New Year’s resolutions: giving good fortune a helping hand

Ahh here comes the chance to throw out the old self and design and build a new and improved version. Promises are made to exercise more, eat better, turn off the phone for longer and learn to play the trumpet. By achieving all of this it will be possible to get away from all the painful things in life and then finally happiness will abound.

There is research to show that markers like New Year are the most effective time to set resolutions; the brain is ready and open to see the opportunity for change. But resolutions are often underlain by the assumption we should always be trying to be better than we are now; a message that also means ‘what we are at the moment is not good enough’. Seeing it like this the desire for change risks being an aggressive act toward ourselves, bringing on low self esteem and self hate. As my friend Polly said

“Yoga and motherhood have shown me the goal should be to do less and to be more open and accept all feelings as they arise so they don’t pop up at a less convenient time.”

IG @yogawithpolly

I recently heard someone describe good luck as needing a little bit of a push sometimes, whereas bad luck is a ruder god as it comes crashing in, unexpected and uninvited. I think the same theory applies to resolutions and targets; for the good stuff to happen we need to create the right space and balance for it enter. Instead of shutting down the unpleasantness and pain, we can open to it and acknowledge it. Often our neurosis and wisdom come from the same place, so if we try deny the former we will also be alienating ourselves from the latter. In this way, Pema Chodron describes meditation as

seeing clearly the body that we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation that we have, the job that we have and the people who are in our lives. It’s seeing our emotions and thoughts just as they are right now, in this very moment, in this very room, on this very seat. It’s about not trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly with precision and gentleness.

Pema Chodron from “The Wisdom of No Escape”

And so with this New Year, or this new month or new week or new day or new hour or even with this new breath we can simply stop and notice how it is for us right now. When this wisdom develops then the ability to nurture the good in our lives will have the space to grow. We will have given ‘good luck’ the little push it required.

Park Life

In praise of my local park, a perfect place for all of us around here.

Victoria Park

I like to walk in it. It is perfect for running. It’s my route to the local shop. Its my route into town. I meet friends for a cup of tea there. I sit on the bench and read. When my good pal died a few years ago, I found a bench no one walked passed and I could sit and remember him. Most weeks I play tennis there. Sometimes I just need 10 minutes out the house and in the open air and breath – and it’s down to the park I go. The trees there are a giant show of steadiness and change throughout the year.

I also enjoy greeting the dog walkers and their pets, seeing the children in the play area and parents chattering as they push the swings or stand at the bottom of the slide. I like to pause at the weekend football matches where the slightly less than fully fit players huff and curse their way around the pitch.It was a shame when the bowls club closed down, but it’s delightful now to see a martial arts group practising on the flat lawn every Saturday morning. My less charitable side finds it more entertaining than it should do watching dogs tearing around chasing squirrels and never getting close, not even once.

It was during lockdown that more of us started noticing the park,; not that was empty beforehand, but we became drawn to this place more often and in greater numbers. It was everyone’s outlet, an open area for all where we could come and do our own individual thing, but do it along with, amongst and beside everybody else. The park became more precious. And all you had to do was walk in through one of the squeaky gates to benefit from it. So I began to understand how one place could begin to take on a spiritual importance for its local community.

Trying to Start Close In

I have a lot of plans. Most of which will never leave my mind, let alone get spoken out loud or recorded in written word. A multitude of fantastical fantasies, each detailing how my future could unravel itself successfully. So much of my day and my formal meditation time is spent in my head like this. It’s wonderfully easy to do. In fact, I am an expert at it. If you want guidance as to how to waste your time running stories around and around, I’m your man.

So when I heard David Whyte’s poem “Start Close In” recently I could see myself clearly pictured amongst his words and especially the part

Don’t take, the second step, or the third, start with the first, thing, close in, the step, you don’t, want to take.

from River Flow: New and Selected Poems

Passing time in my head rather than here in the present, in this body, is no challenge. There is no resistance here. It is comfortable. Which is why it is also such a beguiling place to reside for extended periods. So I have made myself a promise to put more effort in moving away from the facile second and third steps and take a ‘small step I can call my own’.

You can find him on facebook at @PoetDavidWhyte

Here he is reading his poem. Underneath are the printed lines of the verse

START CLOSE IN

Start close in,
don’t take 
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t 
want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes an
intimate
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, 
be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t 
want to take.

Why TRUSTING Mind?

At the heart of mindfulness is the truth that it is the teaching not the teacher that matters. We practice paying attention to the breath, to the body, to the feeling and to the mind and then apply that to the ups and downs, the stresses and strains of your own day to day experiences. So over time we come to realise that we have to “practice taking responsibility for ourselves.” We have to trust ourselves.

That we have no one to rely on but ourselves, that the answers are inside of and not out there somewhere, may sound liberating at first, but it can also be an unnerving and frightening thought. As we practice more though, it becomes clearer that the only way to do be with the responsibility of this truth is simply to trust the practice; pause, notice the breath in and the breath out, be aware of the gap maybe between one breath and the next. Trust that this is it that this is all that is needed. A trusting mind will lead to a trusting mind…..

..