The powerful need to think for ourselves

27/01/2017 at 1:57 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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There’s a footpath that passes close to where I live. It’s a direct route between local communities. It’s as old as you care to think. In places, it runs adjacent to a busy main road which no doubt is just as ancient in origin.

Go back far enough in time, and the footpath and the road were probably equal partners. Each would have been wide enough for humans and animals to travel along. However, over centuries, one became a busy thoroughfare, and the other remained a quirky, winding path. But they each get you to your destination.

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A society’s collective thinking is very like those routes. It makes sense for us to put things and people into categories – to put ideas into highways of collective thought, as it were.

It’s easier to say “I am Christian/Jewish/Muslim” for example, than it is to think exactly what your personal, unique experience of spirituality might be.

It’s easier to say, “Science is always right” for example, than it is to think about those countless times that scientific research is bent towards the commercial concerns that fund experiments.

And it’s easier to believe that we vote freely than it is to delve into the murky waters of psychometric social media advertising that can suppress or encourage votes for the benefit of a particular party or individual.

Well-trodden highways are practical in many ways. I’d rather use my car when I’m in a hurry than put on my boots and walk the fields. But it absolutely behoves us to think for ourselves – to be willing to walk the less travelled route, at least some of the time. That way, I believe, we are  more likely to be able to look into the hearts and motives of others, and understand for ourselves our own best direction.

An extended version of this post can be found at The Huffington Post.

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What an ice mountain can tell you

30/07/2016 at 8:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Some places feel special, in ways we don’t fully understand. One such I visited recently is Snaefellsjokull. This ice-capped volcanic mountain rises from a remote Western peninsula in Iceland. Its name translates as ‘Snow-fell glacier’.

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Perhaps it feels remarkable because of the near-Arctic juxtaposition of ancient fire and eternal ice, enhanced by the mystery of ocean clouds.

Or maybe it’s because the myriad volcanic peaks in this region take on their own fierce presence in a stark landscape created by the slow separation of two major continental plates.

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On the slopes of the glacier itself, the sense of presence grows stronger, along with a distinct chill. It’s easy to see why Jules Verne chose Snaefellsjokull as the entrance to the earth’s core in his novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

There’s a purity and absolute freshness to the air, as though all human preconceptions have been blown or blasted away.

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The ancient volcano brings gifts to the watchful. My daughter found a piece of obsidian – black fire glass. And I discovered the subtle, changing image of a fire sprite on a smooth piece of basalt.

Snaefellsjokull is said to be one of the sacred centres of the earth, a portal to other realms.

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Standing on the glacier, it’s possible to see things differently… to recognise the true landscape of our own lives.

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An ice mountain can tell you much about yourself.

Each of us carries within us the qualities of Snaefellsjokull: the ice and fire, the mystery and the deep, all held within a shimmering equilibrium that is subject to disruption when inner or outer forces overturn the state of balance.

Witnessing this in nature is to witness it in ourselves. We can open up to these qualities, and allow them to flow through the meridians, our own subtle energy channels.

There are four burning questions an ice mountain draws out of us:

What in you is ready to be expressed?
Look deeper now. What are you suppressing?
Do you always recognise your own inner promptings towards action?
And, above all, do you honour the passions and visions that ignite you?

Take time to answer these questions. They are a recipe for life-long wellbeing.

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Let go of the brambles, and be still

02/08/2015 at 5:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Here is a poem by Sun Bu-er, renowned female teacher of Chinese Taoism, born 1124. I discovered it in Women in Praise of the Sacred edited by Jane Hirshfield:

Cut brambles long enough,

Sprout after sprout,

And the lotus will bloom

Of its own accord:

Already waiting in the clearing,

The single image of light.

The day you see this,

That day you will become it.

It can be such hard work to clear the sharp, knotted brambles and tangles that we metaphorically get into, and yet I think this poem is saying that divine light is present in all things. When we discover that, we become that light – or realise that we are already that light – and the effort falls away. What knotty problem do you currently face? And what would happen if you saw the divine shining in every aspect of the problem? Sometimes, letting go of effort is the quickest way to a solution, and to peace.

A young hare’s guide to peace

03/07/2015 at 4:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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When we are peaceful in nature, nature comes peacefully to us. Have you ever noticed this? Last spring, collecting wild garlic in the woods, I was delighted when a deer came to graze nearby. We continued to crop the spring greens, each in our own way. It was companionable. I was the one who moved away first, when my basket was full.

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Then, ten days ago, a young hare came to live in our garden. He wasn’t distant; he was frequently under our heels. Although we startled him, he didn’t move far away. He ate some carrots I left out for him. One day, I sat on a stone step, drinking green tea, and he sat nearby, eating grass in the sunlight. Ears upright and contented. I chatted. He listened. I loved the way his ears swivelled attentively when I spoke. If you want to learn the art of true listening, watch a hare.

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When a being so wild and natural is happy in your company, it is a wonderful feeling. Again, I was the one who eventually moved away. My human schedule beckoned. His precocial nature allowed him to simply be.

Our hare is now spending more time in the field next door. But he still visits our garden. Two nights ago, I saw him in the silver light of the full moon, grazing on the lawn.

Hares and people have a lot in common. When we are peaceful, others around us are more likely to be calm and contented. Maybe that is how we will eventually create a more tranquil world: not by telling others that they are wrong and we are right, but by experiencing a deep, numinous peace within ourselves. It’s a feeling that others can’t help but respond to. Peaceful be.

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