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Be still my beating … ego

April 1, 2009

I’ve been thinking about all the things that we humans do to distract ourselves from ourselves. All the things we do and think and buy and worry about, rather than be silent and look within.

I can understand people unconsciously filling their lives with endless activity if they haven’t realised there may be an alternative. But then there are the people like me. People who talk the good spiritual talk. People who have the time to take some time out on a daily basis and yet still don’t do it. We know that regular meditation, regular stillness, quiet, silence, letting go is a way of connecting with our soul. And yet when it comes to converting good intentions into action, I find myself writing a to-do list or cleaning the fridge or rearranging my wardrobe instead.

It feels like the ego’s last gasp of control and the battle inside me is almost physical. The ego is so determined to be keep us in the realm of doing rather than the realm of being.

As a physical being in this world, I know there is a balance to strike between doing and being. Getting the balance right is a daily commitment.

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The art of joy

February 5, 2009

I have a hazy relationship with art. I know people who are truly moved by the opera of Puccini or the paintings of Titian or the plays of Chekhov. They remember in detail the plots of books they read. They can talk insightfully about structure and character motivation and mood.

Me, I just don’t get it in the same way. I can wonder at the skill and craftsmanship of great art but it usually doesn’t get me at a visceral life-changing level.

But of course my ego would like to give the impression that I am “someone who appreciates art” because that it what intelligent, educated, urban, sophisticated people do.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I took myself off for my first ever visit to the National Gallery in London. I was seeking inspiration by doing something I don’t normally do.

I whipped through most of the rooms, assimilating 500 years of paintings in 15 minutes, until I came to the 19th century room.

The room was busy with five year old schoolchildren, one group sitting on the floor in front of Rousseau’s “Surprised” tiger, another group in front of Van Gogh’s sunflowers. Van Gogh’s group were sprawled on the floor, some lying flat, others kneeling forward, their ankles crossed, bottoms in the air as they attempted to draw with pencil the painting they saw before them. They were quiet, serious, intent on the job at hand. And once finished, they took great delight in showing their teacher their masterpieces.

In their prostrated positions, you could say that they looked as if they were in devoted prayer or supplicating themselves to the god of art.

But I think they were doing something simpler – they were experiencing the joy of being inspired to create something of their own. And in their own way, they were creating more joy and inspiration. Every adult who walked into that room lingered a little longer, and they stopped longer at the paintings the children were looking at. They were as fascinated with the children’s reactions to the paintings as they were with the paintings themselves.

It reminded me that there are many sources for joy and inspiration. The music of the Jackson 5 always gets me bopping. I prefer Rothko to Renoir, Woody Allen to Wim Wenders. I’m not particularly interested in deconstructing symbolism as an intellectual exercise. What I am interested in is whether art makes me want to move my body, make me smile, or make me cry. Whether it makes me look at the world in a new way.

And that’s why those five year olds were art to me yesterday.

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La plus ca change

January 29, 2009

I’ve been thinking lately about change and the way different people react to it.

One person I know has a tendency to think that everything that has gone before is better than what’s happening now. And then they get used to their new circumstances and suddenly that’s the new best thing. And the cycle begins again.

Another person says no, no, no, maybe, ok yes, wow this is great. But you have to be patient to get past the no, no, no stage!

I tend to jump right in with two feet only seeing the things that reinforce my good opinion of the change, ignoring or explaining away all the reasons for taking it a bit more slowly.

I like Albert Einstein’s take on change: Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

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Have a good day!

December 12, 2008

I’ve been working out of town this week, leaving home an hour earlier than usual and journeying from a different train line.

And each day this week, something wonderful has happened.

I’ve been walking along a deserted suburban street at 7.00a.m. when suddenly a voice booms out of the darkness from the steps of the Methodist Church on the other side of the road: “Morning! Have a good day!”

The first morning I was startled and apprehensive, walking just a little quicker, holding my bag just that little bit tighter. I looked over to see a bear of a man with a smiling face full of grey whiskers. He was wearing shorts (in London, in winter!) and a fluorescent orange safety vest.

“You too,” I reply.

“Thank you,” he booms back. I hear his voice properly now: it is deep and melodious and it sounds almost as if he’s singing.

I walk on, but now with an extra spring in my step and a smile on my face. And I think about the fact that I am warmly dressed in silk-lined leather gloves and fur-lined boots. I’m an hour out of a bed with flannelette sheets in a cosy, heated house. I have newly washed hair.

I think about all of that. And I wonder how a homeless man wearing shorts in winter seems to be happier than I am.

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I am life

December 4, 2008

I bought Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth earlier this year but it’s taken me months to open it. I loved The Power of Now but for some reason I found the title of his latest book offputting – I thought it was an environmental book (despite the giveaway subtitle: Awakening to your life’s purpose). But I guess you find the right book for you at the right time.

There are few people writing today so clearly about how the ego works to create the illusion of separation of ‘I’ from life, and how it works to create a sense of identity through your attachment to the world of form. I’m making it sound complicated but it boils down to: you are not your thoughts, you are not your ego, when you are at one with life you have no need to bolster your sense of identity with titles, roles, material possessions etc.

This blog is a good test of the ego. My ego says that my sense of self is based on being regarded as intelligent and articulate, and a desire to  express deep and profound thoughts. And with that in my mind, I find it difficult to write regularly. Will what I have to write today be insightful enough to reflect well on me? I’m not particularly witty in that clever, cool way of so many blogs. So will my blog be as ‘good’ as my friends’ blogs?

One of my favourite quotes from the book (p.108-9)  is “You are most powerful, most effective, when you are completely yourself. But don’t try to be yourself. That’s another role. It’s called ‘natural, spontaneous me.’ As soon as you are trying to be this or that, you are playing a role….Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life.”

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What are you searching for?

November 19, 2008

I had a dream last night that I found myself in an enormous softly-lit cave, a natural cathedral. There was a huge gymnastics mat in the middle of the cave. I sat on the ground facing the mat feeling a little lost and confused.

A young woman approached me and sat down facing me. She looked deeply into my eyes and asked: “What are you searching for?”

Without thinking I answered: “Inner Peace”.

She was silent.

“But I think I have to be perfect in everything I do,” I added.

She remained silent.

And as realisation dawned on me, I slowly added “The irony is… that everything is perfect just as it is.”

I then did a handstand, my legs slowly rising with no effort. I was levitating upside down.

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I learned today…

November 16, 2008

… that there are rich, creative worlds within the people I am closest to that I know nothing about.