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

Friday, 29 June 2018

Capuccino Preacher

There is a man in the coffee shop
(There's always a man) 
who knows who Jesus is.
He says that the devil is
attacking his companion,
and quotes scripture.
Quite ready to separate the
chosen from the damned.

He orders a coffee
"for this young lady"
-  a middle aged woman
in a yellow dress -  
who smiles. 

"Jesus said..."

I'm thinking - 
that's not what he meant.
But we all want to feel
better about our
shame. The same
shame compelling him 
to steer others
towards salvation.  

Thursday, 7 June 2018

How much is that well-being in the window?

Found Poetry - Facebook Ads

Discover the secrets
of health
and serenity

It’s all about
carefree days
on the beach


Your video

Your logo

Your brand

and freedom
from fear

All it takes
is a little

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Filing for Divorce from Yoga

When I was twenty one (twenty nine years ago this year)  I picked up a book at a car boot sale. It was a book on yoga in which all the black and white images  were line drawn pictures or photos of people in leotards and footless tights.  For 20p, and hoping from some insights into my anxiety,  I took home The original Sivananda Companion to Yoga, and my first self directed yoga lesson. And the journey began. I did everything the book said, earnestly. 

A decade later - after a brief and interesting fling with Tai Chi - a more serious study of yoga emerged. By this time, I had added  early morning Yogazone classes on  Sky TV to my self practice (in the days when I still owned a telly!) Don't laugh - those classes were really good!  I remember lying in supta bada konasana one day, and feeling something very deep and very profound "happen" in my body. I know more now about what that was, but it was enough to send me on a much deeper search. 

I joined a yoga class just as yoga - fuelled by Sting and Madonna -  was becoming popular. I hated it. It was an Iyengar class and nothing like I had been doing on my living room carpet. (I didn't know about yoga styles then) but I  persevered. In 2004,  I ended up in India.

I came back a yoga teacher! This hadn't been my intention. I had gone just wanted to immerse myself in "proper" yoga. And it was quite an immersion, with a nice dose of unknown Indian lurgy and a ten kilo weight loss thrown into the mix. But was life changing. And career changing. I go as far as to say it saved my life.  This is not hyperbole. It really did. 

A further teacher training followed, and countless other trainings and immersions and qualifications. And a path of wanting to teach and share the yoga that had saved my life. I began specialising in yoga for cancer and made it my job to teach others to offer this deeply needed work. Healing Space was born. For me Yoga was and has always been, a path of love. 

And one day (I can't pinpoint when) One day, everything changed. Well actually not quite a day (poetic license) but whatever changed, changed pretty quickly.  And the whatever was this: 
1. The popularity of yoga leading to an overwhelming number of teacher trainings that churn out overwhelming numbers of yoga teachers, of varying levels of competence. 
2. The rampant consumerism of the £70 billion global yoga "industry" that makes ridiculous overpriced and ethically questionable products, making a lot of money for somebody, but certainly not for most of my fellow yoga teachers. 
3. The constant fighting and bickering among the overwhelming numbers of yoga teachers about what yoga is, who started it, who owns it, who stole it, how to do it, why we should do it, why we shouldn't be doing it, why it's dangerous, why it is culturally appropriative, why it promotes abuse culture, who is an abuser or charlatan or cult leader who MUST BE EXPOSED (and who's next on the list!) and whether it can legitimately be called Yoga at all. 
4. An evolution into the rampant, abusive, take-down frenzied stinking troll-pit that used to be the (relatively) benign social hangout that is Facebook.  

And the final thing that changed, was my relationship to yoga because of all of this. I got sucked in. I have spent way too many hours  - when I could and should have been practising or teaching or writing or singing or gardening - arguing with other yogis online about all of this shite. I have grown fearful - terrified actually - and argumentative, I have risked friendships and I have been unkind. I have been much, much less than the best version of myself. 

 All I ever wanted to do was spread the love.  For me, it was never really about the shapes, it was always about the opportunity simply to be in a space with other human beings and offer unconditional presence. It was just a way to do that. My teaching - like my parallel path to priesthood - has always been about the healing. And do you know what? I can continue to do that without all of this other crap. I don't want to live in fear and tension and to feel any scrap of bitterness a moment longer. 

So I am filing for divorce. It should be amicable. There is still love there. But I don't think we can live together any more. 

What does this mean in practicality?  
  • My own personal spiritual and physical practice will remain unchanged. No doubt, freed of the burdens of constant exhausting, pointless discourse, it shall improve greatly. Will I call it Yoga? I don't think it cares. 
  • will continue to offer Healing Space -  in new and improved formats. 
  • I will write. A lot. A book. Poetry. A 30,000 word Masters dissertation.
  •  I shall pursue the neglected path of priest, healer and minister that  - for reasons of self doubt and a disabling preoccupation with social media -  has been too long in the shadow. This will be my priority. A retreat is required.
And I will be here. 

EDIT 31-05-18

I have realised that another big reason, probably the biggest reason, I have reached this decision is one of integrity. I realise,  even after nearly thirty years of practice, that I am actually not qualified to teach Yoga. And in fact, nobody is! And nobody has the authority to say that someone is - despite the attempts to presume such authority. 

Let me explain. When I talk about Yoga (with a capital Y) I am talking about centuries-old esoteric practices. These practices have been reduced -  in a beautifully packaged and acceptably palatable Western way - to significantly less that their component parts.  Into the hands of qualified yoga teachers (and other wellness practitioners) come deeply vulnerable people: the traumatised; the depressed; the injured; the addicted. And - shored up by qualifications - we often promise something we simply cannot deliver.  I believe that yoga has profound ability to heal, but I think that is more often than not,  despite the yoga teachers, not because of them. Yes - many yoga teachers are otherwise qualified, sometimes ridiculously overqualified (myself among them) but in truth, who - when looking for a yoga class - really knows the difference?

It is falling on its arse. And about time. 

Friday, 25 May 2018

Deep Fried Mars Bars and other poetry about Scottish stereotypes

(This week I have been exploring cultural stereotypes)


The reason you cannot understand me
is not my accent.
It's that I am always drunk,
and lost several teeth in a fight.
The others crumbled after thirty years of
drinking Irn Bru for breakfast.


Do we hate the English?
No, why on earth would we hate them?
It's not like they killed anybody,
or made their language illegal,
or banned them from making music,
or stopped them wearing the kilt.

It's not as though they burned
people's houses down,
put sheep and deer on their land,
and then shipped them off to Canada,
and expected them to be grateful
for the new start.

Nothing like that.

Tight - A Haiku 

God forgive the Scot
who's good at mathematics.
I blame Adam Smith.

Deep Fried Mars Bars

Aye the tourists love them!
Aw that authentic tartan cholesterol.
Gies them a wee laugh
Aboot how shite oor diet is.
Aye, we like a laugh.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The Artists and the Bees

What if you knew someone who is a really talented artist? This artist is autistic and struggles to cope with even ordinary day to day tasks. He never sells any of his work, and relies on benefits, and on occasional handouts from his family. All he wants to do is paint. And it's all he is really good at. Promoting is work is so foreign to him, that it gives him panic attacks just thinking about it. (Based on a current, real story)

You may well be thinking: Well this person is clearly a burden on society and should be offered help to develop his social and coping skills so as to be less of a drain. I am sure he could get a job somewhere. A local cafe that supports disabled people, or something.

What if I describe another artist in a similar situation? This artist has severe mental health issues and is prone to self-harm. He struggles to cope with even ordinary day to day tasks. He rarely sells any of his work, and doesn't charge enough for what he does sell. He relies on charity, and occasional handouts from his family. He spends most of it on alcohol. All he wants to do is paint. And it's all he is really good at. Promoting his work is utterly foreign to him.

Did you guess I was describing Van Gogh? Does that change things? Would it have been better for the world if Van Gogh had just got a proper job?

Another (real, current) situation. A healer/body-worker I know. Utterly gifted. Almost magical in their hands-on intuitive ability to make people feel better. Cannot even begin to figure out how to get people to come and be healed by them, unless they are simply given the opportunity to just do it (which happens sometimes, and sometimes doesn't) 

My point?

There are some people whose particular brand of brilliance means that they need help with the other stuff. Without this help, their talent is lost. Until they are dead and someone else becomes a millionaire selling their work, of course. I believe that it is our responsibility to help. Society's I mean.

There is a danger, in sharing this, that people will think I am being a victim. It almost feels like a crime nowadays to admit to having difficulty without it being perceived as self-pity, and something that surely I should have dealt with via a self-help book or a course, or some life coaching or something, in order to overcome the unacceptable weakness of Not Being Very Good at Something. Because this is what I feel we have come to. A socially exploitable level of vulnerability is good, but there is a point at which people think you're taking the piss.

I have had several conversations lately which I could summarise as suggesting that a lack of success (and in this context we are talking about the standard ideas of recognition and making money) is simply down to hard work. And the rest is about good marketing, and talent. I am somewhat bought into this myself. I come from West of Scotland working class work ethic. Want something done properly - ask a Glaswegian. Including fighting your wars for you (another topic!)

If hard work was all that was required, my family would have been millionaires - not subject to the grinding poverty that some of my ancestors faced. If hard work and proper marketing were all that was required, I would not be counting pennies in the way that I have had to recently. If talent was all that was required - My God - so many of the artists and poets and healers I know would be rolling around right now in £50 notes.

I am calling MASSIVE bullshit. I think we are being sold - in fact (let's rid ourselves of the language of conspiracy) we are selling each other - a huge, godawful mistaken lie. The lie is a multi-fold and inter-dynamic tapestry of little lies that are just enough truth, just enough real for us to believe them, that we happily buy into the bigger lie believing it to be "just the way things are."

The lie? That everything is entirely within our personal capability to change it.

Yup - right now, your cognitive dissonance is firing on all cylinders. This is what we all believe. For the past century or so, a culture which evolved out of the enlightenment belief in personal responsibility has been morphing into something more akin to a cult of individualism. Based in a fundamental belief that we are ultimately only responsible to and for ourselves, and that we have, within our power, the ability to change, be, do and become anything we want.

Now, I love social media and  the wealth of opportunities for knowledge and connection it offers, but there is a world within it that is fuelling this syndrome in a deeply unhealthy way. It paints and punts a version of reality that is entirely designed to make us feel like everyone else is happier, having more fun, eating better food, is more spiritual and is generally more successful than we are. This causes a stress of "not doing enough" which - let me get cynical for a moment - requires us to spend money on certain platforms to promote ourselves enough to get noticed. Our pain is someone else's profit.

This (really) is how it works. If you don't believe me, there are people way higher up the social media nerd-chain than I am, who would agree with me.

I have spent the best part of a year attempting to make myself more visible. Doing painful, out of character things - Facebook Live for God's sake! - In order to build more range. It has been very helpful. It has also been exhausting. And I am conscious, all the time, of it being such a supreme fucking effort that actually it often drags me away from doing the actual work. And I am conscious, all of the time, that those who manage to make themselves more visible than everyone else are those who are successful (in our already established definition of the word) Now, this is not universally true, because I know several successful people - and I count my own teachers among them - who are also incredibly talented, and who are good enough and have been around the block enough to have carved out their niche.

But I could offer several examples of writers, coaches, artists, facilitators, yoga teachers... who may not be the best, or even actually very good or very knowledgeable at what they do, but have somehow managed to ride a particular wave and gather enough visibility to get noticed. The modern phenomenon of the celebrity yoga teacher is a good example. These people have agents, who do a fantastic job.

What these folk - or their agents - seem to be supremely good at is noticing a gap, or a trend, or a particular pattern. They have been good at sidling into an opportunity, spotting the right people that might help them, using hashtags, looking "the part" or changing their hair/style/body to look the part, being extravert enough, brave enough, and spending enough time and precious energy - or paying someone to do it - in constant, consistent and quality self-promotion, that eventually everyone loves them, or hates them. But at least they're visible right? Then, if they have enough energy left, they might be able to do the actual work they were promoting in the first place. Which I suppose is another quality - energy and tenacity. This isn't just hard work, it's hard sell. It's hard, constant, perpetual, exhausting self-promotion. It exhausts me just describing it.

Hands up. I am crap at this. Not the whole process. I am good at some of the elements of it. I make brilliant flyers and social media posts and - surface level - seem to do all the right things, but there is something fundamentally missing from my understanding of how these things work, that it always goes adrift. This is possibly, although not necessarily, due to being autistic, but the thing about neurodiversity is that no matter how many new skills, coping strategies, and mindfulness techniques I learn, I will still always be utterly crap at certain things. At my fundamental core, there is a whole aspect to this game that my brain cannot make sense of, and it doesn't matter how often you try and make me get it. I won't. I really won't. 

Of course non-autistic people have this too. My friend Steve, a brilliant salesperson, ideas person, bringer together of skills and talents, and committed socialpreneur is - by his own very loud and almost boastful admission - crap at admin. He loathes it. Whilst Steve can make almost literally anything happen, will always remember deadlines or details, and is happy to put pen to paper for poetry, he is very unlikely to meet a deadline that involves putting something important down on a piece of paper. He hates filing and would rather outsource taking minutes. It would be pointless to make him try, and it is a waste of his time. And because he understands this, he knows that it makes more sense to pay someone else to do it for him.

Really, what I need is someone who can sell my work, so that I can just do the work. But of course, without the work, I can't afford to pay someone to sell it for me. You see the problem! We live in a transactional society, not a supportive community. Last week, I took on a part time job in the local pub. Because, despite my outrageous degree of over qualification, if I don't work, I don't eat. And my yoga classes are, literally, costing me money right now. I am not proud. The pub is full, and they have money to pay other people. They need help. It is a pleasant place to work. And I can pull a pint. Easy transaction. But seriously. Here is a photo of (some of) my certificates, just for a little context.

This is not a pity party. Part of me is really amused by this picture, especially by the degree scroll perching on top, teasing all the other more rectangular certificates with it hidden Latin pronouncement of Magistrum Artium. They are laughing at it.  I should have it printed on a T-shirt to wear in the pub. It's hilarious.

And it isn't just me. My blog £5 back in October got record reads, shares and comments by people in the same boat. It is simply not possible for everyone to be successful in our measure of it. The system is not designed that way! Some people have to fail in order for others to succeed. And the only way for it to be different is for us to do it differently.

How would it be if we could all do the things we are good at most of the time? (I am not talking about things we don't like doing but are OK at and are essential - like emptying the bins!) we would get so much more done. Be less stressed, have less stress related illness and time off work, and generally be more relaxed and happy. What could possibly be bad about that?

However, in order for this to work, we would have to help other people to do the things that they are not good at, and, fundamentally, make sure that they are cared for (housed, fed, not left to freeze on the street, that sort of thing) in the process.

Steady on. That sounds like... socialism! Yes. Yes, it does. It also sounds very much like the things that Jesus said. And Buddha. It  could be socialism, it could be Christianity, it could be Buddhism. It could just be... community.

I am not remotely interested in the Left/Right analysis of this social stance. But I do accept that everything is political. Brand me as you will. This is what I know: That the idea that we are all individuals entirely responsible for ourselves is a lie. A big, fat, juicy and very successful lie. We are all, every single one of us, animals and plants and trees included, all part of the same ecosystem. All part of the one (still) breathable atmosphere.

We are so interconnected that losing just one species (bees) will literally wreck everything! I also believe that this extends beyond the physical and into the spiritual connection. We are connected because we are essentially part of the same conscious whole. This individual that you think you are is at an illusion. If you don't believe that, then you have to at least agree that it you are at least temporary!

Like the bees, we also desperately need the artists, the musicians, the poets, the healers, the storytellers and the weirdos. You need me to be doing the work I am qualified for and not pulling pints in the local. You need all the other people like me: the wise, experienced folk who know things. You need us. Not so very long ago, such people would have had a role in their communities - as bard, or storyteller, as healer, herbalist, shaman, scribe, elder. 

 Not so very long ago, people lived in communities where jobs were done according to the abilities of the people who did them. I believe it is our job, as members of the communities we are part of, to not only support and mentor our colleagues and friends, but to actively share our talents, to promote each other's work, to help those who are struggling, by doing the things we are good at and allowing them to do the things they are good at.

And hopefully someone will make the tea. 

In fact, I’ll do it. Just don’t make me do it as a Facebook Live!