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’:


…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!

All The Conditions I Need To Be Happy

I’ve been using a very simple meditation recently:

‘I have all all the conditions I need to be happy right now’.

It’s true that I do have an awful lot of reasons to be happy – some money in the bank, a good job (with a good boss – me), all the material comforts I need, food in the fridge, but that is never enough to stop wanting more…

I might have a good camera, but I can always lust after a better one, a good house, but want a bigger one… even if I had a million euros in the bank (I don’t!), I could want 2 million, or a Ferrari, or a holiday home… so having everything you need is always relative to your desires. Modern western society makes sure there’s always a next level to aspire to.

But the meditation, ‘I have all all the conditions I need to be happy right now’ helps solve this for me. Another way I sometimes put it is, ‘I don’t need anything else to be happy, I have everything I need’.

And best of all is when I say this to myself out in the park, and it means I have the sun (or the clouds), and the trees, and my walk, and that I’m alive, and I realise that I don’t need anything else than a few simple conditions like that to be happy.

No need to buy anything else. No need to be chasing after the next line of work that will make me supposedly feel more realised and successful. I already have everything I need. I already have all the conditions I need to be happy in this wonderful present moment, in the very here and now.

And it works when things look blue. The other day I was on my way to the post office and I felt a little low, a little stressed… and I realised how silly that was. I tried a version of this meditation that I like:

Breathing in I look at the lovely blue sky.
Breathing out I smile…

And it worked, I instantly felt better and realised I had more than enough reasons to be happy, and that the first was something as simple as a beautiful blue sky. I carried on my walk feeling infinitely better.

But I still run a lot… Where this simple life-changing meditation is concerned, I’ve still got a lot of practicing to do!

I learned all this from Thich Nhat Hanh, I can hardly hope to put it better than he does:


The Shimmering of Trees

I spend a lot of time looking at trees, and especially love seeing and hearing their leaves flutter in the breeze. Seeing the leaves fluttering makes me think about the underlying energy of it all, of us all – they shimmer in the light with the grace and flow of whatever makes all life flourish and grow.

Once while watching leaves in the park, I thought:

The waving leaves are applauding us for stopping to notice how beautiful they are!

Today it’s very hot in Madrid. My wife and I went driving around new neighbourhoods to see if any of them appealed to us for a house move we have pending. After an hour of stopping and starting, and driving around in circles with the air-con on, I was hot, slightly car-sick, and grumpy.

We pulled over in the shade and started bickering a bit about the whole move thing. I saw this was largely my fault for letting grumpiness set in, and that our whole day (a trip planned up to the hills later with our son) was in jeaopardy, so I got out of the car. And found myself staring across the road at some trees, just watching their fluttering leaves shimmering in the sunlight.

And I felt instantly connected to the present moment, and saw how in the right-here and the right-now, bickering, house moves, doubts, negativity, troubles, woes – none of them matter at a very deep level. They fade away in the absolute timelessness of the present moment, where there is just light, and the shimmering of the trees.

So I got back in the car and apologised. Soon we found out all sort of other things that had been making us both a bit grumpy – the recent death of my wife’s uncle that we still haven’t had time to process properly and let settle. And we left the car and checked out another few streets on foot, and drove up to the hills later with our son and had an incredible day, walking through sierra woodland, beneath more shimmering trees.