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

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Right of Way

We dodge the sun-baked horse shit in the middle of the road. The dog stopping to pee every few yards.  Frequent yellow trickles marking nettle leaves as a warning, or a calling card for errant labradors and the occasional spaniel. We are flanked by grass and horses. all of the fields round here are used to grow horses, not food. Acres of ownership of the ground we stand on. The hedgerows, iconic, mark the boundaries. The last harbours of diversity, they are ancient markers of history and terrain and the privilege of using land only to keep animals as playthings. 

A morning walk holds all of this for me. It is supposed to be relaxing, healing, good for me. And it is beautiful, this archetypal English country scene. There are moments when a gap in the hedgerow lets the early morning sunlight through in such a way as to catch my breath.  But this morning, for some reason, the boundaries are the thing I notice. A rabbit slips through a hole in the hedge, across the road, and through another hole on the other side. The dog barely notices, his nose has more important business. He and the rabbit have different territories to our fields and hedges and roads. The edges of their terrain, nebulous to us, are marked out fluently, as molecules in piss and shit.  

I am not locked out of the fields. I can, if I choose, climb a stile and follow a way-marked path. The dog wants to - he is following a well-worn route - and digs his heels in. I stand at the fence and gaze over the field with its line of oaks. The trees that once covered the land are now just beautiful punctuation.  

But today, the boundaries feel too real, too there, too much like us and them. And I know today - fuelled no doubt by the news, and social media - that I am them

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Om Bhagawan (chant)

Om Bhagawan Sri Bhagawan Om Bhagawan Sri Bhagawan Ananda Bhagawan Sat-Chit-Ananda Bhagawan

Blessed be the Holy One who is Sat Chit Ananda - Existence, Consciousness and Bliss.

Monday, 24 June 2019

The Yoga Divorce - a year on!

“We are here to witness the creation and to abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other.… Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house."― Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and your transformation

It has been a while. 

And as I sit here and begin to type, I am still not entirely sure I have anything to say. This is where I should probably tell you about how busy I have been, and about all the challenges I have been facing, and supply you with a list of reasons or excuses for not being present. It's not that all of those things are not real, or relevant. Much has indeed been happening.  Busy-ness, or at least the illusion of it that we like to subscribe to, has most definitely been experienced.  

It isn't even that I haven't been present. It is just that I haven't been present in the digital spaces where you may have been used to encountering me. Presence has many qualities, and part of my experience over the past few months has been about encountering myself - and presence -  in other spaces, other contexts.  I have been just being, and practising being with just being. Sometimes that looks a lot like sleeping. Certainly a lot of sleeping has occurred. Tiredness is one of the things I have been experiencing. A lot of tiredness. Physical tiredness, and deep, gut-deep sigh inducing exhaustion with - well - everything. 

Surely being, presence, doesn't have to be this hard? Like grinding exhaustion hard? It doesn't. We mistake visibility for presence. At what point did I (and I suspect many of you) accept the constant, grinding, exhausting necessity of constant  visibility and self-promotion as OK? Oh - 
I know it's NORMAL. But that is not the same thing as OK. There are a lot of cultural norms that could do with a review. Neither am I talking about the equally commodified phenomenon of Self-Care. The best self-care I have discovered is simply allowing myself to NOT do half the things I was doing. I don't need to give anybody any more money to give me permission to stop abusing myself.  

Just over a year ago I divorced yoga. What I was touching on then, and what I have  encountered deeply in the past year is the internally absorbed feeling of urgency that I needed to somehow find a way to market, promote or sell myself: my life; my practice. And to put a price on almost everything that gives me joy, connection, pleasure, spiritual sustenance, peace... 

I didn't absorb it out of nowhere. There is a whole apocalyptic beast of an industry manufacturing the conditions that I became so deeply enmeshed in. (Matthew Remski writes skillfully about some of the cultural aspects of this, and the phenomenon of the "aspirational self" in this article and others )

What occurred, during and after the divorce, was akin to a detox. A violent purge of all sorts of habits and influences and even people that  resulted in  a lifestyle as close to hermeticism as I could probably manage given that I am in a committed relationship and still choose to go out of the house to earn money.

Some of the things I committed to in that slightly over dramatic blog post (but still my most read and lauded!) have actually happened! I am surprised. Goal setting was never a strength.  I am deep in study for ordained Interfaith ministry. Certainly, the richness of my personal encounters and realisations can be attributed to the ongoing depth and challenge of that work. But encountering the depths has made me resistant to the shallows. And allergic to anything (and anyone) that has even a sniff of  abuse, cultishness, charlatanry, self aggrandisement, lies or hollow promises. 

Which is quite a lot of stuff. 
I will never be an "influencer" (the idea makes me be sick in my mouth)

I do not exclude myself from this critique by the way. Part of my brutal self-examination has been about my relationship with the yoga and wellness industry. There is a lot to unpack. I have no stomach for it (the industry) now. But the yoga industry is not Yoga. Last month -the anniversary of my divorce - I retreated to an Ashram and spent some time in deep reconnection with my practice. Many years ago, in an Ashram of the same lineage, I touched the depth of what a yoga practice can (should) be. It was a simple yet potent reminder of why I started practising in the first place. It is in that spirit that I have been gently exploring ways to continue to offer what I teach that feels palatable, doable, healthy and in support of my values:  sustainability, inclusion, community, honesty, kindness. Love. And absolutely no bullshit. 

I recognise I come with a tall order and very little ability to compromise. For that reason, I find spaces like Facebook have become almost intolerable. I wander in sometimes and seek out the uplifting stuff, but if I post anything of my own I usually come out feeling assaulted. Some compromise is good, but when we begin to compromise our basic values, we are contributing to abuse of self and of others. Not OK.

I will end with a free gift for you. Stop abusing yourself. Do less. Rest more. Stay off of Facebook. Please do not pay anybody to tell you that. It is worth only the amount of love that motivates me to say it. 

Love ( and I mean it!) 
Jude 💗

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Shame, Old Maps , Loving Yourself and Being Loved - Second Sunday in Lent

"When our instinctual life is shamed, the natural core of our life is bound up. It’s like an acorn going through excruciating agony for becoming an oak, or a flower feeling ashamed for blossoming"  John Bradshaw

A theme that has been to the fore for me in the first week of Lent is shame.  I have been doing a lot of reading on healing trauma and shame (prompted by my Interfaith Ministry studies) and it coincides with Lent. Fasting, alms giving and prayer are at the heart of a season that focuses on forgiveness and repentance. A tricky old word that one - repentance. It provokes a visceral reaction in me that immediately presses several deep-set shame buttons. Like a bony  medieval finger pointing to an innately sinful self. 

Which is of course, bullshit. Nobody is born or is innately sinful, or shameful. We learned to be ashamed because our authentic selves were taught to feel that way.  Whether we were brought up religious or not, the disciplinarian pedagogy  (straight out of a medieval feudal model) to which most of us were exposed, in the home and in education, reflects  the religious one that survived for many centuries. There are few of us that have survived with our healthy and protective shame intact.  

Bring that toxic shame into the 21st century and welcome the mostly secular and often pseudo-spiritual wellness "industry" which I believe is often guilty of perpetuating the shame cycle.  There are phrases that you hear repeated and peddled in the spiritual and wellness circles that I move in, that have become so ubiquitous that we don't question them. A  self-orientated folklore, the myths of which are recycled in oh so many flowery memes.

On the surface they look and seem encouraging and validating. In truth, I feel there is something uncomfortably sinister lurking at the heart of each of these assertions that actually have the potential to make us all feel like shit. 

Mostly they are around the idea of self care, self love, self control, self esteem, self belief (self, self self...) The idea that in doing something about ourselves (and by implication our innate wrongness) then "things" will get better...? One of the most insidious example of this, for me, is this.  


(before you can love/be loved by another)

It is a misquote (and out of context misinterpretation) of something said by Leo Buscaglia.  He had a lot of wonderful stuff to say about love, which included ways of loving others as the path to loving the self. It's true. Memes, like isolated passages of scripture are never really helpful indicators of context. 

In my view, and in the ways in which I heard it said, it cuts directly to the heart of shame. 

HERE is the reason nobody loves you
you don't love yourself!
It's your fault
You are inherently bad/wrong/flawed/unworthy

In truth, this statement is not loving at all. It is one of shame based self-loathing and unintentional shaming by those who say it.

No "project" designed to make you love yourself is going to work outside of loving relationships with others and with God (or your understanding of the Universal Reality). That way lies narcissism. And herein lies the more insidious nature of this new age myth. The love yourself project is BIG business. What else can get us to spend money on ourselves than the idea that we are supposed to love ourselves more, and don't?

What is important is not to love yourself, but to KNOW that you are loved. And inherent in this, is the acceptance that you are worthy of love. Spot the difference? There is nothing to do or buy in this transaction. It is more of a gentle turn towards the realisation that love, by its very nature, is our very nature, because it is the nature of Existence. Our true inheritance. It is not something that we can choose to do to ourselves. 

In the suggestion that we don't love ourselves enough - like the idea that we are innately flawed -  we feel (a)shamed. And shame does nothing but feed on itself.  We cannot act on the instruction to love ourselves more because we are prevented - in the very instruction -  by the shame of not loving ourselves enough! 

Which brings us back to the idea of sin. Because, THIS is where we get these ideas- so locked into our cultural belief patterns that we don't even question them.

Sin and Repentance are two of the most repeated words in the Bible. And they are also the two most mistranslated words in the Bible.

In the New Testament both words were originally written in ancient Greek as follows: 

Sin = ἁμαρτία = hamartia  which means  "missing the mark" (like when an archer misses a target)

repentance = μετάνοια  = Metanoia which means  "changing one's mind"

Repenting from ones sins literally means changing  things we have been doing that are not good for us. Missing the mark suggests going off course. Repentance means trying out a different map. A better one. A more up to date one, with all of the new landmarks on it. Not a medieval one directing us from one heavily defended castle to the next.  

Why on Earth are we still using that map?
Here be dragons?

What if, instead, we think about navigating - with our new map - ever so gently, and in the spirit of moving towards acceptance, back onto the path of Love?

The old map was never accurate, and Love was never really that far away. 

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Fasting, Addiction and Urgency - First week in Lent

My reflections have taken a different turn this Lent. I started out as I have done in previous years, with the daily picture and Haiku and then after last Sunday (the first Sunday in Lent) - nothing. It might have something to do with fasting from Facebook. I am not looking at, posting, or interacting on Facebook for the whole of the period of Lent. And so there is less inclination to share what I have been oberving, noticing and thinking about...

(...Reflection on whether I really need to...)

A sense of urgency and FOMO (Fear of missing out) has definitely been there for me. And in the abstinence, I am even more away of the addictive nature of how I use the medium. It fills an emotional need (as all addictions do) that is temporary and  - ultimately -  makes me feels worse (as all addictions do!)

It has been an interesting start. I have Chrome set up on my laptop to open Facebook automatically as a tab, and I haven't reset it yet. There is something vaguely satisfying about allowing the tab to open, and then deliberately and consciously closing it down  - only briefly glancing the 91 unread notifications! 

(...Watching my smugness...)

The percepetion of need is deeply embodied. I feel the itch to see what they are, and refuse to scratch. As I write this, I notice an uncomfortable feeling in my belly, a bit like hunger, and the urge to eat instead of scroll.

And I breathe.