“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself.”
― Matsuo Bashō
The cherry blossom is at its absolute peak. For centuries, Japanese people have made a special event of hanami, of going to view the blossom and contemplate their ephemeral beauty.
I invite you to take the time to stand - better still, sit - under a cherry tree and just observe this ravishing event. Not for an embarrassed 5 seconds but a luxurious 10 minutes or more, allowing your mind to wander all over this sensuous and pleasing tree as bees, grateful for nectar, browse all over the flowers. Listen: can you hear their wings? Smell the fresh, clean perfume of the flowers. Feel the polished bark and know that a gigantic industrial process is occurring under your hand, sap rising, nutrients moving from root and leaf to stamen and stigma, anther and ovule.
This happens without anyone demanding a unique 9 character password or the permission of a funder or a position statement. It does not require a level 5 qualification or a DBS certificate and you will not receive a CPD certificate after fulfilling this experiential practice. All that you will gain is the reminder that you are a human being, whether you're professional, high status and lavishly remunerated or unqualified in anything and on the dole. You can both experience this extraordinary event as equals.
The point is, make the time.
Mindful In May begins in 7 days. Register now, and catch up on the very positive effects of being still for 10 minutes a day.
This is a great description of the process of accepting and submitting to emotional pain in order to address it. Go and visit Bethany Webster's page to see more about her work.
Posted on September 13, 2014
Sitting with our pain is such a simple act and yet it can be one of the hardest things to do.
Feeling our pain and not rushing in to fix it, numb it, avoid it, or cover it up takes enormous courage. This is where surrender comes in. We reach a point in our healing where we’ve read all the books, consulted all the gurus or tried all the fancy techniques and all that is left is the last thing we want to do: Feel our painful feelings. Ironically, sitting with our pain is precisely what will eventually bring us all the things we were looking for through avoiding it.
A major key to healing emotional wounding is the willingness to endure discomfort for the sake of transformation. This willingness is essential to truly coming out the other side of childhood wounds.
Discomfort can come in many forms:
To an unhealed inner child, the only way it knows how to soothe itself is to act in accordance with the patterns that were imprinted by the family of origin, but usually those are precisely the patterns that are causing the pain. This keeps us trapped in a loop. The answer is to cultivate the skill of mothering and soothing our inner child while we make new choices that better reflect our true desires and needs. This inner bond is what helps us to effectively separate from family and cultural patterns that cause suffering.
For most of us, growing up involved a series of self-betrayals in which we had no choice but to create an inner split in order to survive. The split usually involves some form of numbing our feelings and rejecting ourselves in order to be accepted by our families. Healing involves the recovery of our ability to fully our feelings and thus, to feel and express the truth of who we are without shame.
While we are surrounded with messages to avoid our pain, both externally in the culture and internally through early coping mechanisms, it is through being present with our own pain and allowing our feelings to flow that healing really happens.
Truth is found outside our comfort zone. Outside the comfort zone is the space in which we separate from dysfunctional patterns that have been ingrained in us by our culture and families.
There are two main phases of learning to endure discomfort for the sake of transformation. Each phase may overlap at times, but generally we move from resistance to surrender.
Here we usually have a great deal of aversion and avoidance of looking at the painful feelings we experience. We may seek various ways to numb out or repress the truth of what we are feeling. Resistance can take the forms of self-sabotage, forgetfulness, overwhelm and addictions. Sometimes resistance can be helpful as an inner boundary of slowing things down until we are ready to fully see something. And sometimes it can be avoidance of what we know we must face. It takes careful self- examination to see which form of resistance is operating. We may experience some resistance at each new level of healing, but as we grow, we can better recognize resistance and more easily move through it.
Most of us surrender simply because the pain of resistance becomes too great. We eventually cross a threshold where we’ve learned to trust that embracing pain rather than running from it is what provides relief. We fully taste the joy and freedom that come from being in contact with the REAL within oneself. There is nothing like having moved through the pain and into the joy of feeling ONE within yourself. The peace of inner alignment: feeling and expressing your authentic feelings without the need to defend them.
There dawns a harmony between your personal imperfections and your irreplaceable part in the greater perfection of life.
Eventually the longing and hunger for living your truth overshadows all other desires, including the desire to be free of pain. It is seen that this hunger for truth is trustworthy and will lead you to what you need in each moment. And sometimes what you need is to embrace is yet another level of inner pain. The moments of relief and bliss that open up through having embraced your pain makes it all worth it. Over and over we learn that the act of embracing and being present with our pain is what connects us with the larger truth of who we are.
I think that one of the reasons why the crucifixion is such a powerful, pervasive symbol in the western world is because it symbolizes precisely what can be profoundly difficult: the willingness to accept and be present with our painful feelings.
A new inner space is created where you have permission to live from the REAL.
As we do the inner work, eventually a conviction arises; a quickening, a hunger and fierce commitment to living one’s truth. A desire develops to live from each moment from within the fire of your original self. Each moment begins to represent a new, fresh opportunity to live from simple, open, awareness of what is.
We see that awareness itself is an embrace.
We start on the painful periphery and as we become increasingly skilled in enduring discomfort and the uncertainty of the unknown, there lies the potential to merge with the holy presence that lives at the center of our pain and realize that is the truth of who we are.
Many of us have a feeling of homesickness deep within. A nameless longing and aching grief. Many of us experienced this as children in relation to our mothers, a feeling of being groundless and adrift. Embracing the homesick feeling within the mother wound leads us to eventually come to a place where we realize that we can never be truly abandoned. This becomes possible by becoming a loving inner mother to our inner child as we embrace her deepest despair.
In that despair is a door; a door to our source, the unified consciousness in which we are one with all.
In this way, our pain is a messenger. A messenger telling us it’s time to come home; to the primordial home within, which is the realization of our true identity as consciousness, the knowing that we are spirit and can never be truly harmed or abandoned because we are one with all. I recall moments in my own healing process when I would process layers of grief within the mother wound; the sense of worthlessness and wanting to die. And in that willingness to simply feel the full scope of that incredible despair and grief, I knew that this was the bottom. There was no pain deeper than that. That pain was the ground. And by standing on that ground and being present with my deepest pain, I was free.
Feeling our pain frees us from it.
By sitting with our pain, we begin to recognize that the pain we have felt is not the truth of who we really are. We begin to see that the open, loving presence that we embody as we embrace our own pain is who we are, our true identity underneath all our other identities.
The culmination of living as a “self” is to live as the “no-self”; the vast, loving space that lovingly witnesses our pain and embraces it completely. This is what a healthy mother does for her child. Author Rupert Spira has said that awareness is like the space in a room, it unconditionally accepts what happens in it. Likewise, in order to develop optimally, a child needs a mother who is unconditionally present and accepting of her. However, mothers are human beings with flaws who make mistakes. All of us receive some degree of wounding from our mothers.
Through that primary, holy wound, we are called to become that loving mother to ourselves…and to all life.
As we embody the unconditional love of the inner mother, we become re-connected to life itself. We become re-connected to the birth-less and death-less center that is constantly born and dies in countless forms. This is the evolutionary step that lies within the pain of the mother wound.
As women, we grow up believing that a holy power lies outside of ourselves and in the healing process, we start to realize that what we most desire, that which is most holy, eternal and pure is inside of us and has always been there. In fact, it is us. Not just in one or some of us, but it lives equally in all of us, in all of life.
Because we are all connected, each time you lovingly embrace your own pain, you activate the power of oneness in all.
© Bethany Webster 2014
Back in the early 90’s I ran an organisation that advised on everything to do with death and dying, including sitting vigil with the dying, so I’m relaxed around the subject. In general though, people feel that death is something that they can’t speak about, perhaps because it will bring death to them or make people think they’re weird, so I was slightly anxious about how many people would turn up to the first Portobello Death Café, especially since it was being recorded by Radio 4.
I need not have worried. In all, there were about 20 of us, about half of whom looked under 25, and the conversation flowed beautifully. Not surprisingly, older people had developed their philosophy around death, it seemed to hold no fear for them, and they were keen to stress how important it was to live as full a life as possible. Younger people seemed more focused on the deaths they had experienced and how the process of dying, death and bereavement seemed too haphazard, that there were no rituals to guide them or anyone else through something that didn’t just happen for one day but resonated throughout their lives.
(A few days later Selfies At Funerals appeared on tumblr, which confirmed those experiences. I don’t think it’s the end of civilisation but a demonstration that many young people are now totally unprepared to deal with death and are attempting to find their own way based on how they handle other events. They now know that death is not like other events.)
Right at the beginning of the evening we wrote about what death meant for us on Post It notes and stuck them on the wall. Throughout the evening the notes fell off like autumn leaves. No one missed the symbolism. The reporter put his recording equipment away and joined us as an equal, we all listened to each other carefully and respectfully. The age differences in this group were striking and whilst no overt teaching happened it was noticeable and somewhat moving that younger people listened carefully to what older people had to say and vice versa.
Then we fell upon the exquisite Red Velvet cake that Hummingbird Bakery had so kindly donated and I had to remind people to go home so that the venue could close on time. The only thing I wasn’t happy with was the part of the Radio 4 report in which I say “Portobello Death Café” as if I’ve gone mad. I was reading the cake and was fairly overwhelmed by Hummingbirds generosity and the sheer prettiness of the cake. You can hear my shame as well as the wise and useful things that people said at the café here at around 25mins in.
I’m hopeful that tonight’s Death Café will be as successful and that the one on the 13th November that will be filmed by Yahoo will come across well. People do want to talk about death, to explore their fears and philosophy and develop their knowledge by listening to other people’s experience. If you’re around Portobello, join us.
Lighthouse West London
111-117 Lancaster RoadW11 1QT
Take a look at this interesting post about the lunacy and unreality of endless busy-ness
It's focused on the attitudes and behaviours of people who have enough money for leisure but feel somehow obliged not to have any. I see any number of people in this situation, exhausted, anxious, more or less neurotic - in ordinary language running around not achieving very much. Why? Is it something to do with the endless rhetoric on the basic moral goodness of Hard Work? Is it that women are working harder and not insisting on or letting men do housework and childcare? Do we feel shame at not being seen to be endlessly engaged, endlessly achieving?
"Thinking about things" has a long and respectable history. Spending time thinking, on our own and with other people, helps us improve life and bring it some meaning. A great many of us have lost the ability to, as Pascal said, sit still in a room. We really do need to relearn that thinking is absolutely the opposite a waste of time.
There’s been something to write at length about every day for at least the last fortnight, whether it’s the rise in demands to be ‘positive’ or the looming realization that, if something doesn’t change, we may be seeing Greek people starving and freezing to death come winter. Watching a fascist thug belt a woman three times on television reminded many of us that the circumstances we find ourselves in today are not dissimilar to the run up to WW2.
The death of Gitta Sereny, a journalist and historian who focused on the study of evil, was announced today. Rather than just reporting facts in a pulp biography she purposefully got to know the people she researched and found that she understood them. Her understanding led many of her subjects to contemplate their lives and, in one or two cases, admit their guilt.
There’s a dreadful, mature wisdom that comes from knowing that the Nazi Commandant, Mary Bell, the children who killed Jamie Bulger are just the same as we are which is to say that we are just the same as they are. That’s a horrific pill to swallow but if we simply point and sneer and hate people who do terrible things we paradoxically become even more like them: we become individuals who are capable of destroying people who we no longer perceive as human at all.
I heard a neighbour say it last week. She is of the opinion that all homeless people should be ‘exterminated because they have bedbugs’. She said ‘exterminated’ a number of times, she knows what the word means, and she wasn’t laughing. She’s clearly thought about it. I don’t think she’d pull the trigger herself but perhaps she’d be proud to be a Hard Working Tax Payer making the uniforms for the people who would pull the trigger, or cooking their lunch in a canteen. There are increasing numbers of people like my neighbour: angry, dismissive, cynical, casually violent, displacing their fear and anxiety onto people at the bottom of the pile who cannot fight back, people that very few of us give a passing thought to.
Please listen to this brief interview on Gitta Sereny’s life.
and know that only in seeking relationship with the whole person who commits evil do we learn how close we are to it, and therefore how to avoid joining them.
A report out today suggests that, despite years of repeating the mantra “Exercise Helps Depression” it doesn’t. Unless it does: the outcome of the research is that therapy or antidepressants or exercise have the same effect on depression.
This report comes out on the 40th anniversary of an extraordinary psychiatric experiment. Healthy researchers went to several psychiatric hospitals, reported they were hearing voices, were admitted and diagnosed with schizophrenia. The medical staff spent an average of 6 minutes a day with each ‘patient’ and treated them as if they were indeed schizophrenic, while many genuinely unwell patients realized there was something very different about these people, that they were not, in fact, ill. When some researchers took notes this was diagnosed as ‘writing behaviour’ and part of their illness, and it took a surprising amount of persuasion from outside sources to get some of the researchers out of hospital. On being released, every single researcher was diagnosed as being in remission, that is, still ill but not floridly so.
The resulting paper was a bombshell to the psychiatric establishment. One hospital challenged the researchers to repeat the experiment and later reported identifying 41 researchers posing as having schizophrenic symptoms. In fact, none had been sent.
Context is everything. The context in which the depression research is being received is one of cost cutting – now the hard working tax payer can stop paying for pointless gym sessions for depressed people, even if this is not what the research demonstrates. What the research also demonstrates is that when people are given quality human contact over a sustained period, whether that attention was counselling or research-led monitoring of people on antidepressants, or 13 sessions of exercise advice over 8 months, they felt better.
We live in a context that demands simple answers but in care of the mind there are very few of those. Psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy and counselling have more in common with philosophy than, say, diabetic or bone care. Pancreases and bones tend to do the same things whoever they’re in but the mind and heart are less fixed. That said, we do know that if we expect to hear something we tend to hear it and so it’s no bad thing to question what we believe we know, what the basis’ for our beliefs might be and, essentially, how what we believe we know informs how we live ourselves and how we treat others.
The Dalai Lama was presented with the Templeton Prize for exceptional contributions to spiritual life and I was privileged to be part of today’s award ceremony. It was an extraordinary event for any number of reasons, from the beauty of St Paul’s Cathedral and the majestic choral contributions to the informal, inclusive nature of the Dalia Lama’s speech and the numbers of exiled Tibetans visibly moved by his presence. They weren’t the only ones to be moved. The Dalai Lama is the manifestation of compassion, what we in the West might call a demi-god yet here he was, two feet from us, waving and saying hello like your uncle Bob.
His unprepared speech was filled with playfulness, ease and the insistence that he really is like your uncle Bob or rather, your brother. “I am just one of 7 billion people. We are all brothers and sisters.” He spoke about the central importance of connection with others; the undeniability of interdependence between people, all sentient beings and the environment; non-violent relationships with enemies (great that we’re allowed to have enemies) and the link between personal happiness and the development of love and compassion for others.
Neuroscience confirms this 12th Century philosophy: the prefrontal cortex of meditators light up when they focus on compassion, the same area of the brain concerned with feelings of wellbeing, joy, contentment. If you want to be happy concentrate on the happiness of others.
For me, the message that stood out was that of Self Confidence. For the British having self-confidence is equated with being an arrogant oaf but for the Dalai Lama self-confidence is simply a matter of avoiding excess. Don’t be excessive in your pride or in underestimating your abilities and good qualities. It’s a very clear-eyed, logical approach to mental health.
Here’s the Buddhist prayer from the Templeton Prize programme. Read it and, just for those moments, mean it. See how you feel afterwards: that’s your prefrontal cortex drenching you in feelings of wellbeing when you wish wellbeing for others.
May all beings everywhere
Plagued by sufferings of body and mind
Obtain an ocean of happiness and joy
By virtue of my merits.
May no living creatures suffer,
Commit evil, or ever fall ill.
May no one be afraid or belittled,
With a mind weighed down by depression.
May the blind see forms
And the deaf hear sounds,
May those whose bodies are worn with toil
Be restored on finding repose.
May the naked find clothing,
The hungry find food;
May the thirsty find water
And delicious drinks.
May the poor find wealth,
Those weak with sorrow find joy;
May the forlorn find hope,
Constant happiness, and prosperity.
May there be timely rains
And bountiful harvests;
May all medicines be effective
And wholesome prayers bear fruit.
May all who are sick and ill
Quickly be freed from their ailments.
Whatever diseases there are in the world,
May they never occur again.
May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed;
May the powerless find power,
And may people think of benefiting each other.
For as long as space remains,
For as long as sentient beings remain,
Until then may I too remain
To dispel the miseries of the world.
From A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva.
Happy St David’s Day!
St David was very active in supressing the Pelagian heresy; that is, that we have free will, Original Sin makes no sense and that we can make choices about who we are and what we do.
It seems counterintuitive to focus on sin and suffering during this glorious spring day, and in fact many Christians won’t, in preference spending time in contemplation of their relationships. Here’s a 15 minute clip of Bishop Nick Baines’ thoughts on the balance between being an individual and being a member of many societies.
Christian or otherwise we all need time to think, just to sit around doing nothing at all but instead being in active contemplation of how we are with ourselves, with our family and friends and in relationship to other people too. Therapy is not, thank goodness, an organised religion - any therapist worth the name will be at pains to give you the space to claim personal authority - but we do offer a structure to help get the best out of your contemplation.
There is no original sin, you have freedom within certain constraints and the free will to exercise choices. Where there’s no sin there’s no judgement.
If you get the slightest opportunity today get out in the sun, breath in this glorious Spring and do nothing for a while.
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