“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Saturday, 13 January 2018

A Knot in the Handkerchief of the Sub-conscious

Today I am so very grateful to my sub-conscious mind. You know how it is, when you've been doing a job for years - you stop writing regular tasks down, and just assume you'll remember to do them in time?

Well, I nearly didn't (remember in time). I was driving back from the gym yesterday morning, and suddenly froze in my seat: "*****!" I said to myself (fortunately I was driving alone). "I've got to do X and Y before the end of the week, and it's Friday!"

One hurried shower later, I was in front of my computer, typing away busily. Several hours later, both jobs were done. I am still a little in shock, that I had not remembered them, but mostly relieved that my sub-conscious mind came to my rescue, just in time.

I find the workings of the sub-conscious (or unconscious mind) fascinating. I once read a book called Operators and Things by Barbara O'Brien, which is a sampling of the workings of a mind taken over by schizophrenia. The book is divided into two parts - the first hundred or so pages shares her experience of being schizophrenic - the voices she heard, and what happened to her. The second half, which I found as interesting as the first, was where she pieces together what had happened to her, and shares research about the workings of the unconscious mind, which is the greater part of all of us.

One of the things she mentions is "hunches" - those nudges we get from our sub-conscious, which often help us to solve a problem, or in my case, to remember to do something important.  This is how she describes the process:

"The unconscious, ... when it is presented with a problem, does more than search its files with lightning fingers. It appears to search and also to consider, evaluate, weigh. First, it must understand the problem. And this it can also do. It can grasp an intricate concept. The conscious mind broods over its problem, and the unconscious, listening to the brooding, grasps the problem.

It searches its files, evaluates, and sends up an answer. The answer is rejected by the conscious mind. The conscious mind broods on the reason for the rejection and the unconscious listens, understands, gets to work again with the new concept and comes up with another answer. Still not good enough? Why? The conscious mind broods again and the unconscious gets to work again, and works until it finds an answer acceptable to the conscious mind. The conscious mind stops brooding and celebrates, and the unconscious rests. For the time being, the organism is out of danger."

We call this process "intuition" or "inspiration". I am in awe at the complexities of the human mind, and grateful to my own sub-conscious, which sent me a nudge at the right time.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Mixed Feelings

Yesterday I took the cards down. I un-decorated the tree, and put all the decorations back in their boxes for another year. Then dismantled the tree, and put it back in its box. Then hoovered the floor and dusted and tidied the room.

Back to normal.

On the one hand, this makes me sad. I love looking at our tree so much, with the decorations lovingly built up over the years, and the bright lights twinkling. And at our beautiful hand-carved nativity set, bought 27 years ago in Oberammergau. It has been lovely to catch up with friends and family, either in person, or via the annual Christmas card. It always makes me feel bad, recycling all those loving wishes. But they were read, and appreciated, and brightened up our lives.

But on the other hand, part of me is relieved. Christmas is over, another New Year has been welcomed in, full of hints and promises. I have another chance to learn new things, to make new friends, to appreciate old friends, and to recognise God everywhere.

Spirit of Life and Love,
Another Christmas is over,
Another New Year marked.
May 2018 be a good year
For me, and for all
Those I love,
And for the world.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

A Challenge for the New Year

This morning I was finally re-connecting with the computer, having had a few days away from it over the Christmas period, and catching up with the daily meditations from Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation, which usually give me a nice, spiritual start to my day.

And I came across this passage, from The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice, by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, which Richard Rohr quotes, and which has really resonated with me, as a challenge for the coming year:

"Will you engage this moment with kindness or with cruelty, with love or with fear, with generosity or scarcity, with a joyous heart or an embittered one? This is your choice, and no-one can make it for you. If you choose kindness, love, generosity, and joy, then you will discover in that choice the Kingdom of God, heaven, nirvana, this-worldly salvation. If you choose cruelty, fear, scarcity, and bitterness, then you will discover in that choice the hellish states of which so many religions speak. These are not ontological realities tucked away somewhere in space - these are existential realities playing out in your own mind. Heaven and hell are both inside of you. It is your choice that determines just where you will reside."

"Heaven and hell are both inside you. It is your choice that determines just where you will reside." Wow. For 2018, I resolve to try to engage with the world, with each moment, with kindness, love, generosity and joy.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

It's A Wonderful Life

I've just been watching one of my two* favourite Christmas films, It's A Wonderful Life. It stars James Stewart as the central character, George Bailey, who lives in the first half of the last century in the small town of Bedford Falls, runs the local building society, and lives in a ramshackle house on the edge of town with his wife and children.

Trying not to spoil the plot, I'll just say that as the film begins, George has hit rock bottom, and wonders bitterly whether he has wasted his whole life. All his contemporaries, and his younger brother, have left the town and got on, got ahead, but chance and circumstance, combined with a strong sense of duty and honour, have kept George in Bedford Falls.

He is on the point of suicide, believing that it would be better if he had never lived, when his own personal guardian angel, Clarence, intervenes, and proceeds to show George the many ways in which he has made a difference for the better. There is a wonderful happy ending - hence the title It's A Wonderful Life.

When I watch it each year, I always wonder, like George, how or if my life has made a difference to the people with whom I share it. And end up being reassured by the film's message: that if you do the best you can, and follow the best you know, it will all work out right in the end.

I'm not as unselfish as George Bailey, but I share Brene Brown's aim of living wholeheartedly. In the Introduction to her wonderful book, Rising Strong, she writes:

"I define wholehearted living as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It's going to be at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn't change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging."

I believe that if we can do that - strive to live wholeheartedly, then, like George Bailey, we will be able to lead lives where we can make a difference, for the better. Merry Christmas!

*the other one is Love Actually

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Quiet Interval of Peace

I've just spent a week in the beautiful Welsh village of Trawsfynydd. Its setting is beautiful, above a deep blue lake, with the green and brown mountains and hills, noisy with sheep, all around. Last night, on my return, I felt moved to write a sestina about it:

Trawsfynydd: A Sestina

I have this bless├Ęd interval of peace,
A pile of books and notes and files to read,
The hours stretch out before me like a path,
A week out of time to do some writing.
Inside the cottage all is very still;
Out in the world, the sky is dazzling blue.

Unsettling my mind, I’m yearning for blue –
The hills lure me out with promise of peace.
I walk to the lake, its quiet waters still,
The beauty of God is there to be read.
Yet somehow I must get back to writing …
I sigh and retrace my steps down the path.

And muse as I walk down the soft, green path,
Turning my back on the water so blue,
On my research, that I should be writing;
Instead I’m possessed by a deep, quiet peace,
Which bids me forget what I need to read
And start on this poem in quietness still.

So I get out my journal, sit quite still,
Fall into reverie, follow the path
Of my thoughts as I write, re-write, then read,
Begging the muse to come out of the blue
Bestowing on me her blessing of peace
As words start to flow, and I am writing.

Bliss happens. I would not exchange writing
The joy of creation, that serves to still
My restless heart and restore my lost peace,
Placing me firmly back on the right path.
Words down on paper – why was I so blue?
I pull the files towards me, start to read.

I read and take notes, then once again read,
Nothing now stops the flow of the writing.
I glance outside, the sky is now dark blue.
I look at my watch, quite unready still
To stop work just yet, now seeing the path
To fulfilment, and a deep, grace-filled peace.

No more time to read, it’s time to be still;
No more swift writing, I’ve mapped out the path,
With quick strokes of blue, time to trust in peace.

Not the best sestina in the world. But it has satisfied a very deep need in me, to translate what is in my heart into words on paper. Writing is such a glorious satisfaction. I feel so very blessed.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Every Picture Tells A Story

A friend of mine shared the picture below on Facebook:

And my mind instantly interpreted it as the front bean hugging the rest. Then I looked again, and perhaps it is trying to hold the rest back, or to protect them from whatever is behind it. Or has just jumped from on high, and landed on them, squashing them flat. It is amazing how the human mind can interpret pictures in so many different ways. Hugging? Crowd control? Protective parent? Flattener? This little bean could be anything!

It made me wonder how often we judge situations in an instant, rather than standing back and taking a "long, loving look at the real". Every time we see something, or hear something, our mind jumps to an instant conclusion, which is very often wrong.

I am grateful to my friend, who was only sharing her garden's produce, for the reminder, to look at least twice, before jumping to conclusions.

Friday, 23 June 2017

The Next Right Thing

It's a funny old thing, life. Every morning we get up, wash, eat breakfast, and then face the day ahead. But how often do we actually appreciate each day, moment by moment? And how do the choices we make, moment by moment, affect how our days go?

Wayne Muller, in his wonderful book A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough, asks: "What is the next right thing for us to do? Where in this moment, shall we choose to place our time and attention? Do we stay or move, speak or keep silent, attend to this person, that task, move in this or that direction?"

I don't know about you, but to me, this seems to be such a simple approach to life, much less stressful than being worried about a thousand possible alternatives. You just concentrate on the Next Right Thing - give that your time and attention, and then go on to the next one.

But I'm very conscious that "simple" does not mean the same thing as "easy". This moment by moment approach to our lives *is* elegantly beautiful in its simplicity, but it is by no means easy to do. Because it means that we have to be conscious, awake, moment by moment, so that we make our many small choices with awareness, rather than blindly, depending on how we are feeling at the time. Actively considering each choice, moment by moment, actually sounds quite like hard work.

But it is the most important work in the world.

Because if we look at our lives, really examine them, we can see that they *are* the result of all the choices we have made, in the past days and months and years. It is a gradual, moment by moment process, yet the results of it have shaped our lives. All of us are where we are now, today, because of our past choices. And where we end up, tomorrow and the next day, will depend on the choices we make today.

Samuel A. Trumbore wrote: "Each moment of wakefulness has so many gifts that offer energy and delight. Yet too often they seem unavailable, as the weight of our troubles press down on us ... Even in moments of great danger, the direction of attention is a choice. Fear can dominate the mind, binding it like a straitjacket. Or love can unbind it, and open it to resource and opportunity. ... Holding reality and possibility together is the holy, hope-filled work of humanity."

May we all choose love, may we all choose to follow the Next Right Thing.