Life is full of precious gifts

What gifts do pour forth upon each new day
If but we open our hearts to receive them.

Every day is full of amazing gifts. Starting with one new day. Another day on this beautiful planet. The first and greatest gift of all.

Then the sun, trees, daylight! People we meet, projects we are involved in, children, friends, smiles, conversations with shopkeepers, our legs and feet to move us around amongst it all, a good meal, a glass of clean water! A moment to pause. Space to think. Space to stop thinking…

Spring leaves, roadside flowers, gentle rain, birdsong.

A warm shower, a warm hug, a warm smile, a warm fire. A walk to… anywhere!

This breath… the next breath… this moment, and the next…

So many gifts! Every single day!

A Good Day

A friend send me this wonderful text by Brother David Steindl-Rast who I had never heard of. There is a video version at the bottom if you prefer to hear these things. Wonderful.

A Good Day

You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day; it’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness. If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day of your life, and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well.

Begin by opening your eyes and be surprised that you have eyes you can open, that incredible array of colors that is constantly offered to us for pure enjoyment. Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky. We so rarely note how different it is from moment to moment with clouds coming and going. We just think of the weather, and even of the weather we don’t think of all the many nuances of weather. We just think of good weather and bad weather. This day right now has unique weather, maybe a kind that will never exactly in that form come again. The formation of clouds in the sky will never be the same that it is right now. Open your eyes. Look at that.

Look at the faces of people that you meet. Each one has an incredible story behind their face, a story that you could never fully fathom, not only their own story, but the story of their ancestors. We all go back so far. And in this present moment on this day all the people you meet, all that life from generations and from so many places all over the world, flows together and meets you here like a life-giving water, if you only open your heart and drink.

Open your heart to the incredible gifts that civilization gives to us. You flip a switch and there is electric light. You turn a faucet and there is warm water and cold water — and drinkable water. It’s a gift that millions and millions in the world will never experience.

So these are just a few of an enormous number of gifts to which you can open your heart. And so I wish for you that you would open your heart to all these blessings and let them flow through you, that everyone whom you will meet on this day will be blessed by you; just by your eyes, by your smile, by your touch — just by your presence. Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you, and then it will really be a good day.

-Brother David Steindl-Rast

Be Kind

Last weekend we checked into a hotel in Barcelona, and came across a very, very tense young lady working at the check in desk. She didn’t agree with an aspect of our booking, something we had agreed with the guy that had taken our booking on the phone a week before.

Basically we had a two-bed ‘twin’ room for three of us – my wife and I would share a ‘single’ bed, and our son would have the other. Because the twin beds are huge, and every time we order a supplementary bed for our son, he ends up in one of the single ones, we end up in the other, and the cost of the supplementary bed is wasted. So we booked a twin room for the three of us, no extra bed.

The lady at the desk was not happy about this. Hotel policy dictated that as our son is over 2, everyone had to have their own bed. She began to get more and more fraught and uptight as we explained our position, and that we weren’t about to change our booking and pay more.

My initial reaction was defensiveness, which naturally turns into returned agression, but then I stopped and looked at her for a moment and saw that she was just incredible tense. I thought that maybe she had good reasons to be very stressed that day, and that me getting cross with her was not going to help. Who knows what it was? Her jaw was as tense as a two clamped iron girders.

What was going on in her life to make her so stressed? At home? At work? What could I do to not add to that? So I calmed down and smiled and breathed deeply, and pretty soon we resolved everything, and when I saw her later that day, she was smiling in a friendly way to us.

This is simply about a big realisation that I had in that moment. That we never know what’s going on in people’s lives that can make them difficult for us to deal with. But when we understand how tricky situations in our own life, families, work etc can make us stressed and hard to be with, it’s easy to transpose that understanding onto other people.

Yesterday I came across this quote, that sums it up pretty perfectly:

everyone

 

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind.”

Well, maybe not everyone is fighting a battle all day long, but everyone that’s having a bad day, or making your life difficult, probably is lost in some background suffering of one kind or another. It might be small, it might be huge. We just don’t know. The least we can do is to breathe deeply and be kind back to them.

What do you want to achieve today?

I used to be tormented by the question ‘What have you really achieved today?’ But now I understand there is another way of looking at it…

May I be calm and smiling when the rest of my family wakes up, that is the greatest gift I can offer them.

And with luck I’ll be able to offer a warm smile to everyone else I greet.

Perhaps I’ll have a chance meeting and happy conversation with a friendly neighbour in the street.

And stop to enjoy the light on the autumn leaves.

If I have time to stop completely and meditate for 20 minutes, to touch my inner peace, that is already enough.

If I create space to sip a cup of tea in silence and see the steam rising over the rim of the mug, and take in the perfection of that present moment, the day is complete.

If I can fill a day with such treasures, and really see the wonders of life surrounding me in the present, then all other conventional ideas of achievement evaporate into insignificance.

May all my days be spent like this, and whatever great plans come to fruition in the meantime, will be a happy bonus.

Today has mostly been like this. It’s been a wonderful day.

 

Live and Recorded Talks from Summer Retreat in Plum Village

The first talk of the first week of the Summer Opening in Plum Village with Thich Nhat Hanh is live now (…now over – but keep an eye on his facebook page for updates about live talks). You can see this, and other live and recorded talks from this and other retreats, at the Plum Village YouTube channel: http://youtube.com/plumvillage

Highly Recommended.

You can also listen to the talks as podcasts here: http://tnhaudio.org/

Finally, Thich Nhat Hanh will be touring Spain in spring 2014

 

Stopping… Not Needing…

Today while walking through the park I saw a little road-sweeping truck crossing my path ahead of me, kicking up a huge amount of dust. I stopped in the middle of the road I was walking along to let it pass on its way, and to wait for the dust cloud to clear.

I stood there, nothing to do, nowhere to go for a bit, and noticed ahead of me a vast tree, one of the park’s giants. I remembered how illuminating that tree had been for me in the past, such a masterwork of nature, but I never see it any more. But now I’d stopped I’d seen it again, and marvelled once more at its size and beauty.

The Great Unfolding of the Energy of The Universe as I like to think of it.

Only when I stop can I see anything. Not just physical things, but other realisations or insights too. Nothing becomes clear until I stop, then things have time to appear with clarity on their own.

But seeing as we humans rarely stop these days, it’s usually hard to see anything clearly at all.

So I’m stopping more. Observing. Enjoying the view!

Not Needing…

Yesterday I walked past a huge electronics store in the center of town, a place I’d bought a computer and endless peripherals years ago. And I found myself automatically thinking “there must be something I need. What could I need that they’ve got?”

And then I remembered, “I have everything I need, I don’t need another thing in my life!” It felt like an old habit had been clicked into action, a pavlovian reaction - see shop, must need something! We are trained to buy!

I’m finding that the truth that I already have everything I need to be happy can be applied to so many different areas of life. There’s no need for more of anything. No more things. I have everything I need to be happy already.

In fact I’m releasing things again as much as I can. Stashes of old art materials, more books, projects, plans, old ambitions… I have an idea about reducing everything I personally own (not including shared family items like our car, just my stuff) to what fits laid out neatly on our dining room table, clothes included, and I think that would be about the right amount of stuff to own.

Less stuff, less plans, less running around, gives me more space. And I’ve discovered how much I need space to feel calm. A long time ago my wife and I made a decision never to put more than one plan into a day. Like going somewhere, eating out, meeting friends. Whenever we break that rule and fit two or three things into a day, we are overloaded again!

But back to things… I have been reading about non-hoarding in the anthology of Ghandi’s writing, Soul Force. His ideas are very strong:

In observing the vow of non-hoarding, the main thing to be borne in mind is not to store up anything which we do not require.

…Non-hoarding refers to stocking of things not needed. Non-stealing refers to the use of such things. If I need only one shirt to cover myself with but use two, I am guilty of stealing one from another. For, a shirt which could have been of use to someone else does not belong to me. If five bananas are enough to keep me going, my eating a sixth one is a form of theft. Suppose we have a stock of 50 limes, thinking that among us all we would need them. I need only two, but take three because there are so many. This is theft.

…The principle underlying all these vows in truth. By deceiving oneself, one may refuse to recognize an act of stealing or hoarding as such. Hence, by taking careful thought we can ensure at every step that truth prevails. Whenever we are in doubt whether a particular thing should be stored or not, the simple rule is not to store it. There is no violation of truth in renunciation. When in doubt about the wisdom of speaking, it is the duty of a man who has taken the vow of truth not to speak.

This seems terribly fierce to our western eyes, so used to abundance. But it reflects so clearly on a global scale. So much over here, so little in developing countries. The more I take, the less someone else has somewhere else – it all seems to me to be an obvious matter of equilibrium. Ghandi seems so fierce because his version of truth makes me feel uncomfortable.

But putting it into practice makes me happy. Giving away my hoard of unused art materials to the old ladies that collect and redistribute things at the local church, and thinking that someone else is using them, makes complete sense.

And from there it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion not to buy and hoard anything unnecessary in the future. I discovered that one of the books I had given to the homeless guy who sells books in the park had ended up being bought by a friend of mine who had enjoyed it. My wasted hoards become someone else’s pleasure.

This is a line of experimentation that I have a long way to go with, I still hoard many things and it will take a long time to release everything I don’t really need (and I come from generations of hoarders, so the habit-energy is very strong!), but it feels like a healthy way of life. Non-hoarding, and Not-needing. With very little I can be very happy.

Finally, I was at first amazed to find reference to hoarding in Lao Tzu’s wonderful Tao Teh Ching, but then I wasn’t surprised at all – as Ghandi says, these truths ‘are as old as the hills’:

81…

…The sage does not take to hoarding.
The more he lives for others, the fuller is his life.
The more he gives, the more he abounds.

- Tao Teh Ching, Lao Tzu, Translated by John C. H. Wu, Shambala Dragon Editions

And now to stop writing for a while. It’s very hot, and the season dictates a slowing down…

Breathing in I know it is hot…
Breathing out I smile at the heat…

I leave you with two great reading recommendations:

1. The above mentioned Tao Teh Ching, by Lao Tzu, Translated by John C. H. Wu, Shambala Dragon Editions. So perfectly brief, such wisdom.

2. Two Treasures, by Thich Nhat Hanh – which includes and comments on two fantastically named texts: The Sutra on the Eight Realizations of Great Beings, and The Discourse on Happiness.

And a contrary recommendation that I will be taking up myself – read less, practice it all more!