About three weeks ago I embarked on a 40 day spiritual programme. It’s a simple thing really –- daily reading, reflecting and writing on the themes –- but the effects have been profound. I’m no stranger to this sort of thing, having spent my twenties engaged in full time study and practice on the lead up to becoming an ordained Buddhist, but it’s been a while since I’ve taken up a such a purposeful, purely spiritual, exercise.
Recently, things have been very settled for me in my new abode –- a couple of caravans tucked away in the fields of rural Devon, in southwest England. I call it the ‘wild field’. My family and I moved here from a nine room country cottage in the neighbouring village a couple of months ago as an experiment in getting away from it all and living more simply. It was quite a downsize and a lot of work, but at last all the moving pandemonium is over. In addition, my husband Pat’s bad neck is much better and my 16 year old son Jamie has recovered from his relationship break up. I have some time to myself again!
So I’ve been glad to re-establish my coaching, meditation and writing practice, loving the retro 70s caravan I use as a studio. I’ve been waking up every day, looking out over the peaceful meadows, feeling my wonderful family close by me and counting my blessings. What a fantastic, beautiful, quiet, retreat-like haven of a life-style! Almost without realising it, I’ve been dropping deeper and deeper into the richness of my inner world.
And so its not surprising that the spiritual programme is biting. I recognise the pattern. At first there’s excitement and inspiration at the juicy wisdom being studied. Then times of uncomfortableness and resistance because an unenlightened part of me feels threatened, usually when I’m hanging on to some ingrained and unconscious way of being that’s really not necessary or useful any more.
After feeling tense and unhappy for a while, which can be hours or days, it becomes clearer what’s being challenged and what needs to let go. It helps to allow myself to feel my upset emotions (have a rant or a cry or whatever) and talk to someone who understands the process or write it all down in a journal without judgement. Eventually the realisations come and I end up feeling cleansed, renewed and aligned with a more peaceful, happy way of living than ever before.
I’m reminded that at the uncomfortable times the best thing you can do is simply accept ourselves just as you are –- and without needing to analyse why you are feeling out of sorts. A great exercise when you feel like this is to write a long list of “I love me when…” and finish each sentence. Write about loving yourself — the good and the bad — until you have a feeling of accepting every last part of yourself unconditionally. Even if you don’t feel it to be true at this time — write it down as though you do. For example “I love me when I’m inspired”, “I love me when I’m depressed”, “I love me when I know what I’m doing”, “I love me when I’m confused”.
Unconditional acceptance of oneself is always the beginning of the end of unhappiness. It’s so simple. Even when you are feeling utterly wretched it is possible to step outside and look back upon yourselves compassionately (just as you would look upon a crying child who has broken a beloved toy). The trick is to remember to do so! Once, when I was upset about something and unable to feel compassion for myself, Pat fetched a mirror and tenderly held it up in front of me. Looking at her poor, crying face in the mirror I felt rather sorry for the girl and my heart melted!
I think Eckhart Tolle‘s masterful book, The Power of Now, captures the simplicity of this awareness and acceptance process beautifully. I always say that the Power of Now is one of my ‘desert island books’. I have read scores and scores of spiritual and personal development books over the years, but this one captures an essence of them all. If I was stuck on a desert island with only a few books, I’d want this to be one of them. I thoroughly recommend it.
There’s also a brilliant loving kindness meditation that I learned many years ago and still practice and teach with relish. It’s a Buddhist meditation called the Metta Bhavana, or cultivation of loving kindness. (Not surprisingly, it seems to me that most spiritual traditions have similar contemplations or prayers.) The meditation begins by cultivation of love for oneself, then a friend, then a stranger, then an enemy, then the whole world. In my experience it is deeply transformational as well as gently nourishing, no matter what state you are in when you begin.
Really understanding what love is all about is the core of my inspiration and practice. And I have it on good authority that love is important. Once, when Jamie was a baby and could hardly talk, I said to him, jokingly, “Oh Jamie, what is the meaning of life?” “Love” he answered immediately and emphatically. A baby Buddha! Through parenting, I learned I should embrace love even if it meant also opening myself to loss.
When I was talking to Inspired Entrepreneur Nick Williams, he asked me what the principle of non-attachment means. In response I quoted William Blake’s poem which, to me, captures the spirit of non-attachment and unconditional love:
He who binds himself to a joy;
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies;
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
Writing about all compassion and love has cheered me up no end! I guess “I love me when I’m deep in challenging process” and “I love me when I’m writing inspiring stuff about love”! A little tenderness does the trick.