Doing the right thing

Sometimes it’s not easy. I volunteer with a local charity. I’ve been doing it about 5 years now. It has been going for over 40 years and is entirely run by volunteers. Last year it won a Queens award for voluntary service too.

Our local MP – or ex MP as he is now until the General Election if he wins – is the Vice President of this charity. Oddly enough he turned up at an event on Saturday showcasing local volunteering organisations. I manage the social media for the charity and was sent a picture of him to post on the Facebook page. The charity is strictly a non political organisation and just over 2 weeks before the election this felt wrong. I thought about it further, and reflecting his voting record in the commons decided that morally and ethically I had to stand by my principles.

Not only that it felt disrespectful to all the volunteers who give up their time for no personal gain. He arrived at our AGM last year after it was finished and didn’t turn up at all to the presentation of the Queens award. How odd then that he has time now with an election looming (not)!

I do wonder how many people check their MP’s voting record?  Although he consistently votes for gay rights (surprise, surprise he is gay!) he voted against the promotion of equality and human rights – go figure! He has voted in favour of trident, military action, fracking, fox hunting and the bedroom tax and other policies that negatively affect the most vulnerable in our society and against allowing in more Child refugees.

I was discussing my dilemma with some Buddhist friends this evening and they agreed with me. It’s not always easy doing the right thing and going against the herd. I don’t always get it right but I will always strive the best I can to ensure the mark I leave on the world is mostly positive.

Not in my name.

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What are you searching for?

I would wager that everyone is searching for some sort of meaning in their life. There are probably as many ways of doing this as their are people in the world. Many are probably not even aware but everyone is motivated to do things that they think will make them happy. Even bad things. Because doing things that are unskilful (I prefer that to bad) can sometimes distract us from being with feelings, thoughts or emotions that may be painful or uncomfortable. Drinking or taking drugs is a prime example of this.

You see when I look at my life it has been pretty hard (by Western standards anyway). I was in an abusive marriage for 15 years and the abuse continued afterwards too, I am still single at the age of 53 having had my hopes dashed many a time, my eldest son is a homeless heroin addict and I have no idea where he is right now, I used to have a business and lost a lot of money in the crash of 2008 and had to sell my house to pay off some debts so I have no financial security (if anyone ever does), my ex husband died in 2014 so I am now my sons’ only parent, among other things. I am now consciously creating my life. I live in a beautiful area, I have enough money (for now) and some savings so I am richer than many in the world. But it’s not about material wealth for me, it’s about the riches within.

I would probably not have chosen this path if I had know differently when I was younger but all the hardships and good times have led me to where I am now. When my marriage became intolerable in 2001 I was so scared the only thing I could think of to do was to pray. I don’t believe in God in the Christian authoritarian sense but by praying – I didn’t really know who I was praying too – I found the strength within me to get out. It wasn’t easy by any means and I had 3 young children to think about too. What it did give me though, was faith, faith in something higher.

I have been studying Buddhism since 2007 and what I have learned from the Buddha’s teachings has helped me through many a difficult time since. I have learned not to take things so personally. Everyone is on their own journey and doing the best they can with the tools they have at their disposal. I was brought up in a Christian environment and now it all makes sense. I can see the meaning and symbolism instead of taking it all literally. I no longer want to be bound by the label of a ‘religion.’ Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist and Jesus wasn’t a Christian but we can learn from the examples they set. What I do like about Buddhism is that it recognises that everyone has the potential to become a Buddha.

We are all divine, spiritual beings. Human beings. The more we can let go and allow ourselves to be the more our divine nature shows through. We don’t need ‘fixing’, we don’t even need to search for anything. I now choose to radiate love, starting with love for myself. Love is the highest vibration. It is not weak, it takes strength to love. That’s why it’s hard sometimes, especially when we have been upset by someone else’s actions.See my previous post on forgiveness.

It is a paradox that when we reach enlightenment, we will realise that we were enlightened all along. I sometimes get glimpses of it in my meditation, that sense of pure love and light and peace with the world. That’s when I am reminded I can stop searching, I already have it within me. Of course I forget but one thing I always remember is to have faith.

Love to you all you amazing beings. Choose love, always.

Forgiveness…

… can be very hard but if we don’t we are the ones that suffer. Take a moment to think about a time when someone did something that upset you and you haven’t forgiven them. How does it feel? You see the think is if you are holding onto that resentment it hurts you, not them. Forgiving is not the same as forgetting or condoning someone’s actions. Rather it is recognising that they probably didn’t upset you intentionally and they are suffering too. Even if they did mean to hurt you it is because of their conditioning and chances are someone has hurt them.

I remember several years ago seeing one of the mothers of the children who was murdered by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley – the moors murderers – in the 1960s on the news. This was over 30 years later she was still wanting revenge. I know what happened is probably the worst thing that can happen to a parent but she was the only one who was suffering.

Around the same time there was a bomb in Northern Ireland and amongst those who were killed was a 3 year old boy. His father, who had lost his only son, was being interviewed on the news. The interviewer asked him if he wanted to get back at the IRA for what they had done. His reply was, ‘No, because two wrongs don’t make a right.’ You see he knew that holding onto hate would only make him suffer even more than he was already.

I know I sometimes set high standards for myself that I fail to reach so I have to learn to forgive myself. I look to the example of the Dalai Lama and his attitude towards the Chinese. It is possible but if we still find it too hard to forgive others we can start by forgiving ourselves…

What are your triggers?

One of the joys of meditating and mindfulness is that you get to know yourself better. It’s not always easy because we have to face the dark side too! As we start to live more mindfully we become more aware of our thoughts and feelings and start to act on them less (hopefully!). We also start to notice patterns and how particular situations can trigger a strong reaction and leave us feeling hurt, upset or angry. We are only human and it can be dangerous to suppress these feelings because they will only resurface at a later date. However we can choose how we respond.

So what to do? As I try to live more ethically I always try to respond with love; firstly to myself and then to the person who may have done something that upset me. It’s usually the ones closest to us, our family and friends, who push our buttons the most anyway. It’s not easy because my first thoughts are usually to start blaming them for how they have acted. I try to remember that everyone is doing their best and it’s not personal even though it may feel like it. Everyone is a result of their conditions and if something upsets me I can look back and see how similar situations have provoked the same reaction. However I know that if I do respond skilfully in a loving way I will feel better about myself and I’m creating a better world for those around me too. If someone does something that hurts us the chances are they are hurting too so don’t they deserve love too? We all do. I still allow myself to feel what I’m feeling and by acknowledging the negative emotions it takes the power away from them.

Here’s to creating a more loving world one step at a time. Compassion is a radical act. The people or situations we have difficulty with can be our biggest teachers. Look at how the Dalai Lama responds to the way his people have been treated by the Chinese. What a wonderful example.

Meditating with crystals

I have been using crystals for over 10 years now. I have also been meditating for almost as long and yet it was only today I thought of combining the two so I appreciate this is not a new idea. It’s just a new experience for me.

I am by no means an expert on crystals – I just know they work. I don’t even know the names of them (apart from rose quartz) let alone their qualities. I bought the ones in the picture above yesterday and have forgotten the names of them already.

The person who first introduced me to crystals told me choose the one(s) I liked and trust they were what I needed. And really that’s all you need to know. Pick up whatever you are drawn to and they will provide the healing you need.

I’ve had a difficult few weeks dealing with hurt and emotional pain. I was away in January visiting a friend and my meditation practice had slipped. So yesterday I went crystal shopping. The blue heart is to help with communication and protecting my aura. The others are for grounding. I definitely needed that as I am very good at spending too much time in my head and overthinking things. I walked around all day yesterday with the crystals in my pocket and felt their effects immediately.

So today when I sat down to meditate I was still very much in my head. Then I thought why don’t I hold the grounding crystals. I realise I may be preaching to the converted here but sometimes we overlook the most simple ideas.

The result? Difficult to describe sometimes but definitely miles better than before. My third eye is open again after having been shut for a few weeks now. I had completely forgotten about it and how much better it feels to have the chakras open again. I would just add though that I wouldn’t expect this kind of thing to happen all the time. It happens to me quite a lot but only recently because I have built up a depth of practice. It’s like paying into a bank account – of course it’s best to keep it topped up regularly – but if you miss a few payments the reserves are there already.

The trouble with mindfulness

I am writing this post in response to an article ‘Is mindfulness making us ill’ that appeared in the Guardian magazine at the weekend. It was written by a writer on ‘politics, social affairs and economics.’ Her name is Dawn Foster and it appears she has had one bad experience of meditation and found a few others who have too. Suddenly everyone is an expert because they’ve been to one meditation class or on a 6 week course. Last week I heard Leicester University have jumped on the bandwagon and are now offering a Masters qualification in ‘Mindfulness and Compassion.’ This in my view is the real problem – that people teaching mindfulness do not have a regular practice which is more important than all the ‘study’ in the world.

This would have been a good opportunity for Dawn to investigate what really happens in meditation with experienced practitioners. Painful stuff comes up more often than not and mindfulness alone will not fix the problem. Because you are sitting with your bare experience there is no chance to suppress it by being busy or pretending that you have ‘dealt with it.’ It may be that counselling or therapy would be appropriate in some cases and a good teacher would know this. In my experience mindfulness helps me with difficult times because I know the only way is ‘through’ or it will come back to bite me later. I have also learned that you never deal with anything. Stuff from the past will always come up unexpectedly and each time it does I gain a greater insight one way or another.

I am by no means an expert, my first meditation experience was in only in 2006 and I have been practising ever since. There is still a long way to go and the further you come it would seem the less you know! It is a lifelong journey and to dismiss meditation, mindfulness or whatever you wish to call it after one disappointing experience seems crazy to me. Would you give up eating after a bad meal?

Shame on you Dawn, it would appear you are an experienced journalist but why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

 

 

 

Calming your thoughts

Something I hear a lot is ‘I can’t meditate because I can’t empty my mind.’ I have to confess before I started meditating I thought that what was supposed to happen too. Meditating is about getting to know your mind, spotting patterns and assumptions. Recently I’ve been getting more than a little frustrated with myself as my thoughts seem to be on overtime at the moment and even meditating twice a day my mind is still as busy. At the weekend Prakasha was talking about waiting for our mind to settle. If only! Sometimes even after an hour of sitting on the cushion it was still as busy.

Last night I woke in the small hours and my mind was racing as per usual. I then remembered something else that Prakasha had said about facing everything in our experience so I thought instead of trying to turn away from the thoughts I would let them in. I felt all the thoughts come rushing into my head like children running out of school at the end of the day, and then – they settled. It is so easy to turn away from those parts of our experience we don’t like but when we face them we actually feel happier.

I am working in a school at the moment where people are dropping like flies with sickness. I almost felt guilty this morning because I had so much energy and enthusiasm. There is much published in the media at the moment about how mindfulness and meditation improve health. I know from experience that it works.

 

Mind your language 

I’ve just returned from an inspiring weekend with Prakasha at the Brighton Buddhist Centre where we were looking at how we can move from our conditioned existence into higher states. Here are some of my musings…

We create our own reality from our perceptions. We are all unique and my view of the world is completely different from yours. Taking a simple example, when I lived in the Middle East I was taking my infant son for a walk in his buggy along the corniche. It was January or February and the temperature was about 20 degrees. He was dressed in a t shirt and I was stopped by some horrified Arab women who told me that he would catch cold. In their view it was cold. In the summer the temperatures out there were over 40 much of the time yet for me it was a comfortable summer temperature. Cold and hot is purely subjective. 

Our greatest cause of unhappiness is wanting things to be different from the way they are. That does not mean that we should not change anything but we can get so caught up in the way we want things to be that we lose sight of our current reality. As a coach I know there is nothing to be gained by telling someone they are wrong however narrow their view of the world may be. I encourage people to question those views and work out for themselves which are helpful and which are hindering them. We can get so caught up in thinking that our opinions are facts that it can stop us from effecting real change. In Buddhist terms we just keep going round and round the wheel of life being led by our beliefs without ever taking a step back. 

In the teaching profession I see so many teachers ‘fighting’ and that makes me so sad. It’s usually against the government who are generally following their own agenda. Perhaps it’s time for us teachers to do the same, to start a mindful revolution instead , to have the courage to ‘be in the gap’, to stop reacting and instigate change from within ourselves. Ministers and MPs are human too and like us they want to be happy and free from suffering. Their actions may be unskilful but they generally come from a lack of awareness rather than a deliberate intention to cause harm. 

I know it’s an old cliche but as Gandhi said: Be the change you want to see in the world. I would add to that look at the language you are using to describe your reality and how would changing it alter your perceptions?

Meditation may prevent absenteeism by stressed public servants

I came across this article from the Guardian which was published in January via another blogger today. It is interesting to note that studies are showing that mindfulness training is reducing sickness absences yet there is also concern that there is a shortage of qualified teachers. Following on from my post of a couple of days ago I wanted to highlight this issue again. As far as I am concerned although there are many trainings out there of varying quality the main issue is whether the trainer has a mindfulness practice herself. You can go on all the courses in the world but if you are not embodying it then it will not have a lasting impact on the people you are training.

I am planning a mindfulness programme for the school where I am currently working.  It is not something to be taken on lightly. It takes thought and preparation but I know that potentially the results will be literally life changing.

Our children need more love

Following on from yesterday’s post about mindfulness in schools I came across this Loving Kindness event happening online throughout March. Imagine the effects if every teacher took part!

I am concerned about how every school I work in dishes out detentions, ‘parking’ (removing disruptive children from the classroom), internal and external exclusions. Surely if these sanctions worked pretty much all of them would be well-behaved? I have no quick-fix solution, it’s not easy when you have a class of 30 children all demanding your attention!

I believe there is a way forward though. I was talking to some year 10s today about the retreat I attended at the weekend. They asked me if I found ‘inner peace’. I said I was getting there and I was learning more about myself. One of the ‘liveliest’ boys asked me if I could teach them. He said he would much rather do that than maths. You see they are even asking for it! I have to agree with him, finding inner happiness should take priority over everything. Let’s help them so they are then ready to learn.

I am currently reading ‘The Indigo Children.’ The old education system does not work for today’s pupils. Many of them are restless, they know the truth and it is not being validated for them. I have hope though, even if I can do my little bit for the children I work with and I know of about 4 others doing similar work in schools, the effects will ripple out and eventually all children will be taught mindfulness and meditation from when they start school.

As Gandhi said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ I am trying, one step at a time.