Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The noisy silence

Spending extended periods in silence, gives rise to different things.  There is something rather special about coming into silence, particularly whilst remaining around other people, sharing a silence, and the commitment thereto.  For me, it can often also serve as a reminder of the noise in my mind, the crashing and banging as my crowded thoughts jostle for space and priority.  Slowing down, and consciously attempting to bring stillness within can often have the opposite effect, at least for a period, and I have been reminded over the past few days of the importance of welcoming whatever it is that I happen to come across in my endeavours. 

Monday, 26 September 2011

Implicit Compassion

Joining a group, whose membership comprises great variety in terms of background and experience, from all over the world, is a joy and a privilege.  The compassion with which we meet one another is, for me, never more apparent than in the laughter we share as we acknowledge our struggles, and foibles as human beings.  Whilst we are all striving, and ‘doing’, as we share our experiences I am both humbled and reminded that we are, before anything else, ‘being’ to the best of our ability.  Alongside the humour is a profound reminder that we identify with one another, which shatters any illusion of isolation that can sometimes develop when we practice on our own.  I am reminded of the added value of group, and community experience, and feel comforted to have literally ‘re-connected’ in this way.  Our days are largely, but not exclusively silent, and are punctuated by themselves beautiful moments which, to my mind, exemplify as much as the formal practice, our humanity. 

"So, how many channels does your TV get?"

...I quickly responded to explain that I hardly ever switch it on, but that when I did last, I thought probably only the five, terrestrial, channels were available.  She smiled, and rephrased the question, to ask my about the TV in my room at the retreat centre...  It was a brilliant moment, to realise how I had immediately gone somewhere, far far away, into the land of compare and despair, to a world of fantasy that my room lacked the facilities of others’, and that I was ‘missing out’.  We both roared with laughter which arose from our hearts, and our bellies.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Coming to sit

I spend much, if not most, of many of my days sitting.  Added to this, I tend to sit on the same chairs, in the same rooms.  Sitting has become something I do so often that it has probably become largely automatic.  Being invited to come to sit carries with it a novelty, and a spaciousness into which I can bring both embodied intention and intentional embodiment. 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Experiencing my experience

Surrounded by other practitioners, on a retreat I know I am not alone in entering this spirit of inquiry which, paradoxically, makes it more comfortable to be with myself, and my experience and thereby facilitates the emergence of answers which may well be more authentic than those I could conceive of using my more readily accessible intellectual and conceptual mind that is somehow on-line much of the time and often in the foreground.  Hello me.  Hello world. 

Returning somewhere I've not yet been to

There is something extraordinary and almost mystical about the power of the experiential.  Whilst the practices are familiar, I can, by making a conscious choice, give myself a new, fresh and different experience, quite unlike anything that I have ever encountered previously.  This time, this practice, this moment and this breath are themselves unique and impossible to replicate.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Be Here Now

Being on retreat is a little like entering a bubble.  I find it helpful to remind myself that the contents of the bubble are a matter of choice, and I have the ability to decide what it is that I surround myself with.  As humans, we have evolved wonderful minds with great capacity to do all kinds of things.  This is a great thing, and a terrible thing.  Whilst we have developed an ability to thrive, we are also the architects of some of our most awful suffering.  Within the context of a retreat, I am more open and receptive to the invitation to come into the now.  I can put my diary, and tendency to plan ahead aside for a few days, and bathe in the fact that I have all I need for the day ahead, something which is profoundly reassuring and nurturing in and of itself.  I can trust that my needs will be met, and that I will most likely be better attuned to them than I would were I rushing around, imagining that I’m doing everything most efficiently, when in fact I’m in a tailspin much of the time, juggling and ‘managing’ much that would manage itself, if I only let it.  Coming away from it all, physically helps to disconnect psychologically, particularly when mobile phone reception is intermittent and the internet something other than easily accessible.  I am reminded that I have little need, right here and right now, to know what is happening elsewhere, the conscious acknowledgment of which allows me to simply Be. Here. Now.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


As a mindfulness teacher I remain an eternal student, for we never ‘arrive’ at enlightenment, though we may continually pursue a deeper and richer practice.  Going on retreat is a tremendously rewarding way to do this, entering an environment dedicated to rigorous practice and lively learning. 

For me, there is something particularly special about a residential, arriving somewhere in which there is literally nowhere to go, and nothing to do, beyond entering into a different mode, with a deliberate shift of gears, mental and physical.   A week long retreat is somewhat of a luxury, as well as a challenge, and requires a degree of preparation and subsequent ‘arrival’. 

The first day is an opportunity to do just this, and having travelled to somewhere new and unknown and be in the company of a group made up of likeminded, though unknown fellow travellers, there is much excitement, and curiosity, and a feast for the mind as it goes about its usual business of planning, and judging, in spite of an explicit and conscious intention to do otherwise.  So, whilst the essence of being on retreat is revitalising and rejuvenating, there is a process to get there, and after a day spanning over 14 hours, I must conceded exhaustion, albeit a contented one. 
Coming away, and giving myself an opportunity to adopt a ‘beginners mind’, to experience the practices, guided by others, afresh and, ideally, as though for the first time is a significant component of maintaining my practice.  Just as I take my car for its service, my practice needs to be investigated, and replenished.  A retreat serves this purpose, and provides a wonderfully supportive opportunity to dust it off and blow out the cobwebs, clearing the landscape, and enabling me to see with new perspective.  The acts of intentionally creating space to attend, and deliberately slowing down, allows me a chance to ask myself some important questions, about both the direction of my practice, and my life in general. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Making waves

A recent trip to the pool reminded me of the importance of tolerance, letting go and acceptance.  Just as there are different ways people 'do' their recovery, people have different ways to enjoy the water.  Mine happens to be swimming.  Up and down, ideally with a lane to myself.  Others prefer to jump and jive about in the water.  Aqua is a keep-fit class that takes place from time to time in the pool I like to swim at.  It's not for me to judge what goes on in the lane beside me (or, as is more usually the case, the greater part of the pool that gets reserved for the class).  Continuing to swim amidst the ripples and waves that their athletic aquatics create is a challenge, but one that is made all the easier when I keep the focus on myself and my breath, and remember that swimming, like recovery, is better when I'm kind to myself and to others.  Time passes more quickly, and I get much more done.  The 'ripple effect' is clear to see, particularly mid way through the class, when they're getting into the swing of the routines (which do look so funny when demonstrated by the land loving, fully clothed poolside dry instructor), and provides a very real reminder of the impact my own actions may have on those around me.  Apparently there will shortly be a new addition to the pool timetable: Aqua Zumba...

Thursday, 15 September 2011

An attitude of gratitude

Nearly six months ago I finally approached my GP about my knee.  It had been bothering me for some time, and didn't seem to be getting any better of my own accord.  I'm no longer in any pain, but it's still a little troublesome from time to time, and I have had to make several small lifestyle adjustments because of it.  Having attended my first outpatients appointment, during which x rays were taken and reviewed, I recently returned to hospital for an MRI scan.  The imaging suite's newly installed Siemens Magnetom was awesome and the respect with which I was treated and care I was given left a lasting impression.  The appointment was a humbling reminder of something I have perhaps, as someone fortunate enough to have had pretty good physical health, taken for granted.  The NHS is, in my opinion, an incredible resource.  During my appointment it dawned on me that I had access to state of the art science delivered with first class service.  Whether the image informs a diagnosis remains to be seen but I left feeling humbled, impressed and enormously grateful.  Though the NHS remains free at the point of use, I am a very happy 'customer'.   

Monday, 12 September 2011

Looking backwards. Looking forwards.

"Our past is like a footprint. It only confirms we were there. No burden on our future does it bear." Jeb Dickerson

It struck me recently that we are all of us more than our pasts.  We are not who we have been, or where we've been and we are certainly not the things that we have experienced.  All of these are perhaps aspects of ourselves today, and that is precisely the point, for I believe very strongly that we are ever evolving, and constantly in flux, changing and growing.  That's partly why I do the work I do - in the belief that we have the potential for infinite change.  Our possibilities are limitless. 

We are, I think, both where we've been and what we've seen, and where we're headed and what we want to see on the journey in front of us.  Whenever somebody reaches out and comes to a first appointment, it feels important to spend as much time exploring what's happened so far, as what they'd like to happen next.  We are nothing if we have not hope. 

“We cannot change our past. We can not change the fact that people act in a certain way. We can not change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.” 

Charles R. Swindoll (American writer and clergyman, b. 1934)

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Thank you for the Music(als)!

Shrek the Musical didn't quite live up to the over promoted expectations that had been created; Betwixt far exceeded anything I could imagine and my toes are still tapping from Fela!

For me, simply living in London is reason enough to prioritise getting to the theatre; it's on my door step, and I try to keep my finger on the pulse when it comes to what's on. Recently, I've been to more musicals than usual and experienced three very different shows, each of which have left a lasting impression.

"I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being."  Oscar Wilde

I had not previously encountered the swamp dwelling green ogre, and whilst designed with a younger rather theatre-goer in mind, the audience were certainly entertained by the thoroughly original (albeit, not for me, something I'd queue to see again) story which, from my perspective, detailed a journey of self discovery via self acceptance.  Throughout the not-really-very-catchy tunes, there was a prominent theme surrounding the celebration of difference, and the competition between Princess Fiona and Shrek as to whom had suffered the worst start in life speaks of the value of identification which enabled them to leave their pasts behind them, laying to rest the unhelpful aspects of their histories and moving forward with renewed spirit.  It is a heart warming story in which an unlikely hero fights a fearsome dragon, rescues the (feisty) Princess and learns that real friendship and true love aren’t only found in fairy tales...  Throughout, the irreverent humour spices up the plot, and makes for true family entertainment. 


Fela! is a very special show.  Afrobeats were heard in Angel, as we were transported to Lagos via Sadler's Wells.  The vibe carried us there within moments of the opening scenes, and the electric energy prompted contagious toe tapping which, in my case, continued long after the curtain fell.  Amongst an audience which was unusually representative of the capital's diversity, we none of us required an invitation to participate, and the final standing ovation was a fitting acknowledgment of the powerful experience the cast, and technical team had created for our unadulterated enjoyment - 'yeah yeah!'

Betwixt represented the third of my theatre hatrick and did not disappoint.  I was captivated from the moment the show started, and was transported on a fantastic adventure alongside the tremendously talented cast whose ingenious performances were pure class.  (I'll be watching out for Steven Webb, Will Hawksworth and Benedict Salter) The show is a scream.  Fresh, fast, fun and outrageously funny (Ashleigh Gray narrowly steals the show, in my humble opinion).  I wouldn't hesitate to go and see this again. 


"If life is just a stage, then we're all running around ad-libbing with no clue what the plot is. 
Maybe that's why we don't know whether it's a comedy or a tragedy." 
Bill Watterson