The Call

Most days, I experience a question nagging at me: what am I being called to do, to be? The question’s there when I see and hear someone suffering.

It’s there when I walk down Swan Street at 7am on the way to work and see the man in the beanie awake in his nest of bedding and plastic bags and food in the Readings doorway, and when on the trip home 12 hours later I see him there again, sitting and staring. It’s there when I hear the news about Syria, and when I listen to the people around me.

No matter the details, it’s the same thing in each case: human beings not in reality, human beings trapped in a story they have not yet distinguished as a story.

What am I being called to do, to be, to help ease their suffering, to point the way to freedom?

Today, I’m remembering a man who helped me greatly about 8 years ago. I’d only just met him. His name was Alex and he was from Adelaide. We were in a group having noodles for lunch at Darling Harbour. He asked me about my work, which at that time was a painful topic for me. I talked, and as I talked, he just kept on eating his noodles. Every so often, he’d look up and ask, “And then what happened?” And it went on that way for 20, 30 minutes. Him eating his noodles and occasionally looking up, and me talking.

As the minutes passed, I realised something special was taking place. I realised he was really listening, that he was totally there for me. As he listened, I felt more and more accepted and peaceful. All the drama and pain vanished and I was left with the priceless experience of being seen and heard by another human being for what felt like the first time.

That’s the real peace work, that’s real love. Get angry, campaign and protest all you like about this injustice and that injustice, and it’s as naught compared to real peace work, real love.


Ubiquitous nervousness

I’m reading the books of Pema Chödrön, the former student of Chögyam Trungpa, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher who fled Tibet for the West where he eventually gave up living as a monk, studied at Oxford, founded Naropa University in the US and died in 1987. I love his books for their sardonic wit and the great intelligence with which he approaches the topic of fear.

Like her teacher, Pema Chödrön is also good on fear, and in particular, its source: the experience of fundamental groundlessness. Nothing is solid, nothing lasts, all is air, and yet we live our lives trying to avoid facing the fact. It’s this avoidance that makes our lives miserable and generates the strife and suffering of the world.

In a passage in her book, Unconditional Confidence, she says that for the last 10 years of his life Chögyam Trungpa became even more focussed on fear and fearlessness, and the importance of people being instructed in dealing with the experience of groundlessness. He predicted that human beings were about to face a time in which it was crucial. In Chödrön’s view, that time has come; the time he was speaking of has arrived.

We are, she says, “slightly panicked all the time”, experiencing what Trungpa called “ubiquitous anxiety” or “ubiquitous nervousness”. It’s the hum “in the background making you nervous, making you dissatisfied”. At the same time, however, it’s easily ignored because we have a culture built on ignoring it:

“So much entertainment, so much speed, the minute you feel it you can open your cell phone, the minute you feel it you can check your email, the minute you feel it you can listen to tune 900-millionth on your ipod … “

All of these are ways of trying to “get ground under your feet”, trying to get away from the feeling of fundamental groundlessness. And it’s not limited to our phones and email …

“We need some instruction about what to do when we are squeezed, what to do when we meet our edge, what to do when there’s an habitual reaction to hide in some way or escape in some way or strike out against ourselves or others. There’s a habitual reaction to try to get comfortable, and in the process of following the habitual reaction we become more neurotic. It’s one of the big teachings of the Buddha, that everyone wants to be happy and feel security and comfort, and everybody goes about it in a way that just makes a big mess. You want to be comfortable so you scramble for ground and often what that is is blaming somebody else, striking out at somebody else, gossiping, slandering, and it gets to the point where people, in the attempt really to get some ground under their feet, to feel that they have something to hold on to, looking for security, people steal, people lie, people kill, people even torture. Generally speaking, no-one does any of these things because they want to feel worse. They do it because what they’re feeling in the pit of their stomach is such a groundless, insecure, uncomfortable, wide open, nothing-to-hold-on-to, open-ended experience that they just want to find something to hold on to, something that represents security. And one of the biggest ways to do it, along with entertainment, along with drugs and alcohol and all the other ways we try to find some pleasure, along with that what we also do is to divide the world up with our views and opinions about how things should be and how things are supposed to be and we hold tightly to those views and opinions. It’s a big way that we try to get secure, by how we interpret the world in a way that makes us feel comfortable and then it’s great actually if you can get a whole group of people to agree with you. And all together you start to attack, either in more or less polite ways, people who don’t agree with you. And it’s a big way that people start to get comfortable …”

So what is the basic instruction when you experience fundamental groundlessness? It’s to learn to stay with the uncomfortable feeling, the queasiness, the uneasiness, until it passes of its own accord. This is the first and last necessity: to not run away. Do that and the world changes.


Quotes from the audiobook, Unconditional Confidence by Pema Chödrön

Ode to Friday

“There is some kiss we want
with our whole lives,
the touch of spirit on the body.

Seawater begs the pearl to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately it needs some wild darling.

At night, I open the window and ask the moon to come
and press its face against mine.
Breathe into me.

Close the language-door and open the love-window.

The moon won’t use the door, only the window.”

– Rumi (Persian, 1207-1273)


“I look back fondly …”


My friend, Nadene, has been writing a daily post on Facebook about things people may not know about her. She’s had a group of us glued to her posts for her humour and her willingness to go places other will not.

There have been many outstanding posts so it is difficult to pick a favourite. I chose this one to share with you because it touched many people on Facebook and it may touch you too. What’s notable, aside from the vividness with which she recreates her childhood, is that as she writes she gets more and more present to her gratitude to her parents and to life in general.

If you want to read more of her posts, there’s a link to her Facebook page at the end of this post.

Here she is, Ms Nadene Marsh, aged 46 and a quarter …


Day 21 of 30……….
I AM 46 and a quarter years old.
I was a kid in the 70’s & early 80’s.
I danced to Abba.
I climbed trees.
Played handstands and marbles.
Built cubbies in the nearby bushland and rode my bike for miles. Sometime with friends and sometimes – God forbid; ON MY OWN.
We played cricket in the front yard with the neighbourhood kids and sometimes even the parents.
We went knick knocking at night time while our parents had parties.
We sunbaked on the hot footpath in front of our houses after hours of swimming in somebody’s above ground pool, dried off and ran to do it all again.
I walked to school with my big sister and we’d meet kids along the way. Sometimes we’d stop and play marbles or jump in frosty puddles. Then we’d cut across a paddock with an electrified fence, crawl under another fence and jump across a creek to save walking all the way round.
We made it there and back without a hitch. Though sometimes someone got an electric shock!
I bought cigarettes for my parents until I got old enough to refuse to support their habit.
We rode in the Holden station wagon with hot, sticky vinyl seats, parents smoking in the front, seat belts hanging limply in their place – unused. And we’d drive like that all the way to far off places for family holidays and country music festivals with Dad & us kids all in matching cowboy hats. Dad’s was white with a black band, ours were black with a white band. Sometimes when there were loads of us we rode in the boot space pulling faces at the other cars.
We bought singles from Brashs for $1.50 and LP’s or tapes for $7 and listened carefully, stopping and restarting the music, writing out all the lyrics so we could sing them off by heart. Summer Lovin’ from Grease was the first track I remember doing this to. My sister was in charge because she was 9.
We ate Fish Fingers, Mince Casserole and Apricot Chicken for dinner and got excited when mum learnt a new thing called Lasagne.
We could go to the local milk bar and buy 10c of mixed lollies.
I’d watch excitedly through the glass cabinet placing my order: 1 cobber, 2 sherbets, 2 teeth, 1 bubblegum no make it 1 teeth, 1 sherbet and 3 bubblegums….no bullets please!
We ate Razz’s & Sunnyboys, icey triangles of frozen sugar-water heaven and would steal the neighbours empty bottles to get the 5c refund to be immediately exchanged for another Razz, Sunnyboy or a bag of mixed lollies.
We made crank calls on the phone and thought we were rebels. Until Dad put a lock on it to stop unapproved calls. And then he installed a phone jar where you had to pay the 10 or 20c toll have the lock removed and make your approved phone call.
Sometimes the phone jar funded a few lolly runs even though the lid was sneakily supa glued on.
We slept outside on banana lounges when it was too hot to sleep inside because there was no air conditioning and we froze wet flannels in the freezer to cool us down until they were melted & warm, then back into the freezer they’d go.
We had only white bread or brown bread and when I was less than 6 years old, the milkman delivered our milk to our letterbox. We would leave the empty bottles in the special milk-bottle-carry-crate with the money for the milkman – a small stack of coins wrapped in brown paper in a twisted fashion, allowing it to sit snugly in the opening of an ’empty’ for the milkman to collect.
It never went missing.
We drank Loys and Crystal soft drink that came home delivered once a week; a dozen mixed flavours, packed to order.
Ginger Ale was ALWAYS the last bottle left.
We had different wallpaper in every room of the house. My bedroom. Which I shared with my sister, had big orange flowers and a gingham covered pinboard where we’d pin all the TV Week centrefold pinups of our favourite pop stars and bands. We also had pink candle wick bedspreads & striped flannelette sheets.
We’d cover our books at the beginning of the school year with brown paper & as I got older, with those TV Week posters or pretty wrapping paper.
Rick Springfield was on my Music book and I knew all the words to Jessie’s Girl. When I had a crush on a boy I would change the lyrics to ‘I wish that I was what’s-his-name’s girl.’
We’d record music off the radio, 3XY was the coolest, making mixed tapes of the top 40 with Casey Kasem, trying hard to make sure we pressed STOP at the end of a song BEFORE he started to speak.
We made up plays in our school lunch breaks to perform in front of the other kids. We did a masterpiece in Grade 4 called the NEWS show and I was the kooky weather lady Ms Boobs – which is hilarious for 9 year olds especially because yes you guessed it she had giant boobs. That same year some of the boys put on a Kiss Concert.
We had handwriting contests. I always won and to this day I have beautiful penmanship – which I am very proud of.
We played elastics and skipping at lunch times and shared our lunches. No one had nut allergies. I was the Double Dutch skipping champion for a while. I sucked at elastics.
We played in the storm water drains where we found bats lived and got all muddy.
The kid down the street would hold a little stall in front of his house selling apples from their tree for 5c or little electric shocks on some mad professor invention he’d made for the bargain price of 2c.
We borrowed encyclopaedia Botannica’s from the Carey’s at No. 10 and for a long time, years later, we still had their F Edition. I don’t think we ever gave it back.
We knew all our neighbours.
And we were always outside.
Even though my brother and sister and I were bullied quite badly when we came to Australia, it’s a teeny blip on the radar of growing up with all that freedom, adventure and creativity.
Being a kid were some of the best years of my life.
I wonder if kids of today will have equally delightful memories of their childhood. (Now I sound like an old fart!)
CREDITS: to my parents Jerry & Ellie, THANK YOU! 👍🏾💖”


For more of Nadene’s adventures: Nadene Marsh on Facebook

Me and me

The other day I experienced an insight with a whole new shock and depth. I am my mother. It’s not that I share the genes of my mother, or that she gave birth to me, or that I grew up with her, or that I’m like or unlike her in looks, behaviour or any other way. None of that is what I’m talking about. She’s not over there while I’m here.

I AM her.

I had a phone conversation with her the day after, and had the experience of me talking to me. Extraordinary.


The simplest thing


I bought the book in a Hobart secondhand shop a few years ago. I’ve mentioned it before. It’s a tiny self-published thing that contains many spelling mistakes and whenever I read it for just a few minutes my view of life transforms. How powerful! How magical!

What are the words that get me every time?

  • That life is very simple.
  • Few people understand this.
  • We are told all sorts of things about how to be happy, “Live your dreams”, “Find a career”, “Find your soulmate”, and that we need “lots of money”, “a great education”, “a car and a house” or “two cars and two houses”, or “to be doing things or going places” to be happy.
  • The truth is very simple.
  • There is only one cause of lasting happiness and that is the flow of love.
  • Conversely, there is only one cause of all the suffering in the world and that is the lack of love.

That’s it! Nothing else to say because nothing else is necessary!

The author understands that “love” doesn’t necessarily mean a romantic or even affectionate feeling. What we normally call love is a microscopic part of this vast Love.

The author says this:

We will be the happiest when we can offer every atom in the universe our unconditional love, and in turn, receive the love that is always flowing from every atom. This is the most essential element of our nature. Every one and every thing radiates love naturally whether we are conscious of it or not. [my italics]

Want to be happy? Simple.

Walk down the street and silently offer love to everyone you pass.

Or, get in your car and instead of “looking at it with disdain, thinking that you are just waiting to get a better car, try looking at it with love. Imagine getting into your car and saying ‘I am so grateful that this wonderful chariot transports me effortlessly and lovingly every day. Thank you. I love you.'”

Or, think of your house and instead of desiring a bigger and better one, “love your current space. Love the shelter it is offering you every day. Thank it for offering you such a nice opportunity every day to be comfortable and cared for.”


References: From The simplest book God ever wrote by Sunirmalya Symons


The insanity now abroad


The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking. ~ Martin Heidegger

If ever there were a clear example of the tendency for human beings to let themselves be run by “the ought”, it’s on full display in the reactions to Trump’s executive order preventing entry to the US by certain groups.

Instead of simply acknowledging the feeling of helplessness and leaving it alone, human beings use the “ought” – I ought to do something, someone ought to do something, we ought to be able to do something – to try to get away from the feeling.

That’s when the ability to think goes out the window.

Thus we have people demanding denunciations from governments and other citizens as if they are the issue, rather than the original act of discrimination and its summary execution. Witness the former US ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, who is reported to have declared that the “hottest place in hell” is reserved for those “who remain neutral”. Not for Trump or anyone else in his administration the hottest place in hell. No, it’s for those who do not perform a denunciation of him publicly and to the satisfaction of the watchers and evaluators everywhere.

The original issue is pushed aside for something in which we feel no impotency: parades of self-righteousness.

It’s one example of the insanity now abroad.


I want I don’t want I can I cannot I be I not be


There’s a feeling or experience that is rarely discussed, even identified, and yet it’s running human beings. Much of the distress, agitation and busyness of the world arises from this one thought. Shakespeare saw it and put it at the centre of his profoundest work – “To be or not to be”. Mostly, it goes underground. That’s why I was excited to read a re-creation of it in a book of so-called Zen questions and answers.

In this example, the person asking the question feels helpless and frustrated about a situation involving his mother, but it could be any situation. The “answer” will apply. See if you recognise it in your own life. I particularly like the “forcing a way through the logjam with ought”. That’s very good …

I am in a complete impasse with my mother. She demands all the time that I be there to help her; but when I try to do anything she complains and says that she is better off with the nurse. How can I use this in practice?

… I sympathise with you in your feeling of impotence in the face of what does seem an impossible situation. So often we are caught up with the feeling that we ought to do something, and that feeling is always accompanied by the feeling that we ought to be able to do something.

Would it help at all if you were to allow the feeling, ‘I ought to do something’ to come up, and simply be aware of it without the feeling of being identified with it? There is a great difference between the feeling of ought and the feeling ‘I’ ought. The feeling of ought dominates our lives: there ought to be a solution to all my problems; there ought to be a way of living better; there ought to be a way of dealing with the world’s suffering, and so on. Unfortunately, because we can imagine an ideal situation, we believe that ideal situation ought to be ours. To stay with the feeling of ought without seeking for a way to realise the ought, is very uncomfortable, but it is a way through.

‘Ought’ may well come out of our contradictory nature, and this can be expressed as: ‘I want to do something and I do not want to do it; I can do it, I can’t do it.’ We try to force a way through the logjam with ‘ought’, and get frustrated and humiliated by the failure to do so. This feeling of ought, and consequent frustration it brings, may well be at the root of our need to find a ‘spiritual’ way … Basically we are all, all the time, on the horns of the dilemma, but some are more adept at pretending that they are not.”

~ From What More Do You Want? by Albert Low

Image: Cat and Bird, 1928, Paul Klee




“If you had not already found me you would not be seeking me.” ~ Saint Augustine

Images: A strange and beautiful flower on a neighbourhood tree. Look at the twin rows of inner petals, the top row slightly higher than the bottom, the bands of watercolour purple and dark purple aligned so from above it looks like a single row.


I am you


“When I don’t know who I am, I serve you. When I know who I am, I am you.” (The Ramayana)

There was a terrible event here in Melbourne last week. A 26-year-old man, after allegedly stabbing and almost fatally wounding his brother, drove a stolen car into the city in the middle of a busy Friday lunchtime, turned into the pedestrian mall in the centre of the city, and drove at 70 km/hour for several blocks mowing down whoever was in his path. Five people died including a 10-year-old girl and a 3-month-old baby. The mother and younger sister of the girl are critically injured, as well as many others.

Amid the blame and anger expressed by people being the ordinary way of being human, a man from my sangha posted the following thoughts of Facebook. His response is the one which most people are unwilling to make, and is the path to the end of sorrow: to see yourself as the perpetrator and the perpetrator as yourself. And once one makes that move, the ultimate truth may hove into view: to see that you are the perpetrator and the perpetrator is you.

Following my friend’s thoughts is a poem by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“As I sit in stillness this morning, I sense my weary heart. I feel the pain and the suffering for what has happened in Melbourne yesterday. I see myself as friends and families for the injured victims and for the deceased victims. I also see myself as the man who caused such a tragic chaotic incident. I see a beautiful little boy with a charming smile in him. I see all the nice things that he has done during his childhood. Just as similar and no different to my own children. So what has gone wrong I wonder.

My immediate reaction is anger. And anger can lead to hate. But I know that hate never resolves hate. Hate escalates hate. Only understanding and love has the power to embrace hate and transform hate. Our society is becoming problematic everyday because of fear, anger, confusion and hate but with the right understanding we can all transform this …

So how do we cultivate love in our society? In schools, in families, in workplaces and every part of our lives. It’s all up to the individual to take action. How we want our community to turn out all depends on us. We can all make a difference. Happy parents can change the world.”

“Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river,
And I am the bird which, when Spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay his
‘debt of blood’ to my people
dying slowly in a forced labour camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so full it fills up the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace


To be beautiful

Working Title/Artist: From the Faraway, Nearby Department: Modern Art Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1938 photography by Malcolm Varon 1984 transparency #5AD scanned and retouched by film and media (jn) 12_13_04

Last year, I joined a sangha in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and it’s so good to be a part of it. I can talk about Thay to my heart’s content and listen to others talking about him. Here is a passage which a sangha member shared. I consider it a wonderful gift, and in turn I offer it to you …

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.”


Text: Thich Nhat Hanh

Image: From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937, Georgia O’Keeffe

Seeing flower: The second mindfulness exercise by Thich Nhat Hanh



Once upon a time, I had an experience in which I saw people are flowers. I’m using my words carefully here. I do not mean people are like flowers; I’m not speaking metaphorically. I’m speaking literally. When I looked, I saw flower. Not a flower, or the flower. Simply … flower.

When I discovered Thich Nhat Hanh some years later, I knew I was home. Because he too can see flower.

Following is his instruction on the second mindfulness exercise, “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower …” For details of the first mindfulness exercise (“Breathing in, I know I am breathing in; breathing out, I know I am breathing out”) and subsequent exercises, go to the book or recording listed below or any of his many publications.


“Now, the second exercise, flower fresh …

‘Breathing in, I see myself as a flower; breathing out, I feel fresh.’

Humans are born as flowers. When I look at a child, I see her, I see him, as a flower. Very fresh. Very beautiful. Look at how our eyes are like flowers. In the sutra, the eyes of the Buddha are described as lotus flowers. Our lips can be a beautiful flower, specially when we smile. And this is a flower that we can offer to anyone, at any time. Just breathing in and breathing out, and smile and you have one flower to offer.

And you know something? Your eyes can smile too. So when you look at someone and smile with your eyes, you offer two flowers. And if you smile with your mouth, you offer three flowers.

[audience laughs]

And your hands are also like flowers. And with my hands I can form a flower, a lotus flower. And when I bow to someone, I say something like this, ‘A flower for you, the Buddha to be’ and I bow to him or to her.

So my hands are flowers capable of making people happy, and when I offer a lotus flower to that person, I offer another flower with my mouth and two other flowers with my eyes.

We are born as flowers. But if we don’t know how to take care of our flowers, our flower may be tired, may wilt. When you breathe in deeply, you make every cell in your body smile like a flower. Become fresh again for your sake, for your own happiness, and for the happiness of those around us. If you are not fresh, if you are grouchy, if you are irritated, then people around you cannot be happy. Therefore, practise becoming a flower again, practise ‘Breathing in, I see myself as a flower; breathing out, I feel fresh.’

The Buddha practised refreshing himself and therefore when we look at him we see him like a flower. He’s described as sitting on a flower. It means that anywhere he sits, he sits with peace, happiness, freshness, because he is a flower himself. So when you sit on your cushion, sit in such a way that you become a flower and suddenly your cushion becomes a lotus flower. And practising the way of the Buddha, you should sit on a lotus flower and not on burning coals.

[audience laughs]

If you have too many worries, too much anger in yourself, you cannot sit on a flower. You sit on burning coals. You have no peace. As soon as you sit down, you want to run again. And therefore, the lotus is not available. In order for the lotus to be available as a seat to you, practise being a flower.

Flower fresh, that is the second exercise. And if you practise like this three or four times, you become fresh and you enjoy that.”


Text: From the recording, The Art of Mindful Living by Thich Nhat Hanh

Image: Hollyhock Pink with Pedernal, 1937, Georgia O’Keeffe

Surrender and freedom

Georgia O'Keeffe Pelvis IV 1944 oil on canvas 36 1/16 x 40 3/8 " (91.5 x 102.5cm) Georgia O’Keeffe Museum © 1987, Private Collection

2016 was one of the best years of my life. This time last year I was struggling with an area of life that hadn’t been working for a long time. For years, I kept doing the same thing over and over again in this area, unable to see any other course of action and convinced that if I just tried harder or better, it would eventually work. Finally, in December 2015 I was left with nowhere else to go and I took the first steps to accepting the situation AS IT WAS.

In January 2016, the new reality had begun and though the situation was hard and unfamiliar and still NOT THE WAY IT SHOULD BE, I could see it was indeed something new in an area in which the new had died decades before. I suddenly had new problems, and new problems meant movement. So that encouraged me.

Then in March, at Easter, I had a big breakthrough. The situation was better, but come the Easter weekend, I was feeling sad and disempowered and was ruminating on old sorrows. Again, I did something different. I’d been reading and listening to Thich Nhat Hanh and I took his advice about dealing with sorrow and other strong emotions. Rather than trying to get away from it as I might have done previously, I allowed myself to experience it. I didn’t analyse it or interpret it or make up some story about myself as a result of it; I just let it be.

Two days went past, and then on the third day, Easter Sunday, something happened. Suddenly, I saw something about my view of the world and myself that I had had since I was  a child, and over the course of some hours the insight deepened. The stone had rolled away from the tomb!

From that day on, my life has gotten better and better. I have a new freedom and a love and respect for myself that continues to grow every day, and in the nine months since then I’ve experienced successes I previously thought impossible.

Looking back now, I see the genesis was that new move, that move that had been foreign to me for perhaps my whole life, the thing called acceptance or surrender. In her blog, Celia Hales refers to a Buddhist master describing it as “being willing to have it so” which is a very good way of putting it.

The second big thing I discovered in 2016 is what Paulo Coelho referred to in the post I published the other day: “nothing is irreplaceable.” I’ve often lived my life as if the option in front of me were the only option and I had to “put up with” whatever was on offer. In 2016, I discovered this is not the case, that there are always other options, they’re usually right there in front of me or just round the next corner, and they’re a much better fit for me.

At first glance it looks like this discovery is counter to my discovery of acceptance or surrender. But in ways I cannot explain or don’t want to explain, they go together. The freedom to choose, to say “no”, arises from surrender; surrender gives rise to freedom.

I’ve got more to discover about surrender and I’m excited.


Image: I saw this painting in the flesh today. Very powerful!  Pelvis IV 1944 by Georgia O’Keeffe

2016: Closing cycles


This post from Paulo Coelho is an extra good one at this time of year.

“Nobody plays this life with marked cards”

“Nothing is more dangerous than …”

“Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust.”

“One always has to know when a stage comes to an end. If we insist on staying longer than the necessary time, we lose the happiness and the meaning of the other stages we have to go through.

Closing cycles, shutting doors, ending chapters – whatever name we give it, what matters is to leave in the past the moments of life that have finished.

Did you lose your job? Has a loving relationship come to an end? Did you leave your parents’ house? Gone to live abroad? Has a long-lasting friendship ended all of a sudden? You can spend a long time wondering why this has happened.

You can tell yourself you won’t take another step until you find out why certain things that were so important and so solid in your life have turned into dust, just like that. But such an attitude will be awfully stressing for everyone involved: your parents, your husband or wife, your friends, your children, your sister.

Everyone is finishing chapters, turning over new leaves, getting on with life, and they will all feel bad seeing you at a standstill.

Things pass, and the best we can do is to let them really go away. That is why it is so important (however painful it may be!) to destroy souvenirs, move, give lots of things away to orphanages, sell or donate the books you have at home.

Everything in this visible world is a manifestation of the invisible world, of what is going on in our hearts – and getting rid of certain memories also means making some room for other memories to take their place.

Let things go. Release them. Detach yourself from them.

Nobody plays this life with marked cards, so sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.

Do not expect anything in return, do not expect your efforts to be appreciated, your genius to be discovered, your love to be understood.

Stop turning on your emotional television to watch the same program over and over again, the one that shows how much you suffered from a certain loss: that is only poisoning you, nothing else.

Nothing is more dangerous than not accepting love relationships that are broken off, work that is promised but there is no starting date, decisions that are always put off waiting for the ‘ideal moment.’

Before a new chapter is begun, the old one has to be finished: tell yourself that what has passed will never come back.

Remember that there was a time when you could live without that thing or that person – nothing is irreplaceable, a habit is not a need. This may sound so obvious, it may even be difficult, but it is very important.

Closing cycles. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because that no longer fits your life.

Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust.

Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.”


Image: Sasaguri, Japan, Temple parishioners clean up the Reclining Buddha at the Nanzoin temple. Some 200 monks and visitors take part in the annual year-end dusting of the statue; Photograph: The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images via The Guardian

Disappearing upset: A not-too-belated Christmas present


Speaking of kinship structures, I personally made it through Christmas without any dings in the duco, but I did witness the fallout from a blow-up between father and son in a family I know.

They’re new friends and others told me it was longstanding – of course! – and had happened before. There was the father and son killing each other with love and hurt and disappointment, blowing themselves up, and threatening to blow up their 30-year-old business and all its loyal customers to boot.

Something had happened, an upset, and the fuse had been lit again.

I’m closer to the father than the son but I can see the son is a lovely and tender-hearted man, just as his dad is proud and charismatic and generous. I want to tell them that first they have to deal with the upset. Nothing is possible while the upset is still there. Once the upset is disappeared, then there is the possibility of healing, talking, loving again.

How does one disappear upset? Here’s how I was taught at Landmark and in my experience it’s foolproof. It consists of one step only.

Underneath the experience of upset is one of three things:

  1. a thwarted intention
  2. an unfulfilled expectation
  3. an undelivered communication.

When you are upset, look and see which of the three it is. When you identify which it is, the upset will disappear.


Image: Goat’s Horn with Red by Georgia O’Keeffe