

Now before I continue an apology. I’m talking here about a subject I cannot claim to be an expert in, mathematics. I say this although I was a champion at mental arithmetic at primary school, my cousin told me it was because I was the most mental in my school. She may well be right. Arithmetic wasn’t a problem for me, it was mathematics I just couldn’t fathom, algebra and trigonometry etc. just made no sense at all to my brain.

So apologies if what I write is difficult to make sense of. This is because what I am attempting to share is un-commonsense. What I have come to believe is that what we lack today is not really common sense, we have perhaps too much of that. What I believe we need more of is the un-commonsense that lies at the heart of everything. What I’m attempting to share with you is, what I have come to believe, a beautiful and essential paradox. It is the true gift at the heart of the spirit of the season, the strange arithmetic of Christmas. How the spiritual life does indeed defy the perceived laws of nature as we understand them. How by giving away a particular commodity not only does the person receiving gain, but so does the giver and all who are caught up in this activity. You see what I have learnt, what the strange arithmetic of Christmas has taught me, is that the more love you give away the more love you experience. In fact if you want to fill the cup of love, that you hold in your heart, the first thing you must do is empty it and pour it out on all who you share this world with you.

Unfortunately many of us lack the courage, the heart, to empty our cups…

Through living spiritually I have leant that it is through the process of subtraction, rather than addition, that my soul grows and it is through division rather than multiplication that my heart is filled.

This to me is the heart of Christmas, this giving from the heart to others. This is the key message of Christianity as I see it, self-giving love. By the way I am not suggesting that it is unique to Christianity. I find it at the heart of all the faith traditions I have come to know too.

Self-giving love is a love that grows the more that we give it away. A love that is at the core of each and every one of us if we would but nurture it in the mangers of our own hearts and give birth to it in our living and breathing.

This is what Christmas means to me and why as the years have gone by I have come to believe in Christmas more and more.

I believe in Christmas, the soul of Christmas, the spirit of Christmas, the heart of Christmas the religion of Christmas more today than I ever did at any moment in my life. Today I believe everything about Christmas and a whole lot more than everything that we think we know.

Now don’t get me wrong here I am not suggesting that I believe that everything that the Gospel accounts recounted actually happened. I really can’t answer that, I wasn’t there. Were any of us who argue about it actually there? No of course not. What I mean when I say I believe in Christmas more today than I have ever done before is that I believe in the universal mythos that lies in the soul of the story. I believe in the story and what it has to teach humanity regardless of time and or space.

I also believe we need Christmas more today than at any other time before, for we mock the bells at Christmas time probably more today than we ever did before. The problem I suspect is that we do not hear the message at the heart of Christmas…Maybe we have forgotten how to listen or perhaps we have forgotten how to deliver the message.

So how do we hear the message of Christmas and perhaps most importantly how do we ourselves become Father Christmas, become Santa Claus, how do we deliver Christmas ourselves into everyone’s home?

Well here is where the contradiction comes in. We need both emptiness and fullness. We need clarity of mind and abundance of love. We need an empty mind and a full heart; we need both an empty cup and at the same time one that is full to overflowing. Now this probably doesn’t sound like sense to most, but then Christmas isn’t about common sense it is about un-common sense.

I will try to explain what I mean, beginning with the following story:

There is a story of a university professor who visited a Japanese master to inquire about Zen. The professor began to ask questions while the master just sat quietly, listening. After a while the master began to pour tea into the professor’s cup. The cup soon filled up, but the master did not stop pouring. The tea soon began to spill over on to the table. Initially the professor just sat there in stunned silence, he did not know what to do. Eventually he could take no more and shouted out “It’s overfull. No more will go in!” The master stopped pouring and simply said “Like this cup you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

To bring this spirit of Christmas to life in our lives requires a certain kind of emptiness. A certain kind of stillness. We need this to hear the still small voice, to hear the angels calling, to be like little children to learn all that this season has to offer us. You see the problem for so many of us is that we think that we know so much, we think we are so clever, but all we have done is killed the spirit of the season. Our so called common sense, our rejection of the spirit of the season, “our glad tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact, glad tidings of reason and fact” has filled our minds to overflowing and as a result there is no room for the spirit of the season.

We also live such busy and full lives, that paradoxically can feel so empty. We never seem to have a minute to simply be still and to feel the season. To truly know the spirit of the season we need time for silence and stillness, we need spiritual practice. We need time for prayer and meditation, a time to empty the mind so as to hear the cries of those in need and the songs of the angels and to let the love present in all of us to fill our hearts.

We need to empty our minds so that we can once again begin to fill our hearts.

And how do we fill our hearts? Well it’s quite simple really. We become like Father Christmas, like Santa Claus. We fill our hearts, like his sacks and stockings, by giving our hearts away. By practising this strange arithmetic of Christmas. We multiply by division. By giving our hearts away we receive all the love and a whole lot more than we could ever wish for. Of course we cannot measure this in the way that we can measure other commodities of life, except through our own lived human experiences. This is the strange paradox of giving though, the strange arithmetic of love that multiplies by division. It can only be measured by taking the time to reflect on our own lived experience and this requires stillness and silence.

This is how we deliver the gift at the heart of Christmas. This is how we bring the spirit to life not only for a day, or even a season, but for the rest of our lives. It is quite simple really, but it aint easy. It requires courage, it requires heart, it requires us to truly live from our hearts and to go against the grain of conventional truth. It requires that most priceless of commodities un-common sense.

It requires us to still ourselves in silence so as to hear the call of Christmas, isn’t that what this time of Advent, of preparation is about. To make ready those mangers in our own hearts and then to simply fill our hearts with the love we have been yearning for, by pouring out that love on all we share our lives with.

In so doing we will bring the spirit, the heart of the season to life. Christ will truly be born again. Love will be incarnated in and through our very lives…

For when our hearts are opened Christ is born again…

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Greatest Gift of All

We are now fully into the Advent Season, the days that lead to Christmas Day. These are the days of waiting of preparation. The music is playing, we can hear all the familiar songs in every shop as we no doubt begin the process of selecting presents for our loved ones. 

Have you done all your shopping yet? I’ve not even begun. I will soon, but not just yet. I’ve got too much to do.
This is the season for giving and forgetting, but not just one of wanton consumerism is not just about giving and getting things. It is a time set aside to forgive and forget, to heal old wounds, surely this is the spirit of the season ahead. Sadly though the spirit of the season is so often lost.

A classic example of missing out on the spirit and just getting lost in the pure materialism of the season is the “Black Friday” phenomenon that has come to our culture in recent years. It is another example of we British partially importing and acquiring culture from our friends in America. Sadly though we have only taken on board the material aspects. Yes we have “Black Friday” or more accurately “Black Fortnight” but without the spiritual element that accompanies it. “Thanksgiving”, a festival of coming together in love and an offering of thanks for the gifts that life has offered to us, we have not acquired…Oh we do live in such a reductionist age, we have squeezed the spirit out of everything. In so doing we run the risk of reducing our lives to nothingness, to meaninglessness. This is a dangerous game. In reducing everything to a purely material level we reduce everything eventually to nothing, until life itself becomes nothing but a meaningless soulless activity.

We need to find the spirit and soul of everything, to sanctify life once again…We need to rediscover the spirit of the seasons, to once again find the religion in the ribbons and the wrapping paper.

Strangely enough we can begin to discover the spirit of the season in those very gifts as we select them for our loved ones and wrap them up with our care and attention. These are acts of connection and thanks giving in and of themselves. This is the spirit coming alive, oh yes there is true religion in the ribbons and wrapping paper and the time we take to select and prepare the gifts…Through such simple acts we can begin once again to sanctify life…

 In “Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life” Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat offer examples of spiritually literate gifts that offer a way to combine spiritual practice and gift giving.

 They write:

 “Spiritually literate gifts have meanings attached to them. They might be symbolic of God's presence in daily life; they might reflect how we are connected through time and across the miles with others; or they might encourage us in a spiritual practice such as play, wonder, and hope. Here are some examples of spiritually literate gifts to give this holiday season, based on the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy.

 • Something handmade which expresses your creativity. (Creativity is a gift of God, and a handmade gift reflects our role as co-creators of the universe.)

• A toy, game, joke book, or something whimsical that makes you laugh. (According to the some of the mystics, God created the world in play and loves laughter. There is an Apache myth of the Creator giving human beings the ability to talk, to run, and to look. But God was not satisfied until God also gave them the ability to laugh. Only then did the Creator say, "Now you are fit to live.")

 • Something you have used and appreciated, such as a book you have read or a piece of clothing. (Everything has value, even old and used things, and recycled gifts often have added value because stories go along with them.)

 • A journal into which you have copied meaningful poems and passages from books you like, or a CD of your favorite songs. (By making your own holy books and hymnals, you are sharing your spiritual understanding of the world. You are also introducing others to your teachers.)

• A DVD that has touched you. (This is another way to share meanings and teachers with others. It also encourages hospitality, imagination, enthusiasm, gratitude, joy, and play.)

• A food basket, arranged to accent the variety of colors and shapes of food. Or an aromatherapy candle. (Beautiful sights, touches, and smells evoke wonder and reverence for life's bounties.)

• Copies of recipes, perhaps family favorites or dishes served on a special occasion. (In addition to sparking memories of shared experiences, recipes reflect our connections with others over time and space.)

• A donation in someone's name to a charity or nonprofit organization. (Money given to an environmental organization or an animal shelter testifies to our reverence for the Creation; money to groups working for conflict resolution advances the cause of peace; money to a community food bank or an organization working with refugees demonstrates our feelings of connection to others.)

• The gift of silence, such as money and time off for a visit to a spiritual retreat house or just to stay home with the phones off. (Silence is an essential spiritual practice, valuable according to all the wisdom traditions for communing with God and nurturing, healing, and renewing the soul.)

Such gifts help to bring connection and oneness and help to bring alive the spirit. Such simple, meaningful gifts can begin to create the religion that can at times become loss in the ribbons and the wrapping paper. We can bring the spirit of the season alive in our ordinary lives; we can bring light to our lives and our relationships; we can shine some light on the “Black Fridays” or “Black Any Days” that seem to have over taken this season.

There is also something else that we can give in the season of rushing, pushing and at times resenting. That gift is simply our time and our love. We can sanctify this season by giving one another perhaps the greatest present of them all, our true presence. We just need to spend time listening and paying attention to one another. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give to one another is the gift of our time. The most priceless commodity of them all.

A lovely friend of mine, who lives in a land far away, sent me the gift of a “meme”, in a message of Facebook the other day, that expresses the priceless commodity of time. It is by Thich Naht Hanh, who said:

“Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty four brand new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty four hours will bring Peace, Joy and Happiness to ourselves and others.”

What a precious gift we have been given. The gift of life, the gift of our presence. Let’s not waste it. Let’s sanctify life with our presence with our life. Let’s become the gift we have all been waiting for.

You see we’ve already received the greatest gifts we could ever have been given, the gift of life itself. It is up to us what we do with this gift. Let’s not waste them; let’s make the most of them; let’s make the most of our lives. In so doing we will encourage others to do the same and we will sanctify life with our presence. What a present we then become to life itself. Remember that life is indeed the greatest gift of them all. Life is the ultimate Grace. We did absolutely nothing to deserve it. It was freely given to us without any effort on our part.

This year has been quite a year for myself. I have received many gifts and quite a bit of recognition. At the recent Slimming World Awards night I officially received my award for “Man of the Year”. It was a wonderful night in which I shared with other prize winners. Along with the prize money I also received the gorgeous gift of cuff links and a beautiful glass trophy. It’s the first trophy I’ve ever received. These of course were not the real gifts, nor was the publicity. No the real gift is in the new life I’ve been given. Yes this began with the weight loss and led to this greater experience of the life I’ve been freely given. A life I can now make better use of in the service of others. This truly is a gift that keeps on giving as I share it with others. I offer true thanks giving for this and live with real gratitude as I make use of the gift, and I do so with no “Black Friday” in sight.

Life offers so many gifts to us, if we would just recognise them. Sadly we don’t always do so and we don’t always make the best use of this ultimate Grace. I know I’ve wasted many of the precious gifts that I have been offered. No doubt I will do so again, I am as human as I have always been. I will not beat myself up for this. I will just pledge to do my best to make use of what I have been given and to share it with those I get to share this ultimate free gift with, the gift of life itself.

I will do my utmost to give this love away beginning this Advent and moving on into Christmas and beyond. This to me is Love coming alive, Love incarnating in human form. This is what we are here for. To use the gifts we have been given, not only for ourselves but for the good of all and to share with all, therefore encouraging others to do the same. It begins by simply sharing the most precious gift of all, my time, my presence, isn’t this the ultimate present. Oh how I wish I had more of this priceless commodity to give. Oh how I wish there was more of this precious commodity for giving and for getting. Maybe there is, but more about that in the next "blogspot",

This is my suggestion for focus this Advent season, this giving of our true presence, the ultimate present. It begins right here right now in this season of selecting and wrapping presents. We can begin to bring the sacred alive in what appears to be wanton materialism. We can sanctify life with our presence in the selecting and wrapping of presents, we can begin to bring the spirit of the season alive in these most simple acts, we can unwrap the religion in the ribbons. We can also bless one another with our presence by simply spending time with one another mindfully and lovingly, in simply sharing our time and listening to one another.

 It really is that simple. We can bring the spirit of the season alive once again. We can bring Christmas alive in the presence of each and every day. We can become the greatest gift that anyone could wish for.

We no longer have to wish it could be Christmas every day, we can make it so, by simply blessing each day with our presence.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Awakening to the Love of Winter

Winter comes in many forms in our lives. Whatever form it takes the universal response to winter is to hope that it will soon be over, to wish it all away. It is often a time of year that we want to pass through so as to once again reach the re-birth and renewal of spring. So many of us do not like the cold, the dark, the lifelessness of winter. How often do we wish that it was over?

We need winter though. We need the times of darkness and coldness. We need the stillness of winter too. We need this time of preparation. We need to slow down and reflect on what has been. We need to feel the cold and experience the fear and loneliness of the darkness to prepare ourselves for the light and the new life that is yet to come. We need to prepare for the new love that can be reborn in the spring time. We need to allow the new love to be born in our hearts once again and shine out onto our world. We need to remain open to this love in this the darkest and coldest time of the year.

I really felt the cold the other morning. It feels like winter. Yes I know that officially it is not until the 1st of December, but tell that to the air. I felt the cold of winter as I awoke to prepare myself for Advent and the weeks ahead.  Winter is here. I’m sure that we have all felt the cold of winter these last few days and nights. Each morning as I awaken it is still dark and as each day passes the light seems to turn back to dark oh so quickly. The days of light seem oh so far away. On days like this it is so easy to wish away the winter, to wish that it will quickly be over. It is hard, at times, to wait patiently for the coming of lighter and warmer days ahead.

In this darkest coldest season we celebrate the coming of the new light and the new life, exemplified in the birth of a child. A child that is born again in our own hearts when we live in love ourselves. “In the bleak mid-winter, in this world of pain where our hearts are open Christ is born again.”

This is what the season is for. To prepare ourselves for the new love that is yet to be born in the mangers of our own hearts. A time to wait for what is yet to come in the New Year.

So let us not wish this time of year to be over, even though it soon will be. Let us instead fully experience this time. Let us prepare for the new love waiting to be born in our own hearts and when the spring time comes let us pour out this Love on a world that so dearly needs this. For surely this is our task. To give birth to love that sleeps peacefully, these silent nights, in the mangers of our own hearts.
Today marks the beginning of Advent. A time for waiting, a time of preparation. A time set aside to wait for the “coming” of Love in human form symbolised in the birth of the Christ child. A promise of what love can become if we let it grow and nurture in our hearts and lives. For every new life is the gift of promise and possibility. A gift of possibility that can be reborn in each of our lives if we allow it to be.

The season of Advent invites us to embrace the spiritual discipline of waiting. We cannot rush through this season, we must experience it all, before the moment of magic. We must first sing the carols, light the candles and open the doors of the calendars. We must select our gifts for our loved ones and we must prepare ourselves for the year to come. We must experience the whole of this season if we are to give birth to the love that is at the core of it all; if we are to grow this love in the mangers of our own hearts and to give birth to and both experience and share it in our world. A world that needs love and hope as much as at any time in our history.

Advent is a season of preparation and it cannot be rushed. It requires patience. We cannot wish the days away, we cannot wish the winter away. We have to wait patiently, but not passively.
This idea of waiting and nurturing of love brings to mind the following piece of wisdom by Paula Gooder.  She writes on pregnancy as a model of active and nurturing waiting, which she also sees as characteristic of the season of Advent and Hope.

“The Meaning Is in the Waiting :The Spirit of Advent” By Paula Gooder 

"As I waited for the birth of my baby, I discovered that waiting can be a nurturing time, valuable in its own right. Until then, I had assumed that waiting could only be passive, that it involved sitting around, drumming my fingers, completely powerless to do anything until the moment of waiting passed and I could be active again. How wrong I was. The waiting of pregnancy is about as active an occupation as one can hope to engage in. Pregnant waiting is a profoundly creative act, involving a slow growth to new life. This kind of waiting may appear passive externally but internally consists of never-ending action and is a helpful analogy for the kind of waiting that Advent requires. For many of us, Advent is such a busy time with all our preparations for Christmas that the thought of stopping and sitting passively — while attractive in many ways — is simply impossible. Advent, however, does not demand passivity but the utmost activity: active internal waiting that knits together new life.

"One of the other things I learned during pregnancy was that learning to savor the time of waiting allows us also to appreciate the event when it comes. The loss of an ability to wait often brings with it the inability to be fully and joyfully present now. Instead, we are constantly looking backward to better times we used to know and forward to better times that may be coming. The more we do this, the more we miss the present. Not only that, but it becomes hard to appreciate the future moment even when it does come. Many people speak of the feeling of deep anticlimax on Christmas Day when that long-anticipated day does not live up to expectations. Often the reason for this is that we live forever in the future, so that, when the future becomes the present, we are ill equipped to deal with it and have lost the ability to be fully present, right now.

"One of the many reasons we wait in Advent is to hone our skills of being joyfully and fully present now. After a month of doing this, Christmas Day can gain a depth and meaning that would otherwise fly past in a whirl of presents and mince pies."

I believe that Paula highlights some deeply important and spiritually enriching aspects of Advent, that can so easily be missed. If we wait patiently, but not passively, we will truly appreciate the day when it comes, as we will appreciate our lives when each new day comes. This waiting patiently but not passively will enable us to truly experience the gift that is our lives as it will truly allow us to not only live in the present, but to open the gift of the present, to truly give birth to it and to bring the present to life and thus truly experience what it is to be alive.

So let’s prepare ourselves for the moment of magic yet to come. Let’s nurture the love within us and prepare to give birth to it in our lives. Let’s not wish these dark cold days away. There is a beautiful gift in them if we allow ourselves to fully experience them. We need to experience each and every sensation of this season. Much like a mother who experiences the stirring of her baby in the womb we must experience each and every moment of this season before the moment of magic when the love is ready to once again be born.

If we do we will bring alive that love that is deep within each of us. If we prepare ourselves we will nurture that seed of love in all our hearts and we will bring it to life and therefore shine some light on the dark places in our lives and in our world. We can give birth to love in the mangers of our own hearts.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

That's what friends are for

One of my favourite childhood films was “The Jungle Book”, the Walt Disney version. I loved it so much that I didn’t go and see the remake that came out last year, for fear it my ruin my memory of the original. We even had an album of the movie soundtrack which I used to love to listen to on a Sunday afternoon at my grandma’s. I loved the songs, so many classics.

One of my favourite songs came back into my memory the other day. It was sung by the quartet of vultures who had a more than passing resemblance to the “Fab Four” “The Beatles”. They sang it to Mowgli who was feeling very lost and lonely in the jungle, without any friends. The song was of course “That’s what friends are for.” Composed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman

"That's what friends are for!"

Friends and friendship have been on my mind quite a bit these last few weeks. It
was sparked off by a posting by my oldest and maybe dearest friend on Facebook. It had taken him months to pluck up the courage to do so and it touched me and many of our mutual friends deeply.

A few months previously he had been diagnosed with a form of Asperger’s Syndrome and had written this post to let his friends know. He talked about many of his struggles with certain aspects of communication throughout his life and apologised if he had ever offended anyone of us. The many responses from friends, of some 40 odd years of life, were beautifully moving. He is a deeply loved man and the reason for this is that he has always been a caring and loving friend to so many people, if a little “different”, from the so-called “norm”. He certainly has never done anything to offend me. I cannot say the same about me offending him by the way.

As I read the many loving and supportive posts I remembered our friendship and the many friends we had shared together. Going right back to second year at Batley Grammar school. I remembered going to watch Leeds United, our first terrifying encounters with the opposite sex and making music together and many other years that followed. We have not been as close for the last dozen or more years, but my goodness we shared so much together. When I think of many of the friends we shared and hung out with we were mostly misfits, never quite the norm. They say birds of a feather stick together, I think that there is a lot of truth in that.

As I remembered all the many friends I have shared over the years the quality that stands out the most is the level of acceptance of one another, despite all our peculiarities. This still stands today. Joan Chittister was so right when she said “Acceptance is the universal currency of real friendship. . . .It does not warp or shape or wrench a person to be anything other than what they are.” Acceptance is the true sign of friendship, radical acceptance of one another, exactly as we are. Perhaps that’s what a truly open religious community is, a collection of real friends. Friends who accept one another exactly as they are.

I think the greatest blessing of my life has been my friends. I have many friends, loyal friends and loving friends. Friends who have stood up for me and loved me at some pretty dark times in the past.

Friends have always stood up for me, going right back to primary school. I remember an incident when I would have been about 11 years old and had just begun to be allowed to do sport again. I was pretty useless, but very determined and others appreciated this. I remember there being an inter schools cross country event and all the schools in the district entered. Each had to pick a team and this was selected over a series of races. I wanted to compete, I don’t know why today as there was no chance of me getting into the team, on athletic ability. Each week though I ran in the race and each week I scored few points, certainly not enough to qualify, but I stuck at it. It came to the final race and I went for it. I was not doing well enough though as another lad who also wanted to run was ahead of me. Then something amazing happened. The star athlete of the school decided to help me out. He did it in a rather unsporting way by convincing this other lad to let me beat him and thus qualify at his expense. I do not know to this day why he did it, but I will never forget Darren’s gesture. Yes I felt bad for the other lad, but I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to run in the team. We ran, we didn’t win and I didn’t come last, actually about half way, better than I could ever have dreamed of. I just ran and ran as best I could across the muddy fields, lap after lap. I even lost one shoe half way round but just kept on going not daring to stop to pick it up for fear I wouldn't be able to begin again. One lad crossed the line a little after me with my shoe in his hand looking rather puzzled. I just grinned and thanked him as I claimed it back. I can think of countless other times when friends have been there for me, protected and helped me in so many ways. Other times when they have encouraged and spurred me on to be a better me. Too many to mention here today. It happened recently after something I posted on line, which irritated someone, who became quite critical of the comment and me personally. I chose not to respond to the criticism, but some of my friends did. Their responses were beautiful and touched me deeply. I am a lucky man, to have been blessed by so many good and loyal and loving friends.

Thank you

I have always been blessed with wonderful friends…What about you? Perhaps that’s something to think about…the friends who have blessed and continue to bless your life…

There is a phrase about friendship that has always irritated me, “Merely friends”, or “We are just friends”, as if being a friend wasn't important, didn't matter. Friendship matters oh so much. Friends are the people we share our lives with, who in so many ways make our lives what they are. Friends are, to quote Fredrich Buechner, the people we choose to “make part of our lives just because we feel like it.” There is no such thing as “Just friends”

Aristotle said, “What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”

A friend is someone you can trust, you can rely upon, someone who will be there for you. Certainly my friends have always been there for me. We have laughed and we have cried together. We have enjoyed some wild and crazy times together and we have grieved as we have lost one of our number. I have lost a lot of friends over the years, far too many.

A friend will stand by you of this I am certain, but that does not mean they will not criticise you or hold you to account. My best friends have shown this kind of love to me during my life. In fact sometimes your best friend is the one who is unafraid to call you out when you are wrong, when no one else will. This is the kind of friend who will help you learn life’s lessons.

Emerson also wrote, “Let us approach our friend with an audacious trust in the truth of his heart.”

This brings to mind the following tale:

From "The Heart of the Enlightened A Book of Story Meditation: 250 stories from many religions and cultures on spirituality" by Anthony DeMello

"There was once a rabbi who was revered by the people as a man of God. Not a day went by when a crowd of people wasn't standing at his door seeking advice or healing or the holy man's blessing. And each time the rabbi spoke, the people would hang on his lips, drinking in his every word.

"There was, however, in the audience a disagreeable fellow who never missed a chance to contradict the master. He would observe the rabbi's weaknesses and make fun of his defects to the dismay of the disciples, who began to look on him as the devil incarnate.

"Well, one day the 'devil' took ill and died. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief. Outwardly they looked appropriately solemn but in their hearts they were glad for no longer would the master's inspiring talks be interrupted or his behavior criticized by this disrespectful heretic.

"So the people were surprised to see the master plunged in genuine grief at the funeral. When asked by a disciple later if he was mourning over the eternal fate of the dead man, he said, 'No, no. Why should I mourn over our friend who is now in heaven? It was for myself I was grieving. That man was the only friend I had. Here I am surrounded by people who revere me. He was the only one who challenged me. I fear that with him gone, I shall stop growing.' And as he said these words, the master burst into tears."

A friend helps you become a better person, certainly my friends have helped me to do so, they have spurred me on by their example and encouragement and occasional criticism. This was a central claim of Aristotle’s “Ethics” who envisioned an escalating competition in goodness. He suggested that people try to do their best so as to be valued and respected by their friends thus inspiring them to do likewise.

Friendship is a key component of Buddhism. This is illustrated in the following tale a friend recently sent me:

One day while the Buddha was out walking with his attendant Ananda, who declared, “Teacher, to have companions and comrades on the great way is so amazing! I have come to realise that friendship is fully half of an authentic spiritual life.” They continued walking in silence when eventually the Buddha responded. “No, dear one. Without companions and comrades, no one can live into the deep, finding the true harmonies of life, to achieve authentic wisdom. To say it simply, friendship is the whole of the spiritual life.”

Could this be true? Is friendship the whole of the spiritual life?

Jesus said to his disciples, in John’s Gospel “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything.” To me this what a true relationship with God is about, friendship. Something that we are meant to mirror in our lives. This if you like is the Kingdom coming alive in our lives. We gain knowledge of the spiritual life through living in such an intimate relationship with God, with life and with one another.

I’m with the Buddha and Jesus, I believe that friendship is the whole of the spiritual life. In fact to live spiritually is to truly be a friend to life. This is how knowledge is truly revealed. This is the kingdom of love, coming alive in our lives. This is how we make our lives a scared space. This is how we manifest love in our lives, by being a friend to life. This is what being a part of a spiritual community is. Becoming a friend to life and to all that we meet.

It begins with radical acceptance. To accept those we meet as they are, exactly as they are. This does not mean we don’t point out when someone is in the wrong, no it just means we love and accept them right or wrong. It’s also about raising one another up through our example. You see by being the best we can be, in loving friendship, we automatically encourage our friends to be the best version of themselves that they too can be.

So my friends I invite you to join with me in the sacred space of friendship. I invite you to remember the friends you have known in your lives, the ones that touched and sometimes broke your hearts, the ones who accepted you just as you are and the ones who inspired you to be the best you, you could be. I also invite you to be the best fiend you can be to life and thus inspire all that you meet on your journey through life, to be the best version of themselves that they can be too.

Let’s become good friends, not just friends, not merely friends…Let us become friends to one another and friends to life…

I'm going to with this lovely tale from a short term friendship from Kent Nerburn ...some friends are just passing through...

From "Small Graces: The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life" by Kent Nerburn

“A Neighbour and a Friend”

"I see her standing in her front yard, glowering. She is jabbing at a patch of offending leaves with a rake.

Myra is ornery, hard to like. Raised on the plains of North Dakota, she asks no quarter and gives none. The world as she sees it is full of fools, damn fools, and crooks. I am not sure into which category I fall. Our relationship has been an uneasy truce. Though we are neighbours, we have never become close.

“She had a hard life. She’s got a good heart,” I tell myself. “Treat her with kindness.” But it is not so easy. She turns every conversation to herself, berates people that I know to be gentle and generous, and shoots at cats with buckshot.

I would dismiss her altogether if it were not for Craig, and the lesson he taught me long ago.

Craig passed through my life briefly but intensely – much the way he did everything. He was one of those people who brought energy and life into any room he entered. He had an uncanny ability to focus his entire attention on you while you were talking, so you suddenly felt more important and more responsible than you had before he was listening. He made you better by being around him. People loved him.

One autumn day we were sitting together; half talking and half working on some now forgotten projects for our graduate degrees. I was staring out the window when I noticed one of my professors crossing the street. He had been away all summer and we had not parted on good terms. I had taken great offence at some suggestion he had made, and had in turn given great offence in my answer. We had not seen each other since that day.

“Damn it,” I said to Craig. “I don’t want to see him.”

“Why not?” Craig asked.

“We don’t get along,” I said. “The guy just doesn’t like me.”

Craig looked down at the passing figure. “Maybe you’ve got it wrong,” he said. “Maybe you’re the one who’s turning away, and you’re just doing that because you’re afraid. He probably thinks you don’t like him, so he’s not friendly. People like people who like them. It’s that simple. Someone’s got to break the cycle.”

His words smarted. I walked hesitantly down the stairs into the parking lot. I greeted my professor warmly and asked how his summer had gone. He looked at me, genuinely surprised. He put his arm over my shoulder. We walked off together talking. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Craig at the window smiling broadly.

It was so simple, yet I had never seen it. I was coming to all my encounters with a fear that others were judging me, when in fact, they were worrying about how I would judge them. We were all living in fear of each other’s judgement, while the empty space between us was waiting to be filled by a simple gesture of honest caring.

Craig understood this. He knew that all we need is to open our hearts and show a genuine concern for others and what is important in their lives.

That was what made him so special. He basked in people like basking in sunlight. Their lives warmed him and they loved sharing themselves with him.

Myra has gathered the offending leaves and dispatched them to a pile in the corner of her yard.

“Damn leaves,” she says as I pass.
“A conspiracy between God and gravity,” I respond.
Then I think.
“That’s a pretty sweater,” I say.
She snorts.
“If I didn’t have a wife,” I continue,” we’d go out dancing.”
She snorts again. I continue on my way. But as I pass, I see her push an errant strand of hair back into place and adjust the collar on her sweater.
She looks around to make sure that no one was watching, then returns to her raking.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Inspiration: Breath it in breath it out

In a recent “Living the Questions” we explored the subject of “Legacy: What will we leave behind”. As is always the case it was a deeply rich and moving conversation. One area that we looked at was the people who have touched our lives, have inspired us and left their legacy upon us as individuals. Not so much famous and celebrated people but ordinary and seemingly nameless ones who have touched are lives and continue to touch our lives long after they have gone. People who were living breathing sources of inspiration who were incarnations of love, the word made flesh through the way that they lived. The people who have inspired us. The people who awakened something within us. Who planted seeds in our hearts and souls or who nurtured those seeds and helped them grow.

Who are the people who have inspired you? Who planted the seeds of love or who nurtured those seeds and enabled them to grow and flower. Who have been the inspirations in your lives?

Maybe your inspiration hasn’t come from living breathing flesh or perhaps not exclusively so. Maybe your inspiration has come from the arts, or from literature or perhaps even nature. Perhaps it has been through seeing life in certain ways you have been inspired to do something you previously could not. The photographer William Guion describes such an inspirational experience in the extract that follows from “Leaning Oak and Reflection New Orleans”
"On a hazy, chilly December morning, I walked, camera and tripod balanced on my shoulder, through a stand of oaks toward he edge of a pond. The water was silver-gray and still like a mirror hung in an empty, unlit hall. A thin mist fell, or more accurately, hung in the air. Rain had soaked the landscape during the night, and mud at the water’s edge sucked at my shoes. In the yawning light, I saw an oak leaning at a precarious angle over the water. The soil had eroded over time, dissolving much of the tree’s foundation, yet the oak’s roots were locked tenaciously into the receding land. Against the threat of drowning, this tree survived through an elegant dance of balance, perseverance, and heroism. Almost in praise, the pond mirrored the oak’s profile creating a beautiful mandala-like wheel with spokes of water, leaves, earth and light.

As I set up and focused the tree on my camera’s ground glass, I thought how often in my own life I have lived just on the edge of heroic acts. How I’ve operated within safe, comfortable boundaries that defined the limits of what I could accomplish. At this time in my life, I was considering leaving a comfortable, secure job to follow my heart’s urging to photograph and write. I stood on the edge of an uncertain future, mud sucking at my shoes, and stared out through the mists across silver-gray water at this leaning oak. Through its example, I saw clearly through the mists of doubt separating me from a decision. I stood for a long moment and imagined the worst that could happen if I stretched too far over the edge of my fears. Then, in that second when I snapped the shutter recording this moment on film, I stepped across an imaginary line in my mind. In the pond’s dark mirrored water I saw a face. It smiled back at me."

Public figures are of course inspirations to many. A couple of been in the news recently. One being Jessica Ennis the recently retired Heptathlete and Olympian and another Bob Dylan who was this year awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, who has inspired many through his music, particularly his lyrics. The likes of Sir  David Attenborough or Professor Brian Cox are other examples in the way that they bring a sense of awe and wonder about the natural world and universe. People like Nelson Mandella or Mala Yousafsi, the Afgani girl who was shot by the Taliban for wanting an education are other inspirational figures to many too. 
For still others inspiration comes from the great stories and parables, that reveal truths that are often hidden away deep in our hearts. Jesus and the Buddha are great examples of this. In Luke ch 13 vv 18-19 Jesus was asked:

What is the Kingdom of God like?
And to what shall I compare it?
It is like a mustard seed that someone
took and sowed in the garden;
it grew and became a tree,
and the birds of the air made nests
in its branches.

Parables like these reveal Jesus’ ability to dispel wisdom through his teaching. This parable in particular, I believe, is about connecting to that divine aspect within all of us and bringing it to life, thus creating the "Kingdom" within our own lives and within our own communities, for others to share in and enjoy. In so doing we become an inspiration to others to do the same.

Thomas Keating in "Meditations on the Parables of Jesus"expands on this.

"When rightly understood, the parables help us to see how extraordinary a wisdom teacher Jesus really was, and how revolutionary, in the best sense of the word, was the content of what he taught and to which he bore witness by his life and death.

"These insights cohere particularly well with the actual experience of people on the spiritual journey. When contemplative prayer is seriously embraced, we come upon [a] lived reality … the reversal of expectations, the gradual and often painful liberation from emotional programs for happiness, and the increasing discovery of the kingdom of God in the ordinary and everyday."

But how do we bring this seed of inspiration to life in our lives and how can it be nurtured so as to flower and be shared with others? Well I think one way is to recognise it first and foremost, not only in the lives of others but in our own lives too.
Chade-Meng Tan writes on the subject of “Deeds” in “Joy on Demand”

“Whenever you make a donation of time or labor, or do something out of altruistic intention, take a moment to think, "I am doing this out of altruistic intention. Having this intention makes me so happy."

Whenever you meet or bring to mind an admirable, inspiring person, take a moment to think, "There exists this wonderful person in this world. I'm so happy."

Whenever you see somebody performing an altruistic or heroic act, take a moment to think, "More good is being done in this world. I'm so happy."

It is so vital to recognise these moments of inspiration in others and within ourselves if we are to create the Kingdom of God, the Kin-dom of love in our lives. It matters because I believe everything matters, every thought, every word, every deed and every feeling. Everything matters because everything impacts and effects everything else. We impact on the lives of everyone and everything all the time. We are inspirations to one another, even if we are not aware of it. We need to recognise this, we need to be aware of how important we are and how we impact on life.
We are all inspirations to one another.

But what does it mean to be an inspiration? You may well ask. Well the word inspiration is an interesting one, as so many are. We have reduced its meaning in power. It’s another one of those words that we have attempted to tame. Today it means someone or something that gives you an idea for doing something, but originally it meant “immediate influence of God or a gods”. It comes from the old French word “inspiriacion” meaning “inhaling in or breathing in from the Latin “inspirare” meaning to blow into or breath upon so as to excite or inflame. This is the meaning in the following verse from Genesis Chapter 2 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” It really meant to infuse or animate to affect to rouse to guide to put life into the human soul. As you can see it meant something much more profoundly powerful in the past that it does today.

That said I believe that we can and indeed do inspire in this way and in so doing we can bring the kin-dom to life in our own hearts and lives. We can ignite that divine spark, we do.

I believe that this is what Albert Schweitzer meant when he said:

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”

Those who rekindle the light are the inspirers here amongst us.

How do we do this though? How do we bring this spirit alive within ourselves and how do we recognise it in others?

It is ok saying we need to recognise it, but it isn’t always easy to awaken to this. This is where spiritual discipline plays such a vital role. I remember that ordinary man from Oldham, who was one of my inspirations, who helped rekindle the flame in me. One thing he always taught me was “first things first” that if I was spiritually well the rest will follow and the key to that is spiritual discipline. My life is testimony to this. The problem of course though is that seeing evidence of its importance isn’t always obvious. 
Prayer and meditation do not bring obvious results and yet experience has taught me that they are as vital as breathing air and eating food and drinking water. This brings to mind a tale from Margaret Silf’s “One hundred more wisdom stories” from the famous author “unknown”

A disciple once asked his master, “What can I do to attain God?”
The master answered by asking the disciple another question: “What can you do to make the sun rise?”

The disciple retorted indignantly, “Nothing at all. So why are you giving us all these methods of prayer?”

And the master replied, “To make sure you’re awake when the sun rises.”

The key, I have come to believe, is to be awake to the inspiration within me and all around me. To let that spirit come alive. To let it breath onto all life and to breath in all the inspiration present in all animated life.

The key is to breath in the inspiration and to be the inspiration to bring that seed to life and then breath it out on the world all around me. To shine as you are meant to shine and to not be afraid to be all that you are meant to be.

And how do we do this? Well by simply living the life we love, By simply doing so we inspire those we meet to do the same and all life benefits and in so doing we might just bring the kin-dom alive, right here right now. Actually there is no might about it we do bring the kin-dom of love alive within us and in so doing we shine a little bit of light on all those we share our lives with.

I’m going to end this chip of a "blogspot" with a little bit of wisdom from one of my inspirations John O’Donohue. Taken from “Anam Cara”

“Live the life you love”
"If you allow yourself to be the person that you are, then everything will come into rhythm. If you live the life you love, you will receive shelter and blessings. Sometimes the great famine of blessing in and around us derives from the fact that we are not living the life we love, rather we are living the life that is expected of us. We have fallen out of rhythm with the secret signature and light of our own nature."

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Falling Leaves: Lessons in Living

“Tired of Clinging” by Richard Bach

Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all - young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.

Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks at the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth.

But one creature said at last, 'I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.'

The other creatures laughed and said, 'Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you shall die quicker than boredom!'

But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.

Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.

And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, 'See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!'

And the one carried in the current said, 'I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.'

But they cried the more, 'Saviour!' all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a Saviour.

By Richard Bach, from "Illusions"

I was in the gym the other day going through a stretching routine, trying to loosen up my tight hamstrings. Something I do not enjoy doing as it’s painful, but something I know I need to do. As I was doing so I looked up and noticed one of the trainers I chat regularly to looking a little glum. I asked him how he was and we started to chat. He began by complaining about having to fill in for a colleague leading a class he didn’t seem prepared for. He then talked about feeling weary and not liking this time of year when everything is changing. He said he loved the summer and didn’t mind the cold of winter it’s just that he wasn’t overly keen on these days in between when everything is changing and unsettled. He then cracked on with getting himself in the mood to lead the class, which I’m sure he did a great job of doing. I have no doubt he didn’t have any trouble once it began. It was just the lead up that caused him the anxiety. I don’t think he is alone in this.

Autumn is here. I love autumn, "beautiful autumn, glorious autumn, best of the year." Well maybe not the best. It is a season like every season that has its own beauty. The beauty of autumn is symbolised in the falling leaves. When everything just seems so beautiful because it is dying. Summer is over now. We had a long summer, but it has finally come to an end and now we are in the season of the falling leaves. The season of reflection and the season of change and preparation for the coming winter when stillness reigns before the re-birth of spring.

It easy to see autumn as an inbetween time, but I believe that this is a mistake. In so doing we can miss its beauty and power; in so doing we end up just wishing this time away; in so doing we wish our lives away and fail to experience what is here right now; in so doing we fail to experience the spiritual nature of our lives; and in so doing our lives can quickly become meaningless. To live spiritually requires us to increase our sensitivity to life. This requires us to be fully alive to all that makes up our lives, whatever we are experiencing.

The mistake we can so often make is to wish our lives away. Let’s not do that this autumn; let’s experience the beauty and richness of this season; let’s learn our lessons from it too; let’s learn from those falling leaves.

The falling leaves can teach us so much about the spiritual life and spiritual living. They remind me of another mistake we often make. Yes we often want to rush through things and wish they were over therefore failing to truly experience the gift of the moment. That said we can often do something which inhibits the moment equally. How many of us want to cling on to what we are experiencing right now. David Bumbaugh captures this beautifully in the following meditative poem “Dancing in the wind”

“Dancing in the wind” David Bumbaugh

Except for a few stubborn holdouts
The tree outside my window
Is bare of leaves.
The wind,
This October morning,
Worries those few remaining leaves,
Pulling them this way,
twisting them that way,
tugging at them
until, one by one,
exhausted by the ceaseless effort to hang on,
they go dancing in the wind.
As they waltz past my window,
The stubbornness has left them
And they are finally free.
What is it about living things
That we expend so much energy resisting the inevitable,
Hanging on to what is already gone,
Hoping to sustain a season
Into times that are unreasonable,
Clinging to old habits
Despite the pain and discomfort?

Why are we so afraid to dance in the wind?

Why are we so afraid to dance in the wind? It’s a good question. By clinging to things, whether that be people, possessions, seasons, situations, prestige, appearance, beliefs, disbeliefs, feelings, we fail to experience life fully. We block ourselves from experiencing the full gift of life. We become like the creatures in the story at the beginning of this "blogspot", clinging on but not fully experiencing life. They would rather die of boredom than risk letting go and trust in the current. And then one brave one lets go and they simply mock it as it crashes against the rocks and suffers the pain of freedom until it learns the dance of the current. Still they are afraid though to let go and experience the freedom themselves. They want their messiah to do it for them or they merely want to spin stories of his journey rather than seeing him as the example and letting go themselves and experiencing the freedom of the current.

It is the same with all of life, if we truly pay attention and increase our sensitivity to it. All life can teach us to be all that we can be. We can even learn from the leaves as they fall freely and dance in the wind.

Now all this brings some questions to my mind. Why do so many of us cling to things and will not let go? Why do we want to live with the illusion of control? Or on the other hand why do we want to rush through things and not experience the moment we are in? Why are we always wishing for the end of things? What are we afraid of? Why do we not want to fully experience life? And what is the antidote.

I had several conversations with people last week. Some I have known all my life and others I’ve known for only a short time. In each conversation there was a constant theme. The theme was fear. Fear I believe is at the core the two autumn themes I’ve been speaking of…to either wish days away or to cling to something that is over. These are the fears symbolic of autumn. It is fear that is at the root of the need to cling on and or control and it is fear that causes this desire to wish certain feelings away.

I’m no different myself by the way. I can want to wish certain experiences away, especially if they are uncomfortable, even painful. I noticed myself doing it the other day when I was beginning a hard slog on the cross trainer. I didn’t want to go through the pain of it, I just wanted the results that would come from doing so, but still I stuck at it. I have learnt to develop faith. I’ve also clung onto comfortable things and painful and destructive things at times in my life, for the fear of what might be if I just let go and let the wind of life take hold. It was fear that stopped me.

But what causes the fear, what causes this lack of trust. Well I think that it is lack of faith. Faith in life itself. It comes from a belief that life is hostile, against us and something that cannot be trusted. This is why we cling to things and will not let go. The antidote is faith. Faith in life itself, but this of course is a risk. It is a risk worth taking though and certainly beats the boredom of clinging to those rocks we heard about in the earlier story. We need to learn to let go and trust in the current and trust in the wind and to trust in the ever changing nature of life.

This brings to mind a lovely excerpt from Anthony Demello’s “The song of the Bird” it goes by the title “Don’t Change”

"I was neurotic for years. I was anxious and depressed and selfish. Everyone kept telling me to change. I resented them and I agreed with them, and I wanted to change, but simply couldn't, no matter how hard I tried. Then one day someone said to me, Don't change. I love you just as you are. Those words were music to my ears: Don't change, Don't change. Don't change . . . I love you as you are. I relaxed. I came alive. And suddenly I changed!

Now I know that I couldn’t really change until I found someone who would love me whether I changed or not.

Is this how you love me, God?"

Here lays both the problem and the solution. This is why I believe we cling to things or simply wish them away. This is why so many of us are afraid to fully experience the life we are experiencing right here right now. We don’t trust in life. We believe that life is untrustworthy. We fail to experience that love that is so present in life. We feel unacceptable as we are. Certainly this was my problem for so long. Thank God it is no longer the case. I do, I do, I do…every day…

And how do we learn to love life, to be a part of life? Well it begins by paying attention. By increasing our sensitivity to life. It begins perhaps by being like those falling leaves. By falling like those autumnal leaves, by not wishing away our experiences and by not clinging on…It begins by simply letting go and by learning to dance in the wind…

Let’s all learn to dance in the wind…Lets all become like falling leaves…Let’s all learn to dance the impermanence dance…