I recently listened to Pema Chadron on the subject of mindfulness meditation. I recommend her. She says people often think that meditation is about ‘feeling peaceful’. You sit down, you begin to meditate and peacefulness descends on you. Like a stormy sea which becomes as still as a mill pond…

Mmm… yes…. As you start to meditate, the stormy sea does begin to calm and then become still. But then the water becomes clear, so clear that you can see all the old tyres, the dead bodies, the plastic bags full of stuff you threw in there years ago.

Her point is that the work of peace begins when you agree to look through the clear water and face what is there, not what you want to be there.

simple, eh? 🙂

This story of calming the storm and yet not ‘feeling’ peaceful is in the New Testament in Mark chapter 4 from verse 35. Jesus is in a boat with his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. A storm blows up but Jesus remains fast asleep in the back of the boat. It gets so bad the disciples wake him up shouting ‘Don’t you care if we die?’. So Jesus stands up and commands the winds and waves to be still. And there is a great calm. Are the disciples happy now? No. They’re terrified, saying to each other: “Who is this man? Even the wind and waves obey him.”

The Poem below I found in ‘Making Peace’ by Denise Levertov.

Bet said:
There was a dream I dreamed always,
Over and over,

A tunnel
And I in it, distraught

And great dogs blocking
Each end of it

And I thought I must
Always go on
Dreaming that dream,
Trapped there,

But Mrs Simon listened
And said

Why don’t you sit down
In the middle of the tunnel

Imagine yourself
Quiet and intense sitting there,
Not running from blocked
Exit to blocked exit.

Make a place for yourself
In the darkness
And wait there. Be there.

The dogs
will not go away.
They must be transformed.

Dream it that way.

Your being, a fiery stillness
Is needed to TRANSFORM
The dogs.

And Bet said to me:
Get down into your well,

It’s your well

Go deep into it

Into your own depth, as into a poem.

The Silent Observer


She used  to bring a small stool and sit down on the pavement for periods of time just watching life pass.  Or she would stand by the stool and stare.  I don’t know how long she stayed there because I was normally driving or cycling past, doing something ‘useful’.  But she was out there most days, somewhere in the area.  And sometimes she would still be in exactly the same position when I came back.

One afternoon I saw her sat by a driveway, watching a man wash his car.  She appeared engrossed and he unbothered.  There was no conversation. She didn’t sit in one of our attractive parks or wander about in the beauty of central Oxford but out here on a pavement in a suburban area with a housing estate, a couple of schools and some backwater roads.  I never saw her by the shops.

We’re not talking here about just summer or only in daylight.  She was out at any time and in any and all weathers.  Someone gave her a thick coat once after watching her sit there in the freezing cold, day after day one January.  She was established in these habits when I arrived in the neighbourhood and was still there on her stool, 5 years later.

She was Chinese but with a skin discoloration which looked like she’d tried creams or medication at one stage to become more ‘white’-  but it could just have been an accident of birth.  At the time that she wandered about the neighbourhood with her stool, her hair was  long and untended.  She would sometimes carry an umbrella but only to keep off the sun.

My teenage daughter’s school friends were frightened of her.  They thought she should just stay at home and watch TV.  On her own?  All day?  Her behaviour struck me as being remarkably rational.

Someone has now ‘done something’ about her.  I understand that she’s been re-housed in some supportive accommodation.  She now has a neat short bob haircut and no longer carries a stool.  She no longer stands or sits for periods of time on the street.  I only see her occasionally and say hello.

I hope she’s happy and that this move has been good for her.  For myself, it feels like a loss.  Was it just that she acted like an interesting local landmark?  Or was it her stillness?  In the midst of the busyness of life, someone simply sitting and observing was strangely affirming and comforting.  Or was it the fact that she was ‘allowed’ to be there by everyone.  It was ok to behave in a different manner.  A sign that there is still room in our community for ‘the other’?

If only people like that knew how important they were.  Especially to people like me.

Darkness a gift? The Guest House by Rumi

Can darkness ever be a gift? This Rumi poem deals with our many moods. It is a poem which you may find a delightful challenge, completely unacceptable, repulsive, or strangely therapeutic… but however you react immediately, let the poem sit with you, let yourself reflect.

Mary Oliver wrote a brief poem which said:
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

How do we turn darkness, depression, meanness, shame, into a gift? Over the centuries there has been a fascination with Alchemy. Alchemy was the search for ways to turn base metals into gold. It was also about how we transform our troubled lives into something beautiful.

If that’s what we seek, then Rumi is worth listening to….

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
They may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jelaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks