Monday, July 25, 2011

Soul food?

So what happens if you actually find that stillness? Is there some alignment of planets, the hitherto unattainable suddenly being attained – Disney-like fireworks – lottery check appearing in the hand? You get the picture – right? What exactly is the prize?

Stillness is pretty good just for its own sake; it's not often that we get to enjoy being still during a regular day. So if it just stopped there, and we got to enjoy a little peace and quiet, then that alone would be pretty good. But I think there's more to it.

One of my yoga friends sent a book to me in Spain: “Empowering Your Soul Through Meditation”. While sounding a little heavy, perhaps not what you might choose for a good read at the beach, the ideas behind it are pretty simple. And it connects with what I think happens to me in that little interlude of stillness. The author, Rajinder Singh, encourages the reader to explore the limitless potential of their own soul or spirit. An activity to start the process of empowering one's own soul or spirit is to find a state of peace and then just listen; give your soul the chance to talk to you.

And then I started to connect the dots: that feeling after an intense yoga class, the state of peace that follows from all that hard work – isn't that what keeps me going back and doing it all over again? And then there are the bonus points, those little glimpses of stillness that pop up from time to time within an asana, like the dollar note you find bundled up in the laundry. So I think that is when my spirit talks to me. Not a full-blown conversation but more like a little hum; a chance for my spirit to just buzz a bit. It let's me know that it's there – being happy, like it has just been fed a good meal.

It seems to me that all the work we do in yoga is to feed the spirit, or in more “yoga-speak”, to empower the soul. Maybe that will lead to greater self-realization or bring me closer to God or some undefined Universal spirit. Or maybe not. I tend to take it at face value and just accept that an empowered soul is a good thing, and that's enough for me right now.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Just listen

I have often said that for every two steps forward there is at least one step backwards. I have offered those words as encouragement, as explanation for one's yoga practice, and one's life in general, to take a tortured path – never coursing forwards in a straight unending line, but rather twisting and turning through a tangled web of emotions, reaching for its successes and leaving its mistakes still writhing by the side of the path.

But it still comes as a painful lesson to find oneself wrapped in that coil of confusion, feeling that one's role is nothing more than that of a processional caterpillar, nose to tail with the one in front, not controlling, not leading but following one's nose blindly, with no real idea of purpose or direction.

Those are difficult circumstances in which to be a single parent, and especially a single male parent, whose genes are directed towards problem solving. Surely sensitive and attentive listening is for those who don't have solutions at their fingertips. A father for all seasons has the solution-du-jour, the menu-del-dia, right there all the time. Just call it up – hit recall and up it pops. That's parenting sorted out. What's the next question? Was I listening at all?

Back when I used to work in the telecom industry we used to joke about clients or colleagues who were on “transmit” and not “receive” – clever code to distinguish people who were too busy talking and never took the time to listen. And now here I am, doing the same thing over and over again. Transmitting and not listening. Too many hours in the hot room? Or maybe not enough?

I wonder why it comes as a surprise when I remember Marianne's words, her reminder to me just to listen; just as simple as that – listen. Don't immediately jump to the conclusion that a solution is required or expected or even desired – just listen. Switch to receive; my partner has their finger on transmit and they need to talk. The very act of talking is healing in itself – thus explaining the counseling industry to a large extent.

It still comes as a difficult lesson to be reminded that one's role is often just to listen. That is hard enough: active, attentive, ask-me-at-the-end, let-me-take-the-test kind of listening. Hearing alone is never enough. I have to listen hard. It's a big job; conversation is a two way street, so listening is an essential part of the dance; and at the still point, there is only the dance.

My wish, when I go back into that hot room to take part once again in that dance, is to listen. Dialogue is a conversation between at least two people; it may be my voice and your body but I still have the obligation to listen to what your body is saying. And then modify our behaviour accordingly – both yours and mine. Otherwise I am not listening to you – not hearing your needs. That is a failing grade in my book. One cannot stand on the podium with the finger on transmit for ninety minutes and assume it all went well. If only life were that easy. We have to listen.

So now, as that single male parent, that all knowing role model, it's a hard thing to admit that one doesn't have a solution right there at the fingertips. But it is human after all. And maybe that is a better role model after all. We make mistakes and we don't always know all the answers. But we can give all of our attention when it is requested.

I'll try to do better tomorrow.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The best of days and the worst of days

Is this the best of days or the worst of days to write a blog? Why is the third anniversary of my wife's death such a milestone in my continuing life? It is, one way or another, and I must accept that life does continue, in fits and starts, forwards and then backwards, stalling for some indeterminate time and then picking up the pace, towards another place.

I just don't know where that place is. Last night I had decided that today, like the two anniversaries that have gone before, would be a quiet day; a day of thought, recollection, memories, and probably some sadness. It is also a day of laundry, cooking, eating, washing up – just like yesterday and probably tomorrow. Some things don't change. Despite the body blows of life, the mundane lifts its head and pressing its nose through the veil, reasserts itself as the daily process. For some reason, getting the satellite box to reset and actually transmit the BBC coverage of the British Grand Prix seems to be a priority. I remember the Chinese proverb: before Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water; after Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.

When it is impossible to answer the question “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”, dealing with the mundane and winning a few easy battles that grease the wheels of every day existence seems a worthwhile exercise. If the Big Stuff is too Big, then deal with the Small Stuff – but at least deal with Something. I tell myself that Small Stuff needs work too, and some work today is better than sitting around waiting for the day to end. At least with Addressing the Small Stuff I can still be in the moment rather than being lost in the past, wishing it were different, or frozen in time in anticipation of a future that has yet to reveal itself. Being busy is a good thing.

Writing is busy; it demands attention, some focus of thought, reading and re-reading what has been written; constant work to correct the bad typing and fix the spelling errors. If writing is to be read then it needs to be at least of a reasonable standard – at least coherent and grammatically acceptable. Anarchy is just a few small steps beyond bad grammar.

A few days ago a dear friend asked me for whom I was writing? And I had no ready answer at that time. Now I am sure that I am writing for myself; it is a selfish act of business. An act that could just as easily be achieved by writing my piece and storing it safely on some hard drive, rather than expose it to the withering public eye. But the reality is that the withering pubic eye is just a few friendly people who are already somewhat predisposed to some feelings of empathy and understanding – not that much risk at the end of the day. So I write for myself – and maybe my children. Maybe one day an absentminded Google search will reveal the existence of this blog and one or the other of them will follow it to the source and read a little, here and there. That would certainly be more than my parents left for me.

That is not said with bitterness or even regret. Surely it is possible to leave our children with an handbook for life, however short and concise that may be: a sense of right and wrong, driven by a value system that will stand the test of societal change; a sense of purpose in direction, driven by passion and the pursuit of happiness rather than the acquisition of useless goods and chattels; and finally the willingness to risk the exchange of love. Added together they represent for me a path to being more than I might have expected, a few steps towards that elusive goal of “self realization”.

But if I regret that I was not given such a handbook then I have to remember that my parents were engaged in survival: firstly through the ravages of war and then through the economic hardships of the fifties – keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table. I have many personal memories of those difficult times, when I was a very small child, but I can still remember the bread and dripping and the sitting quietly on the front stairs with my Mother as we waited for the rent man to pass us by. As a child, it all seemed very normal; as an adult, I can look back and recognize how very hard it was. Hindsight changes the perspective.

Even now, looking back, as I remember the last days with Marianne, I know there are things that we said and did not say. Such an illness is totally consuming; there is little time to consider what thoughts to share with family or friends. The act of clinging to life demands every ounce of effort – there is little opportunity to sit back and consider what thoughts to share with those around one. I am so profoundly grateful during those few days for every word shared, every hand held, every kiss given and received; and at the same time so profoundly regretful that those days were so short.

As each year goes by I remind myself to share my thoughts with those around me while I still can think beyond the basic needs of survival. Now is the time, while I am still in good health and vigour, to minimize my needs, to reduce my dependency on those cursed goods and chattels, to accept a need for a certain amount of selfishness – to read that book, follow that thought, and even write that blog.

So I expect my thoughts to wander over the months and years ahead, and I will write what concerns me on a given day. Perhaps I should start to include a few critical tag words for that future Google search. I wonder what they should be?