Saturday, 29 August 2015

Cliff-Top Space

I wonder if you too get an almost inexpressible feeling on a grassy cliff-top looking out and down across the sea, hearing the stiff breeze in your ears and the sound of the sea way below you? It's a particular state of mind - state of being, I'd say.

I guess it relates to the great and empty space before you, the absence of other people. It's very beautiful - but what does that mean?

It brings on that mental state of being right in the present,  of being in unity with... It all. A state that can't be willed; it's there all the time. The sea, the breeze, the grasses and wild-flowers, the space and distance - they absorb the stuff that usually gets between It and me.

(A mobile phone video is a pretty feeble reminder, but it's better than nothing. And in human terms, nothing is what happens in this little clip, which is rather the point.)

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Time and Growing Children

It's a commonplace amongst families that the time of a child's growing-up seems to have passed so quickly, once they are young adults, even though it can seem to last for ages during their childhood.

So we want to preserve their appearance, their delightful sayings, their innocent essence. We click away with our cameras and videos, and we store hundreds and hundreds of photos.

Parents often say with regret that they want to preserve their delight at childish utterances, facial expressions, happy days. "The time is passing," we say, "I don't want it to go," even though we know we will value their growing whilst it happens, at every stage. We can't, and we wouldn't want, to freeze time as in a photo. We know really that life is growth and change.

We know in our hearts that however many photos we take, this preservation can't actually be done. It is wonderful to have some photos to look back on as we grow older. But we are looking at them in the present moment every time we do so, and re-constructing our memories even whilst we "revisit" them. (Memory is not a static set of files waiting to be revisited, the neuroscientists tell us.) 

It is their transience that makes childhoodisms so uniquely delightful, and I think in our hearts we know this, as we focus, for example, on a grandson opening a birthday card. I still quote childhood sayings from our daughters. Here are a few recent Leoisms:

(to his brother): "Your feet smell of stink." 
(to his grandfather, first thing in the morning) "Where have your eyes gone Grandpa?"
(and my favourite, on a walk which was clearly a bit too long for him): "I've runned out of strong."

We treasure such, we carry them forward down the years for all our family - and it's their transience that makes us treasure them.


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Loving-kindness meditation?

One of the things that mindfulness meditation carried across into the West from Buddhist practices is a concentration on loving-kindness, on compassion.

I had a bit of a problem with meditating specifically on loving-kindness, right from the start. I felt I couldn't aim a meditation at it, it seemed too deliberate, somehow. This was especially true when we were asked to think of someone with whom we had fallen out, or someone we didn't like now and never had.

I was greatly relieved to read stuff by a teacher of meditation who ackowledges the difficulty of thinking compassionate thoughts about someone we don't like, and offers a much more productive route. 

This isn't (just) me being old and cynical. Any increase in compassion from me towards fellow-creatures arises as a by-product of meditating, I'm sure of that. It's not been as a direct result of meditating on loving-kindness per se.

Ezra Bayda 

is the author of a book that I greatly value: "Being Zen: Bringing Meditation to Life."

(If you don't like the "idea" of Zen, worry not - he hardly mentions Zen or Buddhism in general.)

He wants to fuse meditate with the rest of our lives. It's not always a comfortable thing, because it involves much examination of our thoughts about the self - rigorous if followed, and very helpful too. But the last part of the book is about loving-kindness meditations that just might work, even for me. 

And that's because he is entirely alert to the dangers of pasting "may I feel compassionate towards X" on top of actual feelings such as "who I actually think is a bit of a shit." 

I'm not going to stop thinking he's a bit of a shit because for a few meditating minutes I am trying to think differently about him, and extend something as abstract as "loving-kindness." I don't have much kindness for him at present; I might one day, but it'll be a long road. This book is, for me, that road.

Bayda works you towards a point where you might actually be able to extend the range of kindness that you feel, firstly towards yourself and then growing carefully from that, towards someone dear to you, and then to some more people. 

Perhaps even one day, to that shit X! That would be good, because such negative thoughts and feelings are, after all, ultimately self-defeating. It's surely better for each of us and all of us to feel an informed and unsentimental compassion when we can, instead of revisiting hurts and anger.

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Crowded Self

(An exploratory sort of post -  thinking aloud, if you'll pardon me.)

Here's AL Kennedy reminding us wittily that each of us is a plurality, not a single thing. To function in society I need to feel I is one thing. I knows that I changes over time - the wrinkles, the memories of playing squash a long time ago - but I is still one I, separate from you and everything Other, I seem to need to believe.

But I is seethingly multiple. 
The world moves through I each second, and I responds in ways the busy conscious self often hardly notices. Self often rides rough-shod over these responses, signals, changes, and doing so can make I ill.

The illusion of an entirely separate self, fortress I, seems to this I to be fundamentally mistaken and potentially dangerous. I needs to belong, to relate, to feel part of all Other. That is the only way to be a true individual - not to believe I is one.

That realisation - living in that understanding - doesn't make I weak. It feels very free, sometimes scary, and sometimes difficult because of how we live and how we grew up (or not.)

So thanks ALK for further understandings of what I is, and is not.

Another prompt and revelation from the Eden Project, a place that feeds.

I and the rest of the world is the same stuff, although I is in a particular formation, a unique events sequence.  I is not what I needs to think I is most of the time, but "you must have to see clear sometimes." This I needs to meditate to find that clarity for a little while.