“Human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of invisible grace”. John O'Donohue

Monday, 27 February 2017

Fasting from Facebook

I have decided to delete Facebook off of my phone. It is an intention for the period of Lent, which starts on Wednesday, but because today is Monday, and yesterday was a new moon, I decided that it felt more significant to begin in a gentle way today.

My intention is to only use Facebook on my laptop, for short periods once or twice a day, and mainly for work. The Facebook App is deleted from my phone, as is the Messenger app that accompanies it. 


I am not anti technology or social media. Far from it. I love the connections that I have made and that continue to flourish because of it. 


But...


I find myself ruled by it. My basic neurology makes me prone to obsessiveness. Which, through consistent practice is something that does not blight my life in the way that it may once have done. I do not want the pattern of destructive obsessiveness  to re-establish itself in my life. I have become rather adept at heading it off at the pass, but it seems that Facebook was immune to my noticings.


In addition to the really unhelpful obsessiveness, it makes me tense and anxious and angry. I get into arguments with people I don't know on threads I should probably just ignore. I spend way to much time scrolling and not enough time working, writing, listening to music, reading, looking at things, daydreaming, and a whole bunch of other stuff that used to happen. All the time. That should happen. 


The only way is to remove it. 40 days should be long enough to break that habit. 


As part of my discipline, I will step up on other - more productive -  activities.



  • Work - obviously. 
  • Reading. For work and for pleasure. 
  • I am going to try and blog every day of Lent about how I am getting on (except Sundays when we get to have a day off from fasting) 
  • I am going to continue with Instagram, because it is creative and it makes me happy. And my intention is to post at least one photo every day.
  • Meeting and talking and hugging in person with friends as much as I can. For those who live very far away - be prepare to be Skyped. 


I will let you know how it goes.


J xxx
p.s. I am well aware of the irony that this is being shared on Facebook! 



Thursday, 23 February 2017

On Being Open

I have a particular quality that seems to hold a lot of value for people. My openness. I have been thanked for it. I have even been romantically pursued because of it.  And yet, right now, I am not totally feeling its gift to me. It is a double edged sword of integrity. 

It isn't all about my incredibly mature spiritual practice, as much as I would like for that to be the case. I think it is part of the unique neurological wiring that I was born with. The same brain that doesn't relate much to gender, that can taste music, that can't add up after midday! The mature spiritual practice is of course, also in the mix- as I mature in my own practice, my ability to stay open to others takes deeper roots. Much of that comes from my own grounded strength, that offers safely held space to bear witness for others.

With openness -  the open acceptance and deliberate and non-agenda'd witnessing of What Is, rather than what we (think we) want -  comes access to the deep truth of what it means to be in relationship with other human beings. Which is that we are, all of us, deeply complex, unique, contradictory,  flawed, beautiful, conflicted, individual souls. And we all deserve to be seen, we all deserve to be loved.  And with that truth, comes the vulnerability of having to accept that all of that is true. 

Sure, it should not be hard to accept that we deserve to be loved. But it is.  

When an awareness comes that someone not only SEES us for who we are, but is willing to ACCEPT us, suddenly the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are, and how we need to show up, are no longer needed. And without our stories we can feel extremely exposed. And despite how delightful it can feel to be really seen, no matter how safely held, when someone sees us,  really sees us, the vulnerable witnessing can often send us fleeing back into the shadow where we were not quite so visible in all of our flawed and beautiful humanness. 

I acknowledge the irony that relationships might actually be easier for me if I wasn't so open, so able to see, so willing to accept, so goddamn exposing of people. But truthfully, I can't help it. It makes me a fantastic therapist and teacher, a challenging friend and a threatening lover.  I also acknowledge that this is the challenge of the priestly path that Spirit has given me. I accept its challenge, and I am honoured by the gift of seeing, even if  - right now -  I can't say that I like it very much. 


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Buddha's Right Nipple

There's a thing in Yoga, in asana practice. It's called Drishti, which is to focus the gaze on a specific point. In some practices such as Ashtanga Vinyasa,  the drishti is prescribed for certain postures and will involve fixing the gaze on a body part such as the thumb or on the big toe, or on the third eye or the navel.   

There is a point to it. It is a way of practising sensory withdrawal (Pratyahara) and concentration (Dharana) two of the eight limbs of Yoga. The Drishti is designed to maintain your focus and stop the gaze (and the mind) from wandering - looking out of the window, or checking out the person on the mat next to you, or yourself in the mirror. It keeps the focus one-pointed. This is all very technical and I confess, at some point in my exploration of Yoga, that particular discipline of asana practice fell by the wayside. Way too prescriptive for this yogi.  


But


There's always a but.


I never gave up the focus. This is right at the heart of yoga. It is at the heart of meditation. At the heart of Prayer.  This ability to concentrate and focus the mind on a single point, and to practise coming back to that point when the mind (inevitably) wanders is one of yoga's great gifts.  Focus is what keeps us moving and breathing through our asana practice, instead of lying back and checking our phones.  Focus is what keeps us sitting, and breathing and maybe ignoring the pins and needles in our legs,  until we hear the blessed sound of the singing bowl signalling the end of the mediation. 


And yet, useful as it is, the focus is not the point of yoga.  The focus is simply part of the practice of getting to the actual Yoga. To the state of awareness that is Yoga.   It is the discipline of coming back, time and again, into remembrance of our true nature.  


Sometimes we need a lot of remembering. 


Today, in Yoga class, I  caught myself using Drishti. Gazing at the right nipple on the statue of the Buddha whilst in Tree Pose, I was grateful for such a blessed point of focus to help keep me upright and to bring me back into that remembrance.  It felt different than if I had chosen to gaze at a knot in the wood on the floor, or a dirty mark on the wall, or to try and avoid looking at the wobbling person opposite. Not because the Buddha is essentially special (although of course, he is)  Not because he was bestowing any particular blessing on me (although he does on everyone)  but because the obviousness of it, of staring at the Buddha's nipple, made me catch my own awareness, just at the moment of doing it. And the gift of awareness is never lost. (It also gave me the title for this blog which is also pretty cool.)










Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Stop

There's a line from  David Whyte's wonderful poem "Sometimes" that I used in my New Year's Day workshop that has been going round and round in my head these past couple of days...

"...Stop what you are doing right now

And stop what you are becoming while you are doing it."

Stop what you are doing right now... and stop what are becoming while you do it.

I found myself saying it yesterday to a friend who is really struggling  not to hit the self-destruct button. He is reaching out, but drawing away constantly from what he knows he needs. 

Stop. Easy to say, I know.

Such a simple invitation, to stop what you are doing. And yet profound in its seeming difficulty. Simple does not always equal easy. But the invitation to simply stop whatever it is that we are doing is available to all of us, in every moment. Just... stop. And as we stop, we also stop whatever we are becoming, whatever state of mind, spirit, being, we were moving into as we were about to engage in that activity, thought, behaviour, addiction, compulsion, reaction or projection.

Stop what you are doing, right now is firstly and invitation to simply notice what you are doing right now.  And it really only is for right now. Not forever. Forever is way too big an ask. All we have to do is notice. Right now. 

Ah - here I am checking Facebook again. 
Stop. 
Breathe. 
Do something else. 
Do nothing. 
Notice my body. 
Notice my breathing. 
Notice how it feels to NOT do the thing. 
Just notice. 
Keep noticing. 
Really move deep into that noticing. 

How can I resource myself physically and emotionally in another way?
Just for right now. 
Not forever. 
Just in this particular moment. 

How does it feel?

How do I feel?

Stop what you are becoming while you do it. 

And, as I stop doing what I am doing right now,  I am choosing to move into a state of being that is more mindful, less of a slave to the impulses of boredom, obsession, neediness, addiction, loneliness.

As I connect with my body and my breathing I can ask:

What is it that I actually need?
Connection? Company? Food? Entertainment? Stimulation? Pleasure? Relaxation? Intimacy? Love?
Is there a way, in this moment, that I  can give that to myself?
What can I do that will allow me to more fully nourish these elements in my life?
How do my close relationships nourish me?
How am I neglecting myself and others?
What am I avoiding?
What inner and outer resources can I draw on to help me meet my needs?
Who  feeds me emotionally? Who drains me?
What feeds my soul, my need for spiritual connection?

Breathe

Notice

Notice

Breathe

All is well

I got this.

And I can still choose to do the thing, in the next moment. I have that freedom. But I have also created freedom around not choosing it, even if it is only in that particular moment of choosing it. 


Stop what you are doing right now. 

And stop what you are becoming while you do it.








Monday, 23 January 2017

Reflections in the Dark

An actual picture of my car
Here I am, emerging from the dark. As we drift slowly and inevitably towards Imbolc and the shift in energy that heralds the coming end of winter, it can often feel like the dragging darkness will never end. This January has gifted me with several  opportunities  - of divinely comedic and synchronous timing - to walk my talk.  To really feel into what it means to reside in stillness and surrender to what is. I am laughing at myself as I type these words. Because I have (literally) just emerged from the darkness, having been holed up in Italy without power, light, heating or running water for the best part of a week.  It was like Spirit was saying to me, there you go, if it's stillness you want, have some for real, let's just see how you get on!

My return to Italy just happened to coincide with a massive dump of snow, and a resulting power cut and loss of water. No heating, no light, no WiFi, and the garden so densely packed with deep snow that getting my car out  (even if it wasn't completely dead) will take at least a couple of weeks of thaw. On top of that, we had four successive earthquakes that caused an avalanche in nearby Rigopiano and wiped out a hotel,  adding to the sense of being cut off and not quite... safe. The irony was the main road leading to nearby - snowless, connected and cafe ridden -  Pineto, was cleared fairly quickly.

So, I sat in the dark,  nursing my heartbreak at leaving  America two weeks earlier, leaving a love connection, and a whole bunch of people and experiences that had profoundly touched my heart and soul. I felt changed and raw and... not ready. I find transitions challenging at the best of times but this. This...

It was like being dragged from my bed, my comfortable place of safety and warmth, in the middle of the night, and dragged out into a floodlit field. I had nestled so quickly and easily into familiarity in Colorado, that the shift felt so stark and unwanted that I struggled to return to my - normally easily located - centre.

Long haul flights and jet lag are generally not conducive to speedy self-regulation and the week that followed exists in a blur of sleep and tears. However, in an inspired act of  pre-emptive radical self care, I had managed to book myself onto a two day Yoga Nidra course in London the weekend before flying out to Italy. The experience was profound, so so needed and like dropping back into myself. Like dropping back into the womb of God. I felt so held and deeply healed. Exactly what I needed before a week in the dark, despite not knowing in advance that I was actually going to have a week in the dark!

What do you do  in the dark?

Well, I will tell you.

You sleep, a lot. Too much. Going to bed at 7:30 pm because it's dark and candle light is too weak to read by. This is what our ancestors did. An entirely different rhythm. If you are like me, you also cry. Tears and tears and more tears. Of loss, and  boredom and frustration. And, if it's your inclination you pray. Mostly that the cell reception will return. But other more profound stuff too. And you reflect. Mostly on how shit things are, and all the mistakes you have ever made. Ever.

But mostly?... Nothing... A lot of absolutely nothing.

And I thought about the early monks on Iona, living in their cells. Battered by the wind and rain. And praying.  And the yogis in their Himalayan caves, Sitting.

What did they do?

Nothing. They did nothing. And in the nothing they came face to face with themselves, and in turn face to face with God.

It is unavoidable.

It really is.







Sunday, 1 January 2017

New Year's Day offerings

A Morning Offering ~ John O'Donohue

I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.
All that is eternal in me
Welcome the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.
I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.
May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

* * * * * * * * * *
Our theme for meditation and intention setting  - the questions that have no right to go away. Inspired by  David Whyte's poem Sometimes. 

Sometimes ~ David Whyte 

Sometimes
if you move carefully
through the forest

breathing
like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
and

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

questions
that can make
or unmake
a life,

questions
that have patiently
waited for you,

questions that have no right
to go away.

* * * * * * * * * * 

The Ten Questions That Have No Right To Go Away


1) Do I know how to have real conversation?
2) What can I be wholehearted about?
3) Am I harvesting from this year’s season of life?
4) Where is the temple of my adult aloneness?
5) Can I be quiet—even inside?
6) Am I too inflexible in my relationship to time?
7) How can I know what I am actually saying?
8) How can I drink from the deep well of things as they are?
9) Can I live a courageous life?
10) Can I be the blessed saint that my future happiness will always remember?

What To Remember When Waking ~ David Whyte 
In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?


And here is a TEDx video of David Whyte talking about the conversational nature of reality...


1. Life at the Frontier: The Conversational Nature of Reality



Friday, 30 December 2016

Resolving to be Grateful

I don't bother so much with the December/January thing. In my Celtic way the transition between Samhain and Imbolc seems much more significant. But still, the end of another calendar year is significant, for most of us. That time when we inevitably take stock, review, feel our regrets, our loves, our losses, our heartbreaks, our failures and successes.

And we think about all the things we would like to change.

Often these desires manifest as New Year's Resolutions...

...That we will inevitably break.

Instead of making New Year's Resolutions I always urge waiting to attempt any manifestation of our intentions until Imbolc (2nd Feb) when the energy of the year is more ripe for change. And I suggest that New Year is a good time  for a gratitude practice, as well as setting intention.  It is all too easy to list the things that we have been unwelcome in our year. My previous blog addresses this focus on the negative. But  we can, and perhaps should remember, appreciate and feel gratitude for some of the good things.

And there have been good things.

Really.

Even  if I can't think of anything to be positively grateful for  - and that would be a bad day - I can at least notice the things that am grateful NOT to be experiencing. An exercise in perspective. I am not, for example, fleeing from the ashes of my bombed out home, or trying to keep warm on sub zero streets, or wondering where my next meal is going to come from.  I am lucky. I am warm and safe and fed and I have people who love me.

And yet, in moments that end of the year sadness hits me. Here I am, still on the move, a (technically) homeless couch (to be fair - usually comfy bed) surfer.  I am feeling this deeply right now as rootlessness. And a rising sadness greets me as having failed to land at the end of ANOTHER year. But  I am  so so grateful to be enjoying the generosity (and testing the patience no doubt) of some people who care about me enough to offer me a bed and shelter.  And yet, in most of my wanderings I have felt received, and met and safe.

And so comes another wave of gratitude.

So I urge you, as we meet the turn of another year. A year which has seemed to many to be worse than other years, to notice, and be grateful.

Here are some of the things I have been grateful for this year. What are yours?

In no particular order
  1. My (daft, bonkers, amazing) family who are always there for me. 
  2. The  healthcare received this year by my Mother courtesy of our  Scottish National Health Service. She is alive and well and benefitting from FREE prescription medicines. Long may that continue. 
  3. The physical and financial freedom to travel and experience new places, people, languages, cultures, and food. 
  4. My healthy body that moves and breathes and DOES THINGS.
  5. Yoga, dance and other embodiment practices that help me to remember No. 4
  6. My beautiful friends who love and care about me. Those who I have known for a long time, and those who I have just met. You are my chosen family and I love you.
  7. In particular those friends who have offered me space and shelter and work this year. Thank you. So. Much.
  8. My work. I love to work. I am so grateful to know things that I can share with others who want to know what I know. 
  9. For love. Just love. 
  10. The Spirit in whom I live and move and have my being.
And so so much more that I resolve to remember daily.