Meditation – Spring, the time to…

As the days are getting longer and the weather is getting fairer, it seems like an appropriate time to meditate on changes – specifically, our culture’s attempts to make changes.

Why is it that the beginning of January, the new year, is earmarked as the best time to start resolutions?  When it isn’t. In fact, in my view, it is probably the worst time. Think about it: the middle of winter. Daylength is short. The skies are leaden. The cold is inescapable (unless, of course, you escape it) … Our reserves of energy, motivation and sense of wealth are peculiarly scarce. Change is action. And activity is most certainly not on January’s agenda. Hibernation, on the other hand, is. It’s not my intention to paint such a gloomy picture of winter here. Winter certainly has a beautiful quality, meriting songs of praise just as much as any other season. It is the best time, for instance, to tune inwards; to plan, to reflect, to be calm, to meditate…

…but as far as embracing change goes, frankly, it’s not up to par. Indeed, it doesn’t possess any qualities that might champion success. For making concrete changes, we need a backdrop of light, new flowers, fresh fragrances, rainbows and pastel colours. We need to be in a cycle of rebirth, when eggs and baby animals abound, when there is a certain kind of vulnerable energy, magic and fever in the air. 
We need (you guessed it) Spring. 

New journeys and new ideas hatch naturally in spring. 
Spring is the time for us to embark on joyful change because spring is joyful change.

So, if the well-intended resolutions you made in January have since been abandoned, it’s unlikely to be through any fault of your own. The timing was astray. That said, now might be a good time – the best time, even – to revisit them.        

My Heaven Is…

My heaven is a luscious garden, 
both manicured and wild  
All its nature envelops me 
with a pure and lasting kiss 
In it, I feel loved, free, at home and 
young again 
–  a child.  

Gifts of ripened fruit and fancy flora 
Decorate each tree 
All the different species and strains 
Especially papaya 
(piles of papaya!) 
Fall into my hands 
I catch them 
– all free.  

My heaven is a desert island 
With generous, clean, white sand 
That neighbours a friendly sea 
Like a boy and his golden retriever 
All day and night, the waves play, 
Licking what they love  
the most 
– the land.  

My heaven is the deep blue sea 
A universe in disguise; 
A jungle of marine life, coral reefs and 
Tropical stars 
Night and day, they breathe 
And shine 

All my heavens
In my eyes.  

Primavera

The kitchen window, tapped by rays 
The little wrens, come out, come out! 
Long since we’ve seen better days 
It must be Spring about 

Waves of promise, buds of new 
Unbashful in their greeting 
Take their spaces, claim their due 
And Winter is retreating 

Wash the linen, move the dust 
Wipe each and every speck and smear 
Host this guest with luscious trust 
– they come just once a year.  

Meditation – The Things You Don’t See

Have you ever struggled trying to open a jar?
The lid; so untwistable, so uncooperative.
Your hands; so pink, so blistered.
Your thoughts; so belittling, so confused.
You’ve relentlessly tried twisting it open – summoning every ounce of strength you can muster each time. You’ve even used tools; a dish towel to claim a better grip, a (now bent) spoon to try and loosen the edges. You begin to think it’s impossible; the jar will never open, its contents will never see the light of day. You begrudgingly begin to reconsider peanut butter on your bagel.
But you then recall that you’ve been here before. It was a different jar (cornichons, if you remember correctly). You eventually took dominion over it. You know success is possible. So, you keep trying with the peanut butter. You don’t give up. You will not be defeated. But before another twist attempt, you put the jar down on the kitchen counter. You relax your muscles. You rub your fingers and wrists. You dry your sweaty hands off. And then you pick the jar up again – confidently, as if your frenzied fluster never happened. You give the lid a short, anticlockwise twist and it easefully slides open with a complaisant pop! Easy. (Spreading its chunky contents will be harder).

You briefly wonder what just happened. That last twist; it must have been more efficient, more dextrous. You must have put more muscle into it. Your wrist must have incarnated the exact movement – the exact attitude – required in the art of jar opening. You might think that. And you might be a little right. But you’re mostly wrong. For what you didn’t see is that every single twist prior to that one weakened the seal of the lid. What you think was the most important moment – the opening – was not in fact the most important moment. The most important moments are often the ones that are not visible from the outside.

Let’s put the jar analogy to one side. Can you recognise anything in your daily life that has become easier? Maybe you feel more space around something that used to be tight. Maybe certain comments don’t bring up as many negative feelings as they used to. In retrospect, do you think that change just happened? It didn’t. Change is gradual. It is the result of a long development of conditions. Some changes are only possible because of the months (or years) of prior practice where we haven’t necessarily seen all the changes happening.  

So, I’ll end with this: whatever you are now striving towards, bring a quality of gentle persistence to your practice.
Even if it seems like nothing is happening.
Even if the lid seems impossibly tight.
Your breakthrough moment will come.   

Common as Denim

Unseen as venom 
The sky is less capricious. 
 
Trapped in your tissue, 
No exit, no issue 
That big black stain is vicious. 
 
Handle it gently 
Wash it in light 
Send it a steady prayer. 

Bathe it in water 
Bid it goodnight 
Watch it peel, 
Layer by layer.  

Bibliotherapy

Always seeking 
(never finding) 
Always feeling 
Close to discovery
Chapters turning 
Tales unwinding 
Might the quest be . . . the recovery? 

Blue Sky in March

You were ever so fleeting 
Blossom, what is your game? 
You came and you went 
I was never the same. 

You were blasé in your greeting
You bet I’d do a runner 
So you got your prediction.

I’ll see you in summer.  

Meditation Friday – Making the Crooked Straight

This week, I’ve decided to dip my toes in the wisdom of Seneca again. Some of his words, no matter how many times I’ve read them, never fail to move and inspire me. His perspective on what it means to lead a good life and why it is important, revealed in his Letters to Lucilius, should be read by everyone. At least twice. I always find new lessons in them.

This round, I’ve decided to be a more meticulous, active reader. With a ruler, a pen and some index flags, I’m underlining and flagging everything I want to remember or take to heart. The result? I’m only one quarter of the way through and already the book looks like it’s been attacked by an avid first year philosophy student!

One particular piece of advice I’ve been mulling over is that we should all behave as if a good person of our choosing (a guardian, so to speak) is witnessing our every action. Or, as Seneca puts it: 

‘We need to set our affections on some good man* and keep him constantly before our eyes, so that we may live as if he were watching us and do everything as if he saw what we were doing.’ 

*I tend to reinterpret this male worldview; replacing ‘good man’ with ‘good human being’ & ‘he’ with ‘he or she’ 

This is nice, clean advice, if you ask me. It doesn’t need much dissecting in order to see the worthiness of it. And anyone with the ability to think can do it. For me, the difficulty is found in two things; first, knowing a human being with a good enough character to keep ‘constantly before our eyes’, and second, keeping them ‘constantly before our eyes’. The latter is just a matter of practice, prompting and patience, however, choosing who to act as our guardian or model is a slightly mistier arena.  

After some thought, I’ve decided that it’s perfectly OK to choose someone who you do not know in the flesh – a writer, a public figure, a saint, or a Seneca! In fact, I’ve even decided that it’s perfectly OK to choose someone who’s not real; as long as they are given a shape and personality in your mind’s eye and are capable of improving you. This might involve mixing the best elements from different people. My chosen character is such. She seems to amalgamate the Dalai Lama’s serenity, Michelle Obama’s confidence, my aunt Hala’s wit, and bits and pieces from other people. Above all, she shuns what is coarse in favour of the refined and sublime. That is the kind of ideal I always want to point my inner compass towards. 

Seneca thought this subject was important enough to put in a letter, and I’m glad he did. Here’s his conclusion:   

‘There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.’ 

Needless to say, I took out my ruler and underlined it.