Trees and Life


When I’m in need of a lift, or boosting my inner energy banks, I draw an oak tree. Last year I had to help organise a tremendous series of mindfulness events, and looking back I can’t imagine how I and the rest of us did it.

For my part I put it down partly to drawing an enormous oak tree with colour crayons a few months into the process. It gave me huge strength, I’m sure of it. The one above is similar, but in charcoal, from a couple of days ago. Big A2 paper, branches right up to and over the edges as an art teacher showed me.

It’s life-enhancing to draw a tree like this. And not so difficult. I highly recommend it if you need a boost. (By the way, I plan to fix the charcoal with skimmed milk!)

Meanwhile, more from the streets of Madrid…


My son loves the next shot, he thinks the Plaza Mayor’s headless man is great…

DSC03045 DSC03060

The final image is of the most peaceful evangelists I’ve ever seen. They stand in busy parts of Madrid with these adapted shopping carts full of leaflets, but never approach or stop anyone. The poster here says, “Jesus saves us, but from what?”

I don’t know, but it made me think of another banner I saw on a church recently that said:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28.”

It struck me firstly that just about everyone nowadays is burdened and weary and needs rest, and that this invitation is so beautifully worded that you feel better just reading it. And secondly, that this same rest is exactly what is offered by the buddhist wisdom I’ve been immersed in for the past 7 or 8 years.

I love it when I find these coincidences between philosophies or religions because it makes it clear that at the bottom of everything we are all the same, and all concerned with the same things, notably in this case, just a little bit of inner peace.


For my mother…

My mother died 8 years ago.  Her birthday was yesterday, the traditional first day of spring.

Dear mum,
Are you here?
Are you the flowers on the table,
Or the purple umbrella I bought
Without realising it’s the same as the one you always used to carry?
Or are you the spring rain falling outside,
Or the gathering green rising out of the earth?
Or are you a thought or a memory?
A feeling in the heart?
A special sensation never lost, you’re always there, dear mum, ever present.
It’s lovely to have you around.

Back into Photography…


The other day I wrote that I had got fed up with photography in recent years because everything had got so ‘digital’, and more photography just meant more time on the computer. I think this was exacerbated by a change of camera a couple of years ago to a highly-advanced, pocket-sized, fixed-zoom wonder-camera that practically took photos for me. The height of technology, and for me the height of boredom.

Then my father gave me an even more advanced camera, a Sony A6000, that he found a bit too much as well – it has about 1,000 possible settings! This I gratefully received as it meant I could get back into putting different lenses onto a camera again…

Then my super-photographer friend Mike showed me how you can put almost any, old, manual-focus lens onto these new cameras with an adaptor, and gave me a lovley sharp Yashica 50mm f1.7 manual-focus lens from the good old days. Leica, Canon, Olympus, Nikon, whatever old manual focus lenses you’ve got lying around or pick up 2nd-hand, can go on these new cameras. Amazing! The adaptor for the Yashica cost me 8 pounds.

So, with the latest in camera-tech combined with a good-old manual-focus lens, (and a quick lesson in ‘focus peaking’ and ‘focus magnifying’ from Mike – how these new cameras help with the manual-focus part), he and I spent the day wandering old Madrid, and I haven’t enjoyed photography – in this case street photography – so much in years (…see photos above and below). It’s wonderful to be back into photography again.






Music Meditation, Leonhard Cohen.

There is a wonderful mediation in the back of the book ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’, that goes like this:

Listen to a piece of music. Breathe long, light, and even breaths. Follow your breath, be master of it while remaining aware of the movement and sentiments of the music. Don’t get lost in the music, but continue to be master of your breath and your self.

A piece of music that goes supremely well with this is ‘Spiegel im Spiegel for violin and piano’ by Arvo Pärt. It’s sort of transcendental. When someone tells me about music they love, and I find I like it too, it’s like receiving a gift. This piece of music by Arvo Pärt was one such gift from my neighbour.

My sister’s partner recently gave me a Leonhard Cohen song, ‘Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’. What a gift! Not only the gift of that wonderful song, but the gift of Leonard Cohen. I’ve been exploring his music, and feel extremely lucky to have found it. (I’m probably the last person to know – in meditation circles he’s very popular as he spent a number of years mid-90s as a Zen monk). If you have never heard his music then here are three classics:

Hallelujah (from ‘The Essential Leonard Cohen’)
Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye (from ‘The Best Of’)
Lullaby (from ‘Old Ideas’)

And the Arvo Pärt song, Spiegel im Spiegel for violin and piano, is from ‘The Very Best of Arvo Pärt’.

Space for Spring


By mid-May last year, I had a terrible sensation: that I’d missed the spring. Or that due to the fact that I had been working incredibly hard on a very exciting project, with the final crunch lasting from January to May, that I hadn’t paid spring any attention at all. How could I miss spring! What a waste!

I swore that this year it wouldn’t happen again. Now, in late February, the days in Madrid are getting warmer, just, and spring is hinting at its early arrival. The huge yellow-flowering mimosa tree on the corner of our street is just starting to come into flower.

Last year I did notice that, at least. The tree’s infinite, tiny, yellow sun-like blossoms together formed a vast yellow sun that blazed at the end of the street, the perfect example of interbeing – the sun in the sky, the sun-tree on the corner, the sun that was every one of its tiny blossom flowers, all perfectly interconnected.

I certainly noticed that tree, once or twice, as I rushed back to work, but little else! Now the tree is starting to burst into yellow flame again (see photo above!), and I realise that whether I miss spring or not this time round is entirely up to me. Whether I miss life or not is entirely up to me! Work isn’t the only thing that can keep my mind on other things. It’s capable of spinning off at the slightest excuse, and I can wander my way through to summer with my eyes down, and my thoughts consumed by all sorts of wild dramas and inventions if I’m not careful.

If I want to really see spring this year I’m going to have to really pay it attention. Walk through it and look at it, hear it, smell it, really see it! Spring is one of the most glorious miracles of life on earth. It’s the Great Unfolding, divine creativity painting the world anew. It’s nature’s explosive capacity to right itself and return again and again and again. It’s rebirth, and it’s continuation. Who’d want to miss that! What could be more important!

Though I’ve been less busy recently, once again I’ve just started a new project that comes to fruition at the beginning of May. I’m going to get busier. But I’m keeping a wide open space in my life for the spring and saying a clear ‘no’ to any extra work that might try to sneak in and get in its way. Who want’s to be so busy that they miss spring? (Or all of life’s other wonders?) It’s been two years since I last saw spring properly, and I’m already enjoying the first signs of this one.

“Once you are fully in the present moment, you touch all the wonders of life that are available within you and around you.

Your eyes are wonders of life.
Your heart is a wonder of life.
The blue sky is a wonder of life.
The songs of the birds are wonders of life.
If you are available to life, then life will be available to you.

All the wonders of the Kingdom of God are available to you today, at this very moment.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh