Can’t / Yet

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A friend was thinking about the power of language and she sent me this note about her three-year-old daughter.

“I have trained my 3-year-old to say ‘I haven’t figured it out yet’ instead of ‘I can’t.’

We’ve been working on it for 1-2 years, and now she says the desired phrase during an effort, without being reminded.

In times past, if she left out the ‘yet’, I reminded her of that as well. That word is everything.

I never disagreed with her. I simply asked her to say the desired phrase. And then I asked, ‘So what are you going to do next, then?’ And she’d work on it some more, whatever she was doing.

It’s amazing what becomes possible with that phrase. Now one of her frequent phrases is ‘I did it!’

She is a capable little person, more so every day, and whereas she used to give up easily (by pretending to be interested in something else all of a sudden … I spotted this trend from infancy), she now knows herself as a capable human being. I’m so proud of her.”

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Image: Cinerarias in the conservatory in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbs

Beloved is where we begin

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“If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.

Do not leave
without hearing
who you are:
Beloved,
named by the One
who has travelled this path
before you.

Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.

I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from danger,
from fear,
from hunger
or thirst,
from the scorching
of sun
or the fall
of the night.

But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.

I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.

I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
bearing comfort
and strength,
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
curious insistence
whisper our name:

Beloved.
Beloved.
Beloved.”

— © Jan Richardson, www.janrichardson.com

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Images: The golden pom-poms of the wattle trees down by the river starting to emerge.

Blessing for getting the news

“I don’t know
how it will be
for you.

For me,
when the news came—
when it sat down
across from me in the
waiting room
at 4 a.m.,
wearing scrubs and
speaking words awful
and full of
strangeness—
it came with
a humming in
my head,
an endless, echoing buzzing
that would never
entirely leave.

I can hardly tell you
the words the news used—
others would piece that
together for me,
later—
but I can tell you that
in the humming,
a whole other conversation
was happening.

In that conversation,
I remember wanting
to appear calm
while the world
was beginning the rending
from which it
never would return.

In that conversation,
I remember wanting
to be the wife
who could withstand
what the news
was saying to me
even as I could
hardly hear it.

In that conversation,
I remember wanting to ask
if someone could please
get me a blanket already
because I was shaking so hard
I thought I would shatter.

I do not know
how it will be
for you.

But when
the news comes,
may it be attended
by every grace,
including the ones
you will not be able
to see now.

When the news comes,
may there be hands
to enfold and bless,
even when
you cannot receive
their blessing now.

When the news comes,
may the humming
in your head
give way to song,
even if it will be
long and long
before you can
hear it,

before you can
comprehend the love
that latched onto you
in the rending—
the love that bound itself to you
even as it began its leaving
and has never
let you go.”

— © Jan Richardson, www.janrichardson.com

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A promise

Curly labyrinth

“Until one day, without warning, the road stops testing the traveller and begins to treat him generously. The traveller’s troubled spirit takes pleasure in the beauties and the challenges of the new landscape.

And each step, which had until then been merely automatic, becomes instead a conscious step.

Rather than speaking to him of the solace of security, it teaches him the joy of facing new challenges.

The traveller continues his journey. He doesn’t complain of boredom now; he complains, rather, that he is tired. But at that point, he rests, enjoys the landscape and then carries on.

Instead of spending his whole life destroying the roads he was afraid of following, he begins to love the road he is on.”

~ Paulo Coelho, Manuscript found in Accra

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Image: Wikimedia

Disappearing upset

A friend reminded me how we distinguish “upset” in the training we received at Landmark. Underneath the experience of upset is one of three things:

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

Next time you’re upset about something, look and see which it is. When you do that the upset will disappear.

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A Holy Truth

“The Buddha called suffering a Holy Truth, because our suffering has the capacity of showing us the path to liberation. Embrace your suffering, and let it reveal to you the way to peace.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

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On not coming home a martyr

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“I know of families where children, after breakfast, go into that room [the room for mindful breathing he advocates setting up in every home], sit down and breathe for 10 times … in, out, 1, in, out, 2, in, out … and then they go off to school. This is a very beautiful practice. Can you do that? Each morning? If you don’t wish to breathe 10 times, how about 3 times?

[audience laughs]

That’s a beautiful thing to do.  Because, before starting your school day, you invoke the buddha-to-be in yourself. Beginning the day with being a buddha is a very nice way of doing that … So if a parent would like the children to do it, then the parent should do it themselves. Start the day by being a buddha. In that way, we have the chance of not being a martyr at the end of the day.

[audience laughs]

After a day of hard work, we might become a martyr. Therefore, we should be careful to be a buddha in the morning and try to nourish the buddha throughout the day. And how wonderful if you go home with a smile, the buddha is still there. Mummy will be very glad if Daddy comes home as a buddha … “

~ From Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Image: Detail from the “Good night” quilt made by Mary Jane Hannaford (1840-1930) featuring a couple with the caption, “Unhappy Honeymoon”. Mary Jane was born in England and arrived in Australia as a two-year old. Though unmarried, “Mary Jane had a daughter, Emily, in 1869 and went on to have nine grandchildren …” She made this quilt when she was 81 for one of her grandchildren, Dudley, when he was 11. She must have been an extraordinary woman to bear and raise a child without being married in the 1870s. Maybe she’s depicting her views of the risks of marriage in this little vignette. The quilt features in an exhibition at NGV Australia.

Possibility of movement

The following is a favourite line from the Landmark Education programs I’ve taken. It comes from the promise of the Introduction Leaders Program and today this is what I’m creating for myself and my life …

“Historically, things around you which have never moved are now moving.”

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The moments that require a higher level of rigour in our speaking

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There was a man speaking on the radio this morning, a poet and professor of literature, and he was discussing the poems he wrote before and after his wife’s death from ovarian cancer. He said something like the following [my paraphrase],

“I was being interviewed about the book one day and the interviewer said, ‘So the book is the story of your wife’s experience of cancer’ and at first I said ‘yes’ and then later in the interview I felt the need to tell him that what I’d said wasn’t strictly correct. I told him that the book is the story of my experience of my wife’s experience of cancer. It felt important that I correct myself … when it came to writing about my wife and our experience I felt it was absolutely essential that I was honest … of course, I think it’s essential to be honest whenever I’m writing a poem but here there was an extra necessity …”

I was reminded of something a commenter on this blog said several years ago. She was an artist, from Belgium, and she spoke about meeting the man many years ago who would become her husband. She said something like, “When I met him, I knew it was absolutely important I was as honest about myself as possible …”

I think we’ve all had this experience, of recognising that a moment requires – impels – a higher level of rigour in our speaking. It’s curious, don’t you think? The part that intrigues me most is that it cannot be ignored.

What about you? Have you had this experience? What do you see about it?

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Image: A Japanese Buddha I saw in NGV Melbourne; lacquer, gold, crystal and Cypress, from the 12th century

Ways of being

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A man told me this story last year when we were speculating about ways of being. It’s a gem.

“I can’t even remember her name, but my very first seminar leader was a woman whose lifetime wish was to run a nightclub.

She never actually got this opportunity, but in all of her activities – including leading the seminar – she projected herself into the role.

In fact, her entire life was lived inside this projection – riding on the tram, cooking breakfast for her kids, making calls …

So while we all thought she was running the seminar, she was actually talking to people in the bar, crossing the dance floor, booking tomorrow’s gig, etc etc.

She just wouldn’t allow any situation to be ordinary.

Everything for her occurred inside of the atmosphere of a club.”

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Image: Ella Fitzgerald

Taking good care of our fear

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“What can I say? I’m more scared about the future now because terrorists are all over the place. I was already afraid, but now that fear has grown worse.” (A Turkish woman speaking on the news this morning, after the attempted coup in Istanbul)

It’s my view that the biggest issue facing human being, especially at present, is fear. Not fear per se, but fear ungotten as fear. Fear ungotten as fear is the state of being used by fear.

To get fear as fear, on the other hand, is to cease being used by fear.

Getting fear has two parts:

  1. recognising that you’re experiencing fear and naming it
  2. summoning the courage to allow yourself to feel it rather than trying to get away from it or covering it up.

Contrary to belief, it won’t kill you to feel it. You’ll survive! In fact, you’ll immediately feel better, because as soon as it’s gotten the fear diminishes. And I see it as the responsibility of each of us to diminish fear, to turn down the temperature, to lower the arousal.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s view on fear or any strong emotion is that we have to take good care of it. We see it there and we treat it with great tenderness, as if it were our baby. We say to it, “I see you there, fear. Don’t you worry, I’m going to take good care of you” and we give it a “warm bath” of mindfulness.

We don’t try to get away from our fear or treat it harshly. We take good care of it and love it with tenderness.

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Image: Down by the Yarra, the bush is getting ready to bloom; in two weeks, it’ll be ablaze with colour.

No not getting, no failure

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This motto I saw the other day is the simple truth. All the urgings and exhortations on Facebook, LinkedIn and elsewhere about how to make change – to change yourself, your life, the world – occur to me to skip this basic reality. If you really wanted it, you would have it. To say it another way, what you want you get. There’s no not getting, no failure. Whatever your life looks like, it’s because you want it that way. If and when you want something different, you’ll have that instead.

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Radio “I love you”

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Following on from the series of posts about the non-silence inside us, including Radio NST (Non-Stop Thinking), I came across this email from a woman describing what her internal radio is saying to her. It was part of a project run by ABC Broadcasting in Australia which solicited listeners’ descriptions of their “inner voices” and what they are saying.

If I have to have a radio playing non-stop in my head, please let it be the channel Silvana is tuned to! Here is her email …

For a number of years now, whenever some “shameful” moment comes to my mind, or when I feel silly or do something silly, have doubt about my abilities, a voice in my head clearly says (often out loud) the words “I love you”.

This happens relatively often, even more than once a day, sometimes for small things.

Please don’t laugh! At first, it made me even more ashamed. Then I thought it was a reaction to the end of my 22 years of marriage, that maybe I was telling “someone else” that I loved them, as I used to tell my husband.

But after a while, I recognised the pattern … so now when I hear those words in my mind, or even utter them, I know I am telling myself: “It’s OK, it is not that bad, nothing to worry about, don’t be ashamed”.

In a way, I’m telling myself I should forgive myself, even for past things.

And since nobody says it anymore, after the loss of a loving person who, I felt, loved me no matter what … now I tell myself that I am loveable.

~ Silvana, by email

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Image: How much is that doggy at the supermarket?