That perfect state

Two days ago I was walking through our village with three six-year-old boys, my son and two of his friends, on the way back from getting the first ice cream of the year. They were happily babbling away in Spanish, it was gloriously warm, a perfect spring afternoon.

I was struck by how funny it was to be walking along with three kids chatting away in Spanish, but how normal too – how odd it was that this had ended up my normality! That Spanish should go in and out of my head as easily as English after all these years. That I should have a Spanish son with Spanish friends. How curious life is!

And I felt completely happy. This happiness involved no internet, mobile phone, gadgets, entertainment, just the realisation that the present moment was perfect just as it was. Being outside, with three happy children, was enough.

It reminded me of a few lines that spilled out into a notebook of mine the other night:

That perfect state
That perfect energy
When now is all there is…
This very moment
And all it has to offer
Is enough.

I’m convinced that mindfulness, or awareness, or ‘being awake’ is the perfect state. When we realise that we have enough with simply that, and what wonders of life cross our path from moment to moment. What keeps us from that state? The mind and its inventions, needs, desires, perceived lacks… But we need so so little to be happy.

I’ve recently been driving myself mad trying to decide which camera lens to buy next – but the one I have already takes great pictures – I have enough! My wife was wondering whether to take on new yoga classes at a prestigious center, but a little too far from home – but then she realised that she already has enough classes nearby to be happy.

I think the idea of having enough conditions for happiness already is so important – we just have to keep an eye on our dear mind and how easily it’s tempted – and let’s face it, we live in a society that is absolutely designed to offer us more and more of everything all day long – more things to buy, more things to experience, more things to learn, to do – we must consume all of this to keep it all going, and marketers will do their best to ensure we do! It’s no wonder we drive ourselves mad wondering what else we could ‘add’ to our lives to make them better.

‘I have enough, I have enough’, with this perfect moment, and all it has to offer. What peace there is in that way of living.

Trees and Life

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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…

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

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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…

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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.

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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)