Letters to a young poet

dragoncover4

by Jackie Morris

We have no reason to harbour any mistrust against our world,
for it is not against us.
If it has terrors, they are our terrors.
If it has abysses, these abysses belong to us.
If there are dangers, we must try to love them,
and only if we could arrange our lives,
in accordance with the principle that tells us
that we must always trust in the difficult,
then what now appears to us to be alien
will become our most intimate and trusted experience.

How could we forget those ancient myths
that stand at the beginning of all races –
the myths of dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses?
Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses
waiting for us to act, just once,
with beauty and courage.
Perhaps everything that frightens us is,
in its deepest essence,
something helpless that wants our love.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises before you
larger than any you’ve ever seen,
if an anxiety like light and cloud shadows
moves over your hands and everything that you do.
Life has not forgotten you.
It holds you in its hands and will not yet you fall.
Why do you want to shut out of your life
any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions?
For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.

Reiner Maria Rilke

Feeding your Demons

tsultrim-allione

Lama Tsultrim Allione

This is a practice I really value, developed by Lama Tsultrim Allione… Try it for meeting those recurrent obstacles (or demons) and rather than the habitual fighting them in one form or another, see what happens when you feed them instead. Based on the powerful Tibetan Buddhist practice of Chod, offered in a very accessible form with the potential of true transformation.

For a practice session guided by Lama Tsultrim Allione herself, click here. For more info on this process, please click here. The following description of the practice comes from the Tara Mandala website.

An Abbreviated Version of the Five Steps of the Feeding Your Demons Process

Nine Relaxation Breaths

Take nine deep relaxation breaths with long exhalations: for the first three breaths, breathe in and bring the breath to any tension in the body releasing it with the exhalation. For the second three breaths, inhale into any emotional tension, feel where you hold it in your body and release it with the exhalation. And lastly, breathe into any mental tension. Feel where you hold nervousness, worries or mental blockages in your body and release them with the exhalation

Motivation:Generate a heartfelt motivation to practice for the benefit of one’s self and all beings.

Step 1. Find the Demon

Decide which demon, god or god-demon you are going to work with.
Locate where you hold it most strongly in your body.
Become aware of the qualities of the sensations in your body including:

  • color
  • texture
  • temperature

Intensify the sensation.

Step 2. Personify the Demon and Find Out What It Needs

Personify this sensation as a figure with arms legs, and eyes and see it facing you. If an inanimate object appears imagine what it would look like if it were personified as some kind of being.

Notice:

  • color
  • skin surface
  • gender
  • size
  • its character
  • its emotional state
  • the look in its eyes

Notice something about the demon you didn’t see before.
Ask the demon what it wants.

What is it that you want from me?

Ask the demon what it needs.

What need do you have that is behind what you want?

Ask the demon how it would feel if it gets what it needs.

If you get what you need how will you feel?

Having asked the questions, immediately change places with the demon.

Step 3. Become the Demon

Face the chair or cushion you were seated on and become the demon, allowing yourself a little time to “sit in its shoes.”
Notice how your normal self looks from the demon’s point of view.

Now answer these three questions:

What I want from you is…
What I need from you is…
What I would feel if I got what I need is…

Step 4. Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally

Feed the demon

Come back to your original position. Take a moment to settle in and see the demon in front of you.
Dissolve your body into nectar that has the quality of the feeling that the demon would have if its need was satisfied (this is the answer to the third question in step 3)
Feed the demon to its complete satisfaction, imagining the nectar entering the demon any way you wish. Keep feeding until complete satisfaction is reached (if the demon seems to be insatiable, then imagine how it would look if it were completely satisfied). At this point you can go directly to step 5 or meet your ally.

Meet the ally

If there is a being present in place of the demon when you end the fourth step, ask this being if it is the ally. If it is not, invite an ally to appear. If the demon has dissolved completely then simply invite an ally to appear.
Notice all the details of the ally: its color, its size, and the look in its eyes.

Ask it one or all of these questions:

How will you help me?
How will you protect me?
What pledge do you make to me?

Change places, becoming the ally, and answer the question(s) above.
Return to your original position, then take a moment and feel the help and protection coming from the ally to you and then imagine the ally is dissolving into you. You and the ally dissolve into emptiness, which naturally takes you to the fifth step.

Step 5. Rest

Rest in the state that is present when the ally dissolves into you and you dissolve into emptiness. Let your mind relax without creating any particular experience. Rest as long as you like without filling the space, trying not to make anything happen or rushing to finish.

Active Hope

Reflections on the book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.

For me, the connection between Active Hope and mindfulness is completely seamless, and seems vitally important at this time in the world. In our mindfulness practice, we come back time and again to our motivation for practising: the motivation for the deepest well-being of ourselves and others. And our well-being is inextricably linked with the larger world around us.  As Thich Nhat Hanh says: “The Earth is not just our environment. We are the Earth and the Earth is us. We have always been one with the Earth…” So actively connecting with and caring for the earth that we are part of, and ‘facing the mess without going crazy’  is an essential part of this well-being in my view.

The ‘state of the world’ is something that might be tempting to turn away from as being too overwhelming, too dire to really look at or connect with – but what is mindfulness if not turning towards the places that scare us? We do this internally in our practice whenever something comes up that is uncomfortable, and we can do the same with what’s gratitudeuncomfortable and scary out there in the world, whether it’s climate disruption, depleting or resources or the fast rate with which species are going extinct and ecosystems are lost.

What I love about the Active Hope journey is that it helps connect with the strong steady ground of gratitude to start from, a trusted mindfulness practice connecting with joy, resilience and wellness. This gratitude and the vitality and strength it offers, facilitates turning towards what’s difficult with skillful exercises that honour our pain for the world. As Joanna Macy says:

“In owning this pain, and daring to experience it, we learn that our capacity to ‘suffer with’ is the true meaning of compassion. We begin to know the immensity of our heart-mind, and how it helps us to move beyond fear. What had isolated us in private anguish now opens outward and delivers us into wider reaches of our ‘world as lover, world as self’.”

dandelionspiral

Spiral of the Work That Reconnects, by Dori Midnight

As is emphasised in the mindfulness training again and again, the sensitivity to pain in self, others and the world, can be the doorway to genuine compassion and meaningful action to try to relieve it. For me personally it has been so affirmative to directly experience the discovery that this pain is not the end of anything, but rather a beginning to see with new eyes, to widen our perspective. The chapters in the book relating to this seeing with new eyes, are on A Wider Sense of Self which offers a descent into the levels of our identity where there is much more connection than the usual perspective of separate individuals; A Different Story of Power looks at a shift from the domination model of power-over to the surprising potential of power-with; A Richer Experience of Community reaches into our deep connectedness with all human beings as well as with other life-forms; and A Larger View of Time,  where we stretch our imagination to planet time and connect with our ancestors as well as the future generations. And each of these themes in the book have a range of experiential exercises to dive in to, which shifts interesting thought-material to powerful personal experience. The Buddhist themes of interconnectedness and no self are tangible in these chapters, informed by Joanna’s decades long practice and deep understanding of Buddhism. In Joanna’s own words:

“The truth of our inter-existence, made real to us by our pain for the world, helps us see with new eyes. It brings fresh understandings of who we are and how we are related to each other and the universe. We begin to comprehend our own power to change and heal. We strengthen by growing living connections with past and future generations, and our brother and sister species.

Then, ever again, we go forth into the action that calls us. With others whenever and wherever possible, we set a target, lay a plan, step out. We don’t wait for a blueprint or fail-proof scheme; for each step will be our teacher, bringing new perspectives and opportunities. Even when we don’t succeed in a given venture, we can be grateful for the chance we took and the lessons we learned. And the spiral begins again…

So finally, we take this work into direct – and mindful – action. What little thing can I do today? Which ‘fruit tree’ can I water, even if I’m not sure it will actually bear fruit in the future? And how can my mindful awareness light up unconscious habits of consuming, how can my sense of interconnection with ecosystems and people across the planet inform me in everyday choices of the food I eat, the clothes I buy, the ways I travel? As is often the case in mindfulness practice on ‘the cushion’, what is revealed by deeper looking might need a good dose of (self)compassion, which we can offer freely. Because this is not meant to be another stick to beat myself up with in guilt. It’s living my intention to be increasingly aware and as Lama Yeshe Rinpoche says, becoming a more and more ‘useful’ human being.

“There are hard things to face in our world today, if we want to be of use. Gratitude, when it’s real, offers no blinders. On the contrary, in the face of devastation and tragedy it can ground us, especially when we’re scared. It can hold us steady for the work to be done.”

So… let’s start with gratitude, again and again!

bird

 

Eat bread and understand comfort.

FT Prints

Photo by Francesco Tonelli

Eat bread and understand comfort.
Drink water, and understand delight.
Visit the garden where the scarlet trumpets
are opening their bodies for the hummingbirds
who are drinking the sweetness, who are
thrillingly gluttonous.

For one thing leads to another.
Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot.
Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in.

And you will hear the air itself, like a beloved, whisper
Oh let me, for a while longer, enter the two
Beautiful bodies of your lungs…

The witchery of living
is my whole conversation
with you, my darlings.
All I can tell you is what I know.

Look, and look again.
This world is not just a little thrill for your eyes.

It’s more than bones.
It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.
It’s more than the beating of a single heart.
It’s praising.
It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving.
You have a life–just imagine that!
You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe
still another…

We do one thing or another; we stay the same, or we
change.
Congratulations, if
you have changed.

Let me ask you this.
Do you also think that beauty exists for some
fabulous reason?
And, if you have not been enchanted by this adventure–
your life–
what would do for you?

What I loved in the beginning, I think, was mostly myself.
Never mind that I had to, since somebody had to.
That was many years ago.
Since then I have gone out from my confinements,
though with difficulty.
I mean the ones that thought to rule my heart.
I cast them out; I put them on the mush pile.
They will be nourishment somehow (everything is nourishment
somehow or another).

And I have become the child of the clouds, and of hope.
I have become the friend of the enemy, whoever that is.
I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.

And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.

Mary Oliver

Hokusai says

hokusai

Hokusai says
Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive —
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.
– Roger Keyes

 

Self-Compassion Break

developed by Kristin Neff.

The daily life practice of the Self Compassion Break has been invaluable to me countless times over the years. It takes some of the sting out of whatever difficulty presents itself, as soon as I remember to connect with it. Having practised self compassion for many years, I was surprised about how inspired I felt when reading Kristin Neff’s book Self Compassion, The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Apparently there was still a part of me that believed that I just had to shape up and shut up, rather than be kind to myself when the shit hits the fan…

As the cover says:

Dr. Neff helps readers understand that compassion isn’t only something that we should apply to others. Just as we’d have compassion for a good friend who was going through a hard time or felt inadequate in some way, why not for ourselves? Many people believe that they need to be self-critical to motivate themselves, but in fact they just end up feeling anxious, incompetent and depressed. Dr. Neff’s research shows that far from encouraging self-indulgence, self-compassion helps us to see ourselves clearly and make needed changes because we care about ourselves and want to reach our full potential.

A further recommendation to this book came from an MSc student who said it ‘read like a novel’. You can’t say that of many mindfulness and compassion books! So below the short practice of the Self Compassion Break:

Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.

Now, say to yourself:

1. This is a moment of suffering

That’s mindfulness. Other options include:

This hurts.
Ouch.
This is stress.

2. Suffering is a part of life

That’s common humanity. Other options include:

Other people feel this way.
I’m not alone.
We all struggle in our lives.
Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest. Or adopt the soothing touch you discovered felt right for you.

Say to yourself:

3. May I be kind to myself

You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:

May I give myself the compassion that I need
May I learn to accept myself as I am
May I forgive myself
May I be strong.
May I be patient
This practice can be used any time of day or night, and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion when you need it most.

Wild geese

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You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

– Mary Oliver

the peace of wild things

flying
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry

the same stream of life…

 

new leaves

The same stream of life that runs
through my veins night and day runs
through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy
through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and
breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle
of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world
of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages
dancing in my blood this moment.

—Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali, LXIX

 

Part of a whole

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Einstein – The Einstein Papers

Mother_Earth

Mother Earth