Archives for January, 2011
I was hanging out the washing in the backyard yesterday, mildly annoyed with having to do this chore, when I happened to glance over my shoulder. This butterfly filled my vision… And suddenly the mundane became exquisite. Have you had one of those moments lately? Where something small sort of awakened you and seemed to elevate whatever you were doing, bringing it richness and depth. It’s this ‘small stuff’, and the paying of attention to it, that mindfulness embraces. The everyday, yet miraculous, stuff that we see, hear, sense, feel, are. So instead of glossing over something that you might already have encountered before (like your trip to work, or hearing the sound of rain, or hanging out the laundry), mindfulness asks you to remember that that’s actually impossible. That ‘you can’t step into the same river twice.’* That you’ve never lived this particular moment before. That it's different from all the others you’ll ever experience. Unique. And your whole life is made up of these moments; these little universes unto themselves… Yet how often are we really in them?
I love this rusty old ring of keys. They’re originally from Germany, a land dotted with castles and drawbridges and ancient city walls. And maybe these old keys were made to unlock some of those places. To get through those barriers. To unleash the secret spaces within. But they certainly won’t open any door that stands before me now. For the locks have changed. (That seems pretty obvious. Slightly silly, even.) Yet, so often, it can seem almost ‘natural’ to try our old, trusty (rusty?) approaches on the new problems in our path. To automatically bring our pre-loved habits or the stuff that’s worked before to new situations. To bring our old keys to new locks… Have you caught yourself doing this sometimes? Trying to release yourself from a bind of some sort (emotional/relational/behavioural) by jamming the lock with your old keys, your old ways? Getting frustrated or angry or anxious when it just doesn’t work?
Graffiti’s an inspiring thing sometimes. This bit, “share the wealth!” sprayed across a back alley, no doubt refers to financial wealth. But you also have an internal wealth of things – like emotions, ideas, experiences, creativity, insights, wisdoms, and a self – to share. But do you share them? Or does it feel ‘easier’ or ‘safer’ to hold back sometimes? Maybe perfectionism gets in the way, insisting that whatever you share of yourself always has to be an immaculate, shining thing before it’s let out. Maybe you worry what others might think (or judge). Maybe some kind of inner critic denies that you have anything of value to offer the world. Maybe it feels like the role society would have you play won’t easily allow it. Or maybe holding back has just become your habitual, default position in some ways. But what does it mean to withhold the self in this way? (To withhold the wealth?) For perhaps there’s stuff that only you, or especially you, can offer in a given moment. That your intricate constellations of life and loss and love trace particular patterns that add to the collective richness of this whole place. That you – and whatever you have to throw into the ring - matter. Just as you are.
“No Leave No Life.” This billboard is only meant to be about taking time off work. Just going on holiday; planning a trip; embracing a bit of tourism. But if you read it again, a little differently, it seems to whisper at something much bigger. Something more like: if there’s no leaving, there’s no life. Or: there’s no life without leaving. Suddenly, it seems to be about mortality, our ticket out of here, already booked for and paid in advance. For, in a way, we’re only tourists here, in this life. It’s pretty big to think about. So how can we bear this knowledge – that we have to leave at some time? Leave this life, leave all the people we love, leave all that we know. (Maybe even leave all that we are…).
Hidden down a back alley, somewhere along an expanse of a grey wall, I stumbled unexpectedly upon this mysterious little red door. Colour in the midst of drabness. Mystery in the mundane. And a way through the grey. It seemed slightly Alice-in-wonderland-ish. A portal leading from this place to some other. Maybe happiness is a little like this in some ways? Vibrant. Transporting. And ultimately somewhat mysterious. For though so many of us search for it, and so much therapy revolves around it (or its absence), what actually is it? What is this stuff whose lack we feel so keenly? How would you define it? Or is it too slippery for that? Perhaps there’s something indefinable about it (that might actually be an important part of it).
At any moment, you’re often surrounded by choices, big and small. A myriad of potential paths branching off in all directions, beckoning. Just take a quick look around: choices about what to say (or not), to think (or not), to question or to assume, to do, to be. Choices about what to eat, who to spend your time with, how to approach your work, your leisure and your life, and even whether or not to keep reading this post. So choice seems a fairly steady companion of sorts. And what is it, exactly, that you’re choosing? Moment by moment, deciding how to be in the world. And so moment by moment, choosing who to be… The philosopher Martha Nussbaum refers to something called “self-shaping.” The basic idea is that perhaps some kinds of philosophy or a sense of conscious living can maybe help shape this thing we call a self. To deliberately craft it. Form it. Hone it. Is this what we’re doing when we’re making all those choices? Are we subtly deciding what kinds of things our self regularly does? (And what it doesn’t). Maybe all these choices, great or small, are a kind of self-creation? If that’s the case, then we’re literally making ourselves up as we go along…
This photo is of a tiny bit of street art at the train station – it’s only a couple of centimeters long. And you had to be quick to read its message, because it was painted over the very next day. But what a message it was: “can’t live without a baseline” …written beneath a line of electrocardiogram-style heartbeats and a heart… So what’s your heart’s bottom line or baseline when it comes to relationships? With your partner, your friendships, your family ties. What’s the minimum you need to feel nourished or supported or connected or loved? (And have you ever really thought about it deliberately before?) What might the signs be that things aren’t working so well, or that they’re becoming damaging in some way? And what can you do if it’s already drifted beyond that?
I grew up fairly close to the coast, so visiting the beach and its nearby lagoons was an important part of our family life. What amazed me, as a child, was how unpredictable the tides seemed – sometimes there’d be water everywhere, with currents coursing; sometimes the whole place looked barren and dry – always according to its own mysterious rhythms. Perhaps it’s the same with our emotions? Sometimes brimming with a sense of abundance or energy or hope or light. Other times, seemingly empty; bereft. One state usually feels ‘better’, so the temptation can be to strive towards it. Or to miss it when it’s gone. Or maybe to try avoiding the barrenness; the sorrow; the grind. Or to feel desolate when they arrive. But back at the seaside, both states revealed different (and vital) aspects of the one landscape. When the tide was out, whole new stretches of sand emerged from the deep, teeming with soldier crabs and seaweed and other life that was otherwise hidden beneath the waves. When high tide swept in, it flushed through the whole lagoon and kept the place from growing stagnant. Emptying. Filling. Emptying again.