June!

image

What a spectacular month June is! May is a wonder of wild flowers and the greenest month around Madrid, but here’s June, and although all the green at ground level will slowly turn to the warm umber shades of dried grasses, the tree tops are greener than ever and the weather is warming up wonderfully. It’s a month for shorts, T-shirts and sandals, and warm evening walks.

Although you can’t see it in the photo above, taken an hour ago on a wander around the neighbourhood, the air is full of fluffy white seed-flakes – like snowflakes, drifting happily along the streets and up into the sky. It gives the day an ethereal, dream-like quality. But then the earth is ethereal and dream-like, and this June I intend to be outside as much as possible to enjoy it.

In fact, I’ve taken the laptop and a chair outside into the garden, and am writing this in the fresh air – the new summer office :)

Ah, incomparable June! I’m so glad you are here!

Don’t live vicariously, live.

Yesterday I felt I needed a dose of Dan Price. I love the person that is Dan Price. I see him as a companion on the same sort of path I have found in life. I discovered him when I first got into drawing, and found that he had a ‘zine called Moonlight Chronicles, and a book by the same name. I never ordered the ‘zine but the book was full of similar material – an illustrated diary of his wanderings around Oregon and beyond, through mountains and towns, with his simple words, drawings and photographs.

He stopped doing the Chronicles recently, after about 20 years self-publishing them, and now spends his time playing the hang drum and wandering, publishing photos occasionally on his Instagram account.

Sometimes I feel I need a dose of Dan, so I check his photo stream to see if there’s anything new. But really it’s because I need a dose of someone that’s living a simple life, mostly outside, and being free enough to dedicate his life to doing what he wants – right now playing music.

Catching myself getting a ‘dose of Dan’ yesterday afternoon, I realised I was just living vicariously his life of freedom. As an outsider again looking at something better. “How stupid!” I thought. If I want to be back on track as a companion of Dan’s again, all I have to do is turn off this darn computer, and get outside. Get up into the hills every day to see the wild flowers. Draw… play the guitar…  do whatever it is that constitutes that free and fine life for me, instead of watching others do it. Then I can go and see what Dan’s up to later on as a fellow friend, not as someone doing something better than I am.

So, I switched off the laptop, and headed out into the garden to tend the plants for an hour. Later I played the guitar. This morning I headed up to the hills to walk amongst the wildflowers. Much better. Now I like to think of my friend Dan as a companion again, doing similar things and having a good time.

I hope you are too. It’s so easy to watch others from the outside and think ‘I wish… I wish…’. And it’s just as easy to have a good time doing pretty much what they are doing too, or a good enough version of it. So may I not live vicariously the fine lives of others, but be inspired by them as companions, to get out and carry on with this fine life of mine right now. It’s all out there!

Tuning In To Radio Happiness

A friend said to me the other night, ‘I heard a theory that our thoughts aren’t ours, they are just out there in the universe, and they sort of pass through us, we have them – but they’re not ours’, and I said it reminded me of Neil Young who said while chatting between songs on an album that when he writes a song it’s like he is a radio, that the songs just come to him, the radio that picks them up, and he writes them down.

Here we are, catching things from out there – thoughts, songs, poems, this blog post…

I wondered later, if I’m having thoughts from out there in the universe, why do I often have unpleasant thoughts? Worries, fears, negative judgements and so on.

And I remembered my favourite Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn telling us we can ‘change the TV channel’ or ‘change the CD’ in our minds if we are having unpleasant thoughts, to a channel that is happier, more positive. Instead of listening to ‘Radio Negative’, we can move the dial over to ‘Radio Happiness’.

How do we do that? What are pleasant thoughts like? Instead of fears and judgements, I suppose that Radio Happiness is made up of thoughts concerning reasons to be happy, gratitude, simple appreciation of beauty in nature, music, art, other people – our good enough lives.

It might be hard to make the channel change, I think it has to be cultivated with lots of practice. Maybe catching the unpleasant thoughts quickly when they come, smiling at them, and deliberately swapping them for a few happy ones. I’m committed to this, to moving the dial, changing channel to Radio Happiness.

As well as changing to a happier channel, there’s the option of turning the radio off entirely, which is where mindfulness and meditation come in. Then I suppose we are just present observers – we aren’t a radio anymore, but part of the thoughtless here and now. I am not a regular ‘formal’ meditator at all, but I can most easily turn off the radio when I’m out in nature, just walking in the woods looking at the wild flowers, plants and trees. And I always come home happier after turning the radio off for a while.

Afterthought…

But you know what? If the thoughts really are just out there, and we catch them or have them, then perhaps instead of trying to control it all, the best thing is just to listen in to the radio in our minds as it chatters away, and decide whether we want to pay attention to it or not (whilst helping to create space for it to be silent, ‘off-air’). Perhaps it’s as simple as that – listen in, tune in, tune out. It’s an ongoing investigation for me, something I’ve read about in countless books, but it’s time to work it out for myself!

Spring

Scan 31

 

…A Sketch from a corner of our garden. It’s definitely a dandelion. I’d written a thousand words below it earlier this morning about Harlan Hubbard and how great his books are about a self-sufficient life on and by the Ohio river, and about having confidence in our own path as he did, but you know what?

There’s enough words out there in the world already for us today. My brain is full! I’m freeing up some space!

I highly recommend Harlan’s books though. I started with Payne Hollow, which really is the second part of his story, but I think it works well like that, and I’m only a little way into Shanty Boat.

Happy Spring. May you have time to enjoy much of its chaotic complexity (Harlan’s description).

135 words. That will do just fine.

 

What is a day?

This morning I woke up and felt the presence of the day I’d started. A new day. And I suddenly thought, “What is a day?”

Every day, we start a new day.

What is a day?

Answers came…

It’s an opportunity.

It’s life. Now.

It’s all there is. Today.

It’s a sacred space for us to move through and explore.

I asked my 7 year-old on the way to school. He has the purest wisdom of the family, the wisdom of the very young. “What is a day for?” I asked.

He answered at once: “To enjoy”.

A Good Enough Life

I’ve written a lot on this blog about my struggle with striving. Always thinking there’s more to achieve, that I can be better, do more, save the world! Never stop “being more” than I already am! And how exhausting that is…

It’s one of the things that so attracted me to the Zen of Thich Nhat Hanh, who introduced me to the concept of aimlessness, one of the buddhist canon’s ‘Three doors of liberation’. And it certainly was completely liberating to me to be told ‘you already are what you want to be’, ‘there’s no need to run or hurry any more, there’s nothing to search for, everything you need is right here in the present moment.’

It’s the best medicine I’ve ever tasted (there’s a perfect explanation of aimlessness in this transcribed dharma talk).

I’ve pretty much got the ‘there’s no need to strive’ thing sorted out now most of the time, as long as I keep myself relatively busy. My mind needs something new and different to work on, it seems to be healthier like that (I remember the guy who wrote the book Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell, saying he writes because if he doesn’t he basically drives himself mad very quickly, and I totally related to that!)

At the moment I’m learning guitar, with the help of the wonderful justinguitar.com, and the process is keeping me very happy – now I’ve slowed down a bit, realised I’m not in a hurry to be ‘really good’ at it. Hurry, rush and haste are still my biggest difficulty. So often I find myself leaving to meet someone, or pick up my son from school, or whatever, and being in a mad stressed rush as I leave the house. I think I just have to be prepared to accept being late. The rush is unhealthy. I need to join the ‘slow life movement’, if there is one.

The Spanish have a proverb, ‘vísteme despacio, que tengo prisa’ – Dress me slowly, I’m in a hurry.

But back to the striving and wanting and achieving thing. For a long time I focussed on having inherited this from my mother, but it’s more than that. It was part of my schooling, it’s part of society, our industrialised, materialist, consumerist world – be more, consume more, earn more, get more, faster and faster… My mother got it from there, her parents probably did too, and so on back (to the industrial revolution?) – and so on forwards to our children if we don’t work it out.

The concept of aimlessness has helped me enormously, but the other day I read something else by Thich Nhat Hahn that I thought summed things up so wonderfully that I’ve been thinking (and smiling!) about it every since. That a good enough life is good enough. It’s as simple as that. Why look for more if life is already good enough? He says:

“There is a Vietnamese proverb, “Tri tuc, tien tuc, dai tuc, ha thoi tuc.” That means, settling for “good enough” is enough. If we wait until all our needs and wants are met, we may wait forever. “Tri tuc” means “good enough.” “Good enough” means being content with the minimum amount necessary. Your shirt and pair of shoes can last another year. It’s all right for three or four people to share a desk for studying, there’s no need for each to have her own desk. Settling for “good enough” in terms of simple living will bring us contentment, satisfaction, and happiness immediately. As long as we think our lives are not good enough, we will not have happiness. As soon as we realize our lives are good enough, happiness immediately appears. That is the practice of contentment.” From Two Treasures, by Thich Nhat Hanh

So, yes, a good enough life is good enough. And mine, without doubt, is good enough.