Life Boats and other important stuff from Retreat

This post is especially for those who encouraged me to go on retreat, the Monks and Nuns who imparted great wisdom, and everyone else who has been a part of my new life over the last 2 years.

Today I want to share my thoughts on the answer to a question I asked on retreat with Ajahn Dtun at Wat Buddha Dhamma just last week. My question was “How does one gain wisdom when deciding how to balance looking after the body and the mind, when the two responsibilities seem to be at odds.” For example, whether or not to go on retreat with a chronic illness, when the process of gaining spiritual teaching and merit, contributes to the illness. Ajahn Dtun had mentioned many times already that people who are sick, have the responsibility of taking care of themselves… I wanted to know more about this. When do you say “no, now is the time for rest” (and miss out on the particular opportunity), and when to say “yes, my body is up for the challenge”, despite the possible negative physical effects. And also I guess, what does he mean by “look after yourself”. I figured he has this covered, having survived bowel cancer.

Why has this been so hard for me? I think it’s mostly fear. Fear of being somewhere I can’t cope physically, and having to obviously stand on the sidelines, whilst everyone else does their part with work and attending meditation sittings etc. Also taking time or attention from others, when they should be focusing on their own time there. The physical and mental strain of being out of my environment, cold, hot, tired, not able to have quiet etc. The fear of a crash during, or on return, that sets me back a long way. The disappointment then, of being back where I was years ago. The fear of being responsible for a really bad decision.

One of the reasons these fears have been so alive, is that I believe my body has a memory of it’s own, and in the past I have not been able to go camping etc without a huge crash, and my body just brings the fears up to protect me. However the reality is I walk 10kms a day and gym everyday too. So it took a fair bit of logical conversing, but eventually I think my body was cautiously optimistic and willing to give it a go. (In the end I was so excited I think it just gave up and jumped on board). And the end result was that I had a couple of sleep ins, didn’t make all the group meditation sessions, did attend all the dhamma talks, worked my fair share (probably more), socialised, meditated, studied, walked everywhere, laughed, cried, got hot, got cold, it rained, had overly chatty housemates for two nights, and felt really proud of how I just enjoyed my time, and skillfully ‘looked after myself’ when I really needed to. Although at times I had to be really mindful and control my emotions and those fears as I went. Now I can’t wait for the next trip there, and any camping, fun adventures in the future.

Back to the answer….

Ajahn Dtun’s answer was quite lengthy, broken up by the fact he uses an interpreter, as he speaks Thai. And at very first, I didn’t think he had fully understood my question. But as I (and many others) realised over the weekend, he has the wisdom to give you the answer you need, not the exact answer to the question you might have asked. (Ajahn Dtun is considered to be an Arahant, and after the retreat, I believe it !)

One analogy helped me understand the assigning of responsibility and the authority I have within myself. Those who are ill (which in reality is all of us to varying degrees) have the serious task of looking after our bodies in this life. If you imagine that your body is a boat, and you, as your present self, have this one life time to get from this side to the other without sinking, then your task is to stay mindful and tend the boat so as to complete your journey in the best state of health possible. Because we have physical form, our physical health provides support to our mental and emotional health, and vice versa they are interconnected and all important.

Since coming back from retreat, I have gained some insight already regarding this balance. I have been catching up on energy and think by the end of the week I will be back to my normal self. However the impact is minimal, and I realise that small sacrifices that have a quick expiry date are ok. The wisdom from teachers such as Ajahn Dtun, far outweigh the catching up needed afterwards. So a little bit of patching, for an amazing journey in my boat.

To further the analogy, this morning I thought about the idea that maybe we actually have a fleet, rather than just the one boat. Ajahn Dtun said later in his response, that I had equal responsibility to look after my mind. So, the other boats represents our mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. And again, we are responsible for each boat being seaworthy until we reach the end of this life whenever that is for each of us. Ajahn Dtun also said that when the damage became unrepairable (as it eventually will), our responsibility was to allow the boat to sink gracefully knowing that we had done our best to sail as far as possible, fulfilling our responsibilities in this life.

Some thoughts on responsible boating from Master B.

Master Behram Ghista answered a question once about balancing family life and daily practice. I think the assumption was (as would be easily defended) that your family comes first, kids, partner. Dinner time, bedtimes, homework help etc. And you squish in the time to practice if you can afterwards. After all, Mothers and Fathers are supposed to be sacrificial. Therefore it was not possible to have as much spiritual growth with such a busy life. However he was very insistent that there is nothing more important than your daily devotion to spiritual practice, and it just took more effort and commitment with a family or busy lifestyle. Having set your practice as first priority, your family life, work life, relationships would be easier to manage, calmer, happier. That in prioritising your own practice, you guarantee your subsequent interaction with others flowing from that practice. Through your personal wisdom gained from your dedication and commitment, you manage every other thing skillfully, without harm and with great love. Tend your spiritual boat, and it leads the others. Perhaps this boat has the compass, the rudder and the sails.

Master B talks a lot about being creative and spontaneous. Which brings to mind that whilst a commitment to regular time and place practice is very important, the ability to be creative can allow us to stay committed on days when things just go crazy. When the wind is blowing a gale, and the spray is reducing visibility to zero. There is no moment in each day where we cannot be grateful, mindful and present. It just takes a little more effort than in your regular sunny, calm space.

He also mentions that true wisdom comes from solitary practice. Having someone in your life to share the dhamma with, may give you mental and emotional support and stimulation, and to have such a person is a blessing. But you will only truly get your own insight in solitude, so make sure you spend time with people who understand this. Share the ride, but mind your own business boat, you cannot repair someone else’s for them, nor can they for you.

Don’t wait till the water is knee deep


So the idea of being mindful and committed enough to mend the boat when it gets damaged is the thing. However we are not always aware of the damage or it’s source. Life is tricky. Intuition and gut feeling can alert us to unease, yet it takes the practice and concentration, dedication, to find the source of the unease. Then it takes time to repair the leaks and holes, and mindfulness to not allow the same damage to happen again. We may see how we treat ourselves and others as symptomatic, but it’s not always obvious where the water is coming in. So firstly we need to know that there are leaks and holes and how to find the leaks and holes, and this takes practice, and practice takes time. Too much busyness, even good and selfless busyness, blocks our senses. We cannot hear the drip of the water coming in, or see the damp bottom of the boat. Nor smell the damp rising like a clear fog around our spiritual space. Too often we are not mindful enough to catch the first drip. Another thought is sometimes at best we patch. We can certainly remove ill will, resentment and all manner of negative emotions and thoughts, but some damage is deep, and not everything can be healed completely in this life. Repairs can represent our liberation from suffering from the cause, but eventually the boats must still sink due to their impermanence. And when that time comes, lie back and rest for good. It’s ok :).

So what do we have.
A fleet of boats to mend and patch, and have amazing adventures in. This life of storms and sunshine, rain and wind. It’s a great analogy, because it’s so easy to visualise. Certainly we are not out on the ocean of life alone, but some things are just our responsibility. And for me that’s been a key insight from Ajahn Dtun. Through wisdom and mindfulness I can fully take charge of my own care. No one else can. Their misunderstandings, comments or attitudes about what I have to do to mend my boats and sail on, is really their problem. And with a strong lead boat (spiritual) my other boats can follow without stress and strain of the currents of life in this world. To use the compass of my lead boat, everything else falls into place behind. Sure the physical one may start to resemble a second hand tinny, with barnacles and turtle poo, but when it gets damaged, I can just jump across, repair it, and jump back to the front, where I can see clearly ahead and enjoy the adventure.

Happy Sailing !


Just give me a break…

“Rest in natural great peace,
this exhausted mind;
beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thought,
like the relentless fury of the pounding waves in the infinite ocean of samsara.”
– Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche

“In our everyday life our thinking is 99% self-centred.
“Why do I have suffering,
Why do I have trouble?”
– Shunryu Suzuki.

This blog is really just scattered thoughts, some resolved, some not.

This week I faced the reality of yet another future event involving surgery. My disintegrating lower back has finally hit a marker (and a major nerve) and has thrown up a number of continuing life challenges. I knew it would come, but I didn’t think I would be just 40 when it did. And I really feel cheated that it’s come along on the heels of my shoulder issues. I am flitting between being angry, relieved that it’s not worse, determined to be mindful and spiritual and giving up and just being plain old sad.

A very early thought was, “When is enough, enough? This is ridiculous.” Did I say “it’s not fair?” – you bet. But why was I thinking this? Frustration. Pain. Reaction. And what is this peace I deserve anyway? This expectation that what has happened in the past, should spread out a bit further. Why do we sometimes feel we are owed time off, some space from what has been….. before what comes next. Just give me a break!

Simply put, we find ourselves bombarded with events we don’t want to accept. And we suffer.

Last week, just prior to this information, I read a book on “How To Be Sick” by Buddhist, Toni Bernhard. Toni has had a mystery chronic illness since 2001 that keeps her bedridden with fatigue and flu like symptoms some days, which I guess is my story too, although I have almost recovered physically after 17 years. Through her focus on the Buddha’s teachings, Toni has learned to live contentedly most of the time, even celebrating the lessons and gifts that her experience has brought her.

A few lessons along the way.
Who am I?
Theravadan teacher Munindra-ji was in his eighties when waiting at a train station in India. The train was 5 hours late, it was hot, there was no food and no water. His student was worried and finally asked if he was alright. He replied,

“There is heat here, but I am not hot, there is hunger here, but I am not hungry, there is irritation here, but I am not irritated.”

Toni’s practice led her to understand and accept that she is not sick, because we are not our circumstances, thoughts or even our bodies… who we are does not relate to the physical casing we wear in this lifetime, or what we see in the mirror (or on MRI’s for that matter). Our hunger is in our bodies, indeed in our minds, so is physical pain and discomfort. But that which endures – is eternal, cannot actually experience hunger or pain. We just have to be present to the real ‘us’ and not live within our impermanent physical and mental selves. And because of this, we can feel sadness for the demise of our bodies, without losing any sense of true self and value.

Practising this, and truly feeling and living our separate yet symbiotic natures of flesh and spirit, is a little like living with two personalities. There’s ‘me’, and there’s ‘you’. You are broken down, but I can still feel whole. You hurt, but I don’t have to suffer too. You won’t last much longer – are impermanent, but me – I am here for the long haul – eternal. But the ability to truly feel the connection between the two without the physical situation dragging down the mind is a constant battle, both of the will to fight the downward spirals, and the will to let it be, accept and observe without reaction.

The value of understanding impermanence, goes a long way to relieving the suffering of, well, our suffering. We can experience physical pain, and know it will pass (eventually), and that it is an indicator of the impermanence of our physical being.

Impermanence. “All that arises is subject to change, decay and dissolution.” Life is uncertain, unpredictable and in constant flux. We should cherish each moment and be happy in what we can do, aware that everything changes in an instant.

Toni likens impermanence to the weather. We all know the weathermen struggle to perform. Things change quickly and rain comes earlier or later than expected. So it is with life. Our very humanity ensures instability. Unpredictable, unreliable. Therefore our experiences as humans are as the wind – blowing in and blowing out. Passing through. Where is that pain I felt 5 minutes ago. Not here and not now. That blue mood, the sadness, the anger. They have moved on – we can and should too.

Embracing Fear
Toni also talks about welcoming fear. Not pushing it away like some enemy to be avoided at all costs, but welcoming it into the vast space within our hearts. Indeed, embracing fear as a long lost friend, that needs our true love and compassion. Surprisingly this seems to disarm fear and turn it into understanding. Within fear there is love, passion, even knowledge and joy if we don’t fear and fight the fear, but accept it.

“To go into the dark with a light is to know the light,
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight
and find that the dark too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
– Wendell Berry

Compassion for self
Something I am getting better at is compassion for my body, as it does it’s best to adjust and work within the parameters of it’s biological limits. Whilst the human body is amazing, it can only take so much living. Having compassion on your body is not about toughing it out all the time. Taking time to rest, to eat, to think and not think. To treat yourself as you would treat another you love. This includes asking for another opinion, a more updated test or treatment, saying ‘no’ more often, just being aware of your human self. To be your own advocate and speak up for yourself.

Self punishment is something we all do. I don’t mean self discipline that leads to healthy living etc, but those thoughts that sneak in and destroy our compassion, “you don’t deserve to rest again, you haven’t done anything worthwhile today”, or “you’d better say yes or they’ll think you’re mean”. Compassion for self is treating yourself with love and affection, allowing life to take you on it’s wonderful journey, and finding every way to enjoy the experience.

“Let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool … You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha.” Ajahn Chah.

Self Enquiry
Author and speaker, Byron Katie, has a process called “The Work” based on her own discovery that “when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, and when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer”

Q1 – Is the thought true?
Q2 – Can we absolutely know it’s true?
Q3 – How do we react when we believe the thought?
Q4 – Reflect on who we’d be without the thought.

It’s not the events in life that have us feeling life is unfair, but rather our thinking prior to, during and after the event that bring us suffering. It’s not time out that we need, it’s the ability to see that now is the perfect time to calm down and breathe. To see and accept what is, and to choose our thoughts and reactions wisely based on compassion for our selves and others.

Despising the past, and wishing for a better future is purely ego’s way of keeping us focused on what we don’t have, can’t have and don’t deserve. Woe is us and we are stuck in our situation, suffering pain in every way.

Thinking on who I would be without the negative thoughts about my situation, I can see that the pain wouldn’t bother me so much emotionally or mentally. It just is. It’s not a punishment, not a test of my will, or even a challenge to see how tough I am. It just is.

Thoughts that bring fear, mental pain and despair are not going to bring us peace or reduce any physical pain, in fact they are likely to increase the pain as such thoughts tighten the chest, shallow the breath and welcome anger into the body.

Again compassion is the key. What thoughts can I have that bring acceptance and love to my body, make me thankful and open up the narrowness that comes from self pity and self focus. These are the thoughts that bring reactions of peace and help to reduce physical pain. With these thoughts I am closing the divide between my physical and spiritual self, engaging the eternal to look after and comfort the temporal, until such time as they part ways and I move onto my next journey. And in that moment, I like to think that the physical suffering of these few weeks will seem a raindrop in a storm compared to the flood of awakening and self awareness that’s left behind when the clouds have finally cleared.

The no-smell dentist

Pain is such an interesting battlefield. Soldiers of memory, imagination, rumours, fears, ideas and nightmares stand side by side and can create an overwhelming army that becomes the experience. Instead of just the lonely guy in the middle of the melee who is the “pain”, we surround him with extra firepower and tanks.

Association is so powerful. Placebo effects prove the power of the mind, persuasion and belief over reality. Where in fact, there is no pain, it can be sparked, fanned and inflamed. And pain can be overcome with sugar tablets and false information. Memory is also powerful, and easily manipulated to be what we need now, to support either fight or flight, victim or hero.

Yesterday I went to the dentist. For the last 20 years this has been a somewhat terrifying ordeal due to my now low threshold for nerve pain, and the after effects of being shocked by sudden pain I have no control over. Such as happens at the dentist….

I learned a few things.

Long term pain does two things. It toughens you up, and it also breaks you down. Some things are now easy for me which might frighten or overcome others, and other things can seem impossible to me, that other people do everyday.

I remember having ‘nice’ massages and being bedridden for days as a consequence, such was the reaction of my body to touch. Thus the dentist always involved a full I.V. which not only relaxed and sedated me, it also wiped my memory of the experience. However whether I remember the actual events or not, I can imagine what was going on, and ‘see’ it well enough in my mind to spark fear at the idea of even making an appointment.

However, eventually the fear of ‘if I don’t get it done now, it will only be worse later’ was the stronger. So I googled recently and found someone I felt I could trust. I did it in stages. I researched the dentist, the practice for a few days. Then I walked past to see if I had the right place. The next day or so I went in to scope it out. At this stage I was already feeling rather proud of myself.

The first thing I noticed was the not-smell.

Dentists have that awful disinfectant smell, that you can already taste when you enter the front door. Vets are the same, although since I’ve never been treated myself at a vet clinic…. This new dentist had none of the smells that every other dentist I’ve experienced does. Actually there was no smell at all. Immediately I relaxed. I believe that my memory (real or not) took a hit, and had nothing to react to, or grab onto. My fear also was quite silent.

I had a chat to the receptionist and found that she’d known someone with my condition who was in a wheelchair and had to leave Sydney to get away from the pollution and stress etc. Hmmm. Spiritual me who doesn’t believe in consequences was feeling rather ‘had’. How did I pick this place… No smell and already the staff knew a bit about me and understood my concerns.

So I had 10 days to wait for the appointment to come around and after a week I realised that I wasn’t even thinking about it. Weird. Normally I would be constantly fearing the event. I was really busy I suppose, but even I can mutli-task and worry at the same time.

I also realised a few other things at this point. I no longer worry about the future so much, and the appointment was the future. It was going to happen in it’s own time, and then I would deal with it.

My intuition as to the right dentist had already been supported. So was I going to just trust myself.

I.V. is always an option, so why would I worry anyway. Worst case scenario I am a spaced out idiot for the procedure and need someone to take me home. My logic and reason is not so overcome by emotion these days.

I started to think more about the event and decided it was going to be an experiment of my past experiences of, and the reality of, pain in my life. To this end I ridiculously starting looking forward to the challenge… what have I become?

So I went in yesterday, magic spinning scan at first. Actually firstly to note that the dentist was very tall, Asian descent, and the calmest person I’ve ever met. Gentle looking hands (since they were going to be in my mouth, that was somewhat important at the time), and quiet yet confident. He reminded me of Charlie Teo, the neurosurgeon, who radiates the calm authority of a specialist you can really trust.

Then we had a chat about the scan etc, had a quick checkup, xrays, then the bit I didn’t want to hear…. 6 fillings! I think my eyes did widen a bit at that point. However he was a smart man. He offered to show me the laser option (laser beam, no touching, tiny sound). If I didn’t like it he would stop. He started with a tooth that has no nerves.. and this is where I learned A LOT.

With no nerves, there is not the slightest chance of actual pain…. As I repeated this like a mantra to myself over and over, I could feel myself tensing up and remembering past dental pain. There, I felt it. Sharp nerve like pain in that tooth…. Wait, don’t be stupid, it’s all in your head, so fix your head and don’t worry about the tooth. So I focused on the truth that no nerve = no pain. And it worked. Without the fear and anxiety having control, my mind was unable to create the sensation in my brain.

Done. Now he wanted to try on the next tooth. Just on the side. I asked if there were nerves in that area, and he said yes, but it’s only shallow, so let’s just try. I felt like a kid being coaxed to eat green vegies. Just try one… just one…

I really wanted to be brave and not run away from this, so I let him. And indeed there were a few little zips of pain, but my need to go through it was greater than my need to avoid it. And like a kid, there was an element of wanting to be ‘good’.

The other thing I realised was that he is the only dentist. So, whilst you are being treated, you cannot hear anyone else being treated. There’s no other dental noise, except the hygienist. So not only was there no associated smell, but no sounds either. I heard no drill the entire time, which measurable disarmed me.

Done. Now the other 3 are deeper and he didn’t suggest we do them then. Truly I think I had had enough anyways, as I felt like I had conquered enough of the mountain and I still had my clean to go. There was some small tension in my body and I was aware of not being too brave in one hit…

So in all I was 2 hours being very aware of my thoughts, emotions and physical being. It was most interesting to see how the dhamma, astrology and my own journey of pain had brought me to a place where I hardly felt any anxiety. And indeed the cost of IV is horrendous, but the need was replaced by the modern technique of laser dentistry. So indeed as I had looked after myself in my growth and understanding of things, life was looking after me too.

Our response to pain is cosmically important. Not only does it help up interpret the present in a realistic way, but it sets up our future experiences too. We hold in our memory the good, bad and ugly. And in my experience memory either grows or fades, it rarely stays true to the event because we draw from it what we want, to enable what we want.

So whilst I would rather not have 3 fillings to go, I cannot but look forward to climbing higher up the mountain. Smirking to myself about how life led me to the ‘no smell, no sound, gentle hands, and calm countenance’ of the dentist I saw this week.

Alone or lonely, to be and not to be….

The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.
~ Mark Twain, 1835 – 1910

Loneliness. Otherwise known in thesaurology as – anguish, dejection, despair, gloom, melancholy, misery, mourning, sadness, sorrow, woe, wretchedness.

I guarantee we all feel it, some more than others, some all the time. For some it’s life changing, for others life ending. We use it to spur ourselves to get involved with another, with others, join causes, have children, save animals, voice opinions and change ourselves to fit in. Though it seems to me, as a race we are more lonely than ever. Our technologically advanced age has only diminished our well being, communication skills, and perhaps our very humanity.

Humans are mammals, social beings who function best in communities and families, surrounded by those we are closest to by blood, cause and territory. However as things change, particularly in Western society, we pull away from the idea that ‘it takes a village …’ and open ourselves up to the congenital loneliness that comes from not living side by side, with the support of others who care about our well being. We all suffer from the consequences, the young, the old, parents with no time, kids with no grandparents (real or borrowed). The elderly age in homes and babies are in 14 hour day care, kids come home from school to empty houses and eat takeaway in separate rooms ….

A logical question would be “how can the business of life and all that it now takes to run a home, family or juggle work and play be lonely?” After all we hang with our kids, work colleagues, spouses, mates and the internet keeps us fed with what others are doing – we “connect” don’t we? We are hardly ever alone… so many say “how wonderful it would be to get five minutes to myself…” And therein lies the deceit we live everyday. We don’t want to be alone …

Why don’t we take this precious 5 minutes – is it truly not possible? Would our life and schedules be ruined if we did? Of course it’s not really about actually having the time, it’s something we say as a joke, to justify our busyness. To prove we are successful people, that we are doing all we can to bring happiness and fulfillment to us and others. That real “me time” is a sacrifice we are willing to make for our family and friends.

Most truly though, we say it to keep away from that which we fear most. To be not-busy and find ourselves empty, to realise that we are broken and ‘out there’ can’t fix ‘in here’.

For most people, spending 5 minutes in silence, with only our thoughts for company is more frightening that being assaulted by the TV, the kids, work schedules and Facebook. This loneliness has no external cause, no cure in others. It screams across a chasm of questions … who are we, why are we here, and what next? And we dare not look over that divide, it’s clearly not safe.

To transform the emptiness of loneliness, to the fullness of aloneness. Ah, that is the secret of life.
~ Sunita Khosla

I have often wondered what would happen if the internet was suddenly gone. Of course the economic and financial issues would be catastrophic etc, but the true impact would be felt inside us. The sense of loss of connection, control and distraction that keeps us going. To be left with the deadly quiet of reality, would put Western society to a test of cosmic proportions.

Generally when people say they are ‘lonely’ they mean they want company. They want ‘another’ to hold their hand, listen to them, empathise, have fun with them. This loneliness is a separation inside us. A sundering of our supernatural parts, the isolation of one from the other within ourselves. An abandoned spirit wandering the halls of our inner lives looking for it’s soulmate.

When we get busy, as much as we want to believe it’s all about others… it’s not. Everything is more than partly about us – being there for a friend, helping the poor, working back, even choosing to have children with all the sacrifices that comes with parenting… is about us, avoiding our loneliness. I am not denying that human spirit can be generous and sacrificial, but there is nearly always a component that gives us what we want. Fulfillment of our deepest needs for companionship, value and love, disguised as all the things we do everyday.

The eternal quest of the individual human being is to shatter his loneliness.
~ Norman Cousins

When we spend time with someone because we are lonely, we are really just distracting ourselves from the fact that we are still lonely. Only when we are alone and not lonely at the same time, can we truly connect with others in a whole and positive way. Empowering them to depend on us less for their own distraction from loneliness. So all of us can seek within ourselves true fulfillment, without desire of, or debt to, another living being.

People who are lonely within, need to be their own best friend. To recognise that within themselves is their ‘other half’, their protector, empathiser and joy in life. We need to return home to ourselves.

So …

How did we get here then – were we born lonely on the inside? Full of despair, gloom and woe? Is it simple enough to say “life happened”? Those who believe our spirits live on, may agree we can be born so, with unfinished business to seek out our wandering soul and reconnect. And perhaps by purely existing in human form, we will suffer this loneliness anyway. It’s an inevitable part of being human and just a matter of time. How can we hold on amidst such distraction, such attraction, without being tempted to leave and go play with ‘others’, thinking we can come back anytime and all will be well. Telling our souls to ‘mind house’, without harm ensuing.

We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.
~ Orson Welles, 1915-1985

Some of us are lucky enough to learn, even late in life, that we can never neglect ‘me’ without consequence, we cannot come and go as we please. We learn through all relationships with living beings that at the end of the day we really need to live fully within ourselves everyday. Peace with others is not attainable without inner peace, and certainly world peace is not possible without it. It’s only when we are fully at peace inside, that we see the bright city lights clearly.

One thing is constant and has the power to create or destroy – whether or not we are lonely without others, without things. Who we are inside, where it’s just us. This is where we face fundamental loneliness, and this is the only place we can cure it.

It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.
~ Albert Einstein, 1879-1955

I told me so…

I suppose it is reassuring that as we become more attuned to reality, our ability to perceive the potential consequences of our actions is heightened and more concrete.

But I am not so sure I always like being ‘more aware’. It’s a bit like being your own parent…. You can see the future, the results of your actions…. and you can almost guarantee there’s an “I told you so” in it. You put in your two cents worth, claiming having been ‘there’ before, that ‘only pain will ensue’. And then you play the waiting game, shaking your head occasionally at your stubborn stupidity which in turn shakes it’s own head back at the boring and out of touch parent you can be.

We long to be more wise in hindsight of our own disasters, yet we still don’t always embrace that wisdom when a new situation presents itself that requires a do or don’t decision. Something that we want, that we know we want for the wrong reasons, despite our intuition and spiritual advancements.

Ah ‘reason’. That human ability to make right seem wrong, and wrong seem attractive. To work through a challenging situation and come out with just enough brownie points to tip the scales in your ‘favour’. Perhaps even for a while quieting that sick feeling that you might be acting like an idiot, and the worse feeling that you know you are.

We live (mostly) and learn (sometimes) from our mistakes. But sometimes you can be so aware that a potential upcoming decision is such a major fork in the road, that no amount of reason or thought arrangement, can quell that sick feeling. It’s not a matter of hurting animals or stealing money from an old lady, it’s just your future. The next how ever many years playing out either one way, or another. Both hold some happiness, but one holds more, and the freedom to be fully authentic.

Still, it’s possible no one else would know. You’ve been there before. Heck you probably still have the lines from the scenes the last time you played the role. All those other happy people, living their lives through work, family, kids, hobbies. How many of them read from their scripts everyday, blissfully unaware they have the wrong one. That they were born for a different role altogether. You were one of them, and you eventually hated it.

So why the reluctance to embrace the alternative path now? Is it because the script is partially unwritten so you are unsure how the story ends? But that’s the thing of being authentic in life, it doesn’t matter if you don’t really know what you are going to say or do tomorrow… In just being free to be you, what comes to you, is what’s right for you, and everyone else your life affects for the rest of their lives too.

It’s a little upside down. The more authentic and wise we are, the less road maps and scripts we need. In worrying about what we will do or say about right and wrong, we start to tie the hand intuition has in our everyday lives. In thinking more about the consequences, we use fear to shackle ourselves to doing the ‘right’ thing so we don’t get hurt or mostly ‘found out’. We need those scripts to feed ourselves, and we starve our inbuilt radars which are far more accurate in such matters.

Our openess and fearlessness of who we are without preconceptions or ego, provides us a blank slate of possibilities that are all perfect at the right time. Truly knowing right from wrong depends on it, as does the courage to choose the right path every time.

Although it does seem to me that the wiser we are, the less choices we have to make. Those paths that lead to “I told you so” don’t even show up on our GPS. They just don’t exist because we would never be tempted to choose them. Life can become a clear path when we focus on who we truly are and want to become. Our talents and gifts become real to us and we use them to bring joy to ourselves and others. We see the trees and flowers along the way, not the pitfalls and bear traps. The path becomes a country lane in the sun, not a bumpy road of noise and chaos.

It’s about focus. Not ‘what will happen if I do this?’ but ‘who am I?’ The latter solves a whole lot more than the former. Of course I do expect to say “I told you do” for many years to come. But maybe every year, I’ll shake my head at myself a little less.

Madness on a Horse

Madness beckoned me one day,
A mad idea, with which to play.
A journey of unfathomed heights,
The risk of falls, and pitch black nights.
Fraught with enemies so real,
And hidden friends to be revealed.

He tempted me with witty tales,
Of tiny men and giant whales.
Of stars and mountains, seas and shores,
All terrains I could explore.
He grabbed my hand, to lead me on,
Before I blinked, my house had gone.

“Wait”, I cried. “I must confer,
With Doubt and Fear so to be sure,
That risk of falls and pitch black night,
Will not consume or kill by fright”.
And so I stepped back though my door
Back in the shadows I adore.

Doubt and Fear did hold me close,
And in their arms I did repose.
I waited hours and peeked outside,
To see that Madness sat astride
His horse and galloped far away,
To not return for many a day.

I shook hands with Relief and sighed,
To raise a smile indeed I tried,
But nagging in my mind there lay,
A thought that I had missed today.
That which might have freed my soul,
And lit a fire from dying coal.

As the months went rolling on,
Dreams made up for life’s dull song,
Dreams of places far from here,
That Madness tried to me endear.
Of tiny men and giant whales,
And dangers told in lengthy tales.

To starve off Loneliness and Pain,
Humour came to entertain,
Folly, Laughter joined the throng,
And in their company the song
Of life did seem to be enough,
To stop Regret strutting her stuff.

Illusion as the years rolled by,
Did cover me with many a lie.
Sights and smells that were not there,
Turned the nights into Despair.
She wrapped me in Her arms so strong,
And here I lay imprisoned long.

Winter came and cold did crawl,
Along the windows, and the doors.
Regret, Despair lay close with me,
And in my mind, all I could see,
Was Madness galloping away,
How I wish I’d gone that day.

In the Spring, upon the door,
A knock I heard, which caused uproar,
My friends inside begged me to leave
The sound unanswered, to them cleave.
But something in the air that day,
Did beckon me to disobey.

I broke away and ran to see,
Who it was that called on me,
I heaved my shoulder, ‘gainst the door,
And sunlight streamed in on the floor.
In garment white, and golden haired,
Hope it was, standing there.

She smiled at me and led me to,
Those not met, but still I knew,
Bravery, Daring, Quest and Fun,
Saddled horses, ready to run.
And in their midst Madness laughed,
For once and twice he now had asked.

As I looked to winter Friends,
I knew that this time it would end.
But instead of staying home,
They also climbed ready to roam,
For our journey must have all,
To climb and jump and run and fall.

Off we set to parts unknown,
To travel high and crawl down low.
To bridge the chasms, cross the seas,
And dance among the bumblebees.
Hope led the charge, and on the course
I met new riders each on horse.

Love and Joy and Irony,
Peace and Tears, Humility.
As they danced, I realised,
That I had always tried to hide,
To think of safety but in truth,
I had given up my youth.

Now indeed, I welcome all,
To reach the peaks, and brave the falls.
To hide with Fear and laugh at Fate,
To ride with all my Friends till late.
Tiny men and giant whales,
Around the fire I tell tall tales.

Within me still is Doubt and Fear,
But overcome when I draw near,
To Hope and Love and Joy and Peace,
In whose presence their powers cease.
The old darkness fades each day,
And I am free to run and play.

Should you meet a horseman Mad,
Don’t despair, instead be glad.
For likely he is Friends with those,
Who new songs of life compose,
And through adventure, bitter – sweet,
You will find your life complete.

The Venus in Me (and You)

A blood-orange sun sets over a snowy field. All moisture is frozen out of the air, the sky is clear as blown glass. Distant branches and twigs stand out like filigree. Our eyes rest now. The dazzling glare of stark sunlight on bone white snow is abating. Shadows form. Sharp lines and edges appear. Subtly, grays and blacks begin to dominate the landscape.

The brilliant blue floodlight of the sky takes on depth. Cobalt fades to azure, azure to indigo and violets of incipient night. Suddenly, there it is, in the blue aurora of the earth fallen sun, gleams a diamond. Luminous. Resplendent. Soon it will be radiant enough to cast faint shadows. Worshipped for millenia, it is the Evening Star, and still she takes our breath away.

If you find yourself touched by the poetry of these words, you are touching the part of you that Astrologers call Venus.

My star sign (Taurus) and my rising sign (Libra) are both ruled by Venus.

Seemed strange to me at first, until I understood who Venus truly is and how she wants to teach me to become more aesthetically creative, seek beauty both in myself and in others, and practice empathy. She is the Goddess of beauty, balance and harmony. Her gifts are serenity, peace of mind, compassion, closeness. Mastery of Venus brings forth the restoration of equilibrium to the shattered sensitivity, the stabilisation of a network of supportive emotional bonds, and the development of the capacity to make an aesthetic response.

I can see now, how my life changes when I seek out nature in all it’s glory, when I see true beauty in things and people, and feel in my heart the joys of sound, light, touch and smell. I am lighter, positive, braver and up for adventure. Strangely, it’s damn hard work. I am also aware of how I think and feel when I fail to sense the beauty around me. Although sometimes I am more comfortable with this – for a short while. I think generally we like to complain and find the ugly, because it helps us validate our pain and suffering. It confirms that we are not worth hanging out with, that beauty, love and compassion would never find us compatible anyway so we can sit in our depressed states and wallow.

The truth is, if everything is beautiful, there cannot be any suffering. What to do then? What are we to talk about, internalize and worry about? Ego loves unhappiness, complaining and criticising. It attaches itself to our pain, our stories and our inability to see what’s really there. Ego screams at Venus when she shines from the Heavens onto our lives. She brings to us the realisation that we are beings in need of balance and harmony. That the more we seek truth and align ourselves with reality, the truly happier we are. Did I mention Venus’ quest for us is hard work?

We cannot experience life in all it’s magnificence
because we do not put in sufficient effort to know it and love it
– Behram Ghista

Sufficient effort. Hmmm. Know and Love. Go beyond our thinking, logic, fears and doubts. Rewrite our programming, change our natural state of thinking negative thoughts, producing negative actions, resulting in unhappy existences. How about random acts of kindness – to ourselves. Focus on the things you already like about yourself and others. Stop criticising yourself, repeating your sad stories, write new stories and include love and kindness, compassion and positivity. Baby steps. Walks, flowers, laughter, create something, breathe, love.

Take time to get to know yourself, listen beyond your ego, understand your true nature, be silent, non-resistant, relish calmness and peace. This is where Venus lies in your soul. She calls you to truth about who you are as a compassionate, beautiful being. Creative, luminescent and shining across the Heavens reflecting love and beauty back to all who see Her.