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

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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

 

The Sun Always Comes Out In The End

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This is the best mug in the world. Firstly, because it was given to me by a very very nice person. Secondly, because it has pulled me out of many a downward mental spiral! Argument with a loved one? Difficult situation occupying too much of your thoughts? Don’t worry! Al final, siempre sale el sol! – The sun always comes out in the end!

(If you like it, it comes from Mr Wonderful. Currently Out of Stock, but a rainbow version here.)

The Magic of Making Art

I discovered two of the most important things in my adult life via blogs on completely unrelated subjects. One was mindfulness (found on a blog about work productivity), the other was drawing (found on a blog about photography).

I’ve written plenty here about mindfulness, so now a bit about art… It’s just as fantastic!

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Yesterday afternoon, feeling kind of ‘February-ish’, I sat down with some wax crayons, and drew the winter image above, thinking of the Thames in Oxfordshire, where I grew up.

Later that night, feeling a little overwhelmed by that heavy February sky, I sat down again with a bunch of watercolours to paint the Mediterranean scene below, from another image I had in my mind’s eye. It cheered me up! I sent it to my sister via Whatsapp, she said it cheered her up too! Great! The Mediterranean swept away the Thames Valley blues!

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This all started when I began drawing and painting again a few years ago. As is typical, I gave up making art in my teens, discouraged by other kids being much ‘better’ at school. I carried on with photography instead, which satisfied my creative needs for years. But then photography became so digital, and so linked to the computer, that, being so long on the computer all day anyway, I got fed up with it and took less and less photos. That’s when I found an article about learning to draw on a photographer’s blog.

That led me to a wonderful book called “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards, which taught me to draw from life, which has given me enormous pleasure. Drawing things like this:

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I ended up doing short art courses, going on ‘sketch crawls’, ‘urban sketching’, and recovering something that was long lost – the magic of making art. Something that uses a whole other side not only of our brain, but our soul.

And it doesn’t matter at all how ‘good’ we are (in our or other people’s eyes), because really in art there is no good or bad. That’s just the judging mind! (And observing the self-criticising voice in our head, having a go at our art, is an excellent mindfulness exercise!)

Something magic happens when we play with lines and colours to make a drawing or painting from our imagination. Or when we observe deeply the outside world to draw it carefully onto a piece of paper. It’s transformative! I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’ve lost it since childhood, bring art back into your life!

At the moment, while it’s too cold to be sitting still outside for long, I’m mostly drawing and painting trees from memory, playing with indian inks…

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…drawing every tree is like a meditation.

So if you think, like I did, ‘Hmmmm… That looks like fun!’ – It is! Have a go!

“What an artist is trying to do for people is to bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing: you wouldn’t be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought. I am constantly preoccupied with how to remove distance so that we can all come closer together, so that we can all begin to sense we are the same, we are one.” David Hockney (Hockney’s Pictures, Thames and Hudson)

“I have always believed that art should be a deep pleasure. I think there is a contradiction in an art of total despair, because the very fact that the art is made seems to contradict despair.” David Hockney (Hockney’s Pictures, Thames and Hudson)

Just Trees…

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A few trees I’ve found on my walks over the past few days. My sister reminded me the other day how they look like upside-down drawings of the inside of our lungs – and they are the lungs of the earth. Isn’t that extraordinary?

Trees are a constant source of wonder to me. I used to be bothered that I didn’t know the names of many kinds of tree, but the other day I realised it doesn’t matter. No need to label everything! They are incredible just as they.

Fictions – The Stories We Tell Ourselves

The other day I wrote in a notebook, “All my suffering is created by my mind… and what I think others think about me or my life. The judgement of others of me, in me! What crazy fictions!”

OK, so not all my suffering comes entirely from there, but a huge amount of it! It’s amazing what stories we invent for ourselves! And my most torturous stories often involve what I think the outside world, other people, think of me. Still worried about that aged 42!

And mostly, in my case, these stories focus on ‘what am I doing with my life’, or more precisely, what do other people see me doing with my life. Because as always, problem number one in our busy, busy world is thinking that we are being good, useful members of our society. No, better still, some kind of superstar in some incredible field of work or other.

Time and time again I come up against this in my own thoughts. Am I being useful? Does it look like I’m being useful and more of less fantastic to the outside world? It probably looks like I could be doing more or saving the world a little bit better! I better make sure I put myself across right!

Stories stories stories! Some stories say “I’m not making the most of my talents… I’m wasting my life… (or on a really bad day) – I’m useless…” and other times the stories say “I’m saving the world… I’m being super creative… I’m learning something worthwhile… Phew, everything’s OK!”

But it’s all fiction that we write for ourselves every day. I read somewhere that ‘Good therapy changes your story’, so that you go from “I’m useless” to “I’m great!” or “I’m held back by my terrible childhood” to “I’ve processed that now and I’m OK”.

And it’s true. Good therapy does change your story. It helped me enormously to move from point A (I’m not OK, the world’s not OK) to spend a lot more time at point B (I’m OK, the world’s OK).

But there’s more (or perhaps… less…). I think that meditation, or mindfulness, or Zen, goes beneath all the stories, sees them as the stories they are, stands back to watch them telling themselves, and finds that underneath all the fictions and masks we weave for ourselves, there is nothing but freedom and peace.

“Mediation is to sit on the bank of the river of our mental formations and observe them,” said a very wise man (Thich Nhat Hanh).  It’s like lying on our back in a warm garden, and seeing the stories we invent slip past like clouds in a deep blue sky.

42 and I still get caught and pay attention to the stories and let them drive me mad every now and again! But 42 and I’m starting to be able to stand back and watch them tell themselves, and say “what fictions I invent for myself!” and let them slide away. A victory for mindfulness! And a true source of happiness. Lying back beneath the stories and gazing up at them, letting them float by, that’s where peace and freedom lie.

And then what? Sit around and do nothing? No! Love life! Explore! Follow my nose! Create! Enjoy! Watch! Listen! Just… Be! Without having to wrap it all up in a constant tale of my own telling and worry about what the outside world thinks of it all!

That’s a kind of freedom that we all deserve to enjoy on our journey through this incredibly beautiful world.