When today you have doubts and fears, why not follow the advice in this Mary Oliver poem. To look at nature all around you – the buds beginning to appear, the early flowers blooming – and see there a support for your inner self.
Oh, my dear heart,
My own dear heart,
Full of hesitations,
Questions, choice of directions,
Look at the world.
Behold the morning glory,
the meanest flower,
the ragweed, the thistle.
Look at the grass.
Mary Oliver, The Singular and Cheerful Life
Awakening Joy is a hugely successful Course that has been developed by James Baraz, a meditation teacher with over 30 years experience and one of the founding teachers of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. The goal of the Course is to awaken joy through principles and practices that incline the mind toward well-being, happiness and contentment.
I am delighted to announce that James and his wife Jane are coming to Switzerland in August to run this Course as a 4-Day Workshop, from Thursday 4th to Sunday 7th. This is a great opportunity for us here to deepen our practice and grow in some of the areas we learned in the MBSR Programme or since we started meditation. This Course goes beyond Stress Reduction and looks at how we can actually increase contentment in our lives. As I have written elsewhere, the brain has evolved with a bias towards negativity, and consequently we have to work at developing the attitudes and skills that lead towards positivity, gratitude and joy. This Workshop teaches those skills in a very practical way, with structured exercises and periods of reflection. It will be held in the beautiful setting of the Kientalerhof Center in the Canton of Berne, allowing us to relax in the quiet countryside while deepening our understanding of what leads to happiness in our lives.
There are a limited number of places on the Course so early booking is advised. Full details as to how to reserve a place will be posted very shortly. For the moment, just mark the dates and check out more details about this exciting Course by clicking on the link at the side. If you have any questions just send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
In this mild weather the first snowdrops are beginning to appear in the garden. I love the old legend about this flower. Adam and Eve were banished from the warmth and security of the Garden of Eden. They longed for the original sense of belonging and attunement which they once had. And then, to make matters worse, it became cold and started to snow. Eve began to cry, believing that she would never see warmth and love again. Seeing this, an angel felt sorry for her, caught a snowflake in his hand, breathed on it, and when it hit the ground it turned into these delicate flowers. This beauty gave her comfort and hope in the winter of her difficulties. Like Eve, we all search for that original safety which we know deep down. We all need little signs to keep us going. We can look for them today.
Cheerfulness comes naturally with meditation. It is a quality of space created within the mind. When there’s space in the mind, the mind relaxes, and we feel a simple sense of delight. We experience the possibility of living a life in which we are not continuously aggravated by emotions, discursiveness, and concepts about the nature of things…. Despite all the ups and downs of our life, we are fundamentally awake individuals who have a natural ability to become compassionate and wise. Our nature is to be cheerful. This cheerfulness is deeper than temporary conditions. The day does not have to be sunny for us to be cheerful.
When we practice meditation, we are encouraging this natural state of cheerfulness. We don’t have to regard meditating as a somber activity; we can think of it as sitting there and being cheerful. We are using a technique to build clarity, strength, and flexibility of mind. In training our mind in pliability and power, we’re learning to relax, to loosen up, so that we can change our attitude on a dime. Strength of mind and pliancy are the causes and result of cheerfulness.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Mindfulness practice reminds us to be fully present now, and in doing that we live a more integrated life. However, it is not easy to stay completely in the present moment, open to what is actually happening. The mind has a number of simple ways that distract us from being fully at ease just with what is going on, and which shake us from being firm in this experience. If we can spot these thoughts in the small moments of each day and notice their effect, we can come to gradually notice them in the bigger picture of our life.
The first one is what I call the “improving mind”. We find ourselves in a situation, maybe quite pleasant, and we suddenly find ourselves wanting just a little bit extra. Very quickly after the arrival of a pleasant sensation – This is just lovely here– comes a thought that moves us from just being with how things actually are –It’s a pity we cannot stay a bit longer. There is nothing wrong with a thought like this; it’s just a thought; but what we notice is that it slightly moves us away from fully enjoying this moment. They move us from simple happiness of now, to “how happiness could be better”. And if we hook into these thoughts we get blown away and moved on from fully attending to here and now.
A simple practice: See if you can spot this “improving mind”. What is it like to stay solid in the moment in all its flavours and colours, just as it is?
The snow returned briefly yesterday, and today there is a bitter north wind. When times are grey or cold, or if our mood is blue (as this week is purported to be) we need to consciously notice the moments of colour and warmth in our lives, explicitly savouring them a little longer. We have to let positive facts become positive experiences. Just as Mary Oliver does when she pays attention to the red bird in this poem. What were or are the moments of colour in your day today that you can be grateful for? Who or what brought warmth? Allow yourself to feel good if you achieve something however small, if someone smiles or if you notice a good quality in yourself. As studies have shown, the more you take in the good in little details, the more your brain tilts towards the positive in an overall sense.
Still, for whatever reason —
perhaps because the winter is so long
and the sky so black-blue,
or perhaps because the heart narrows
as often as it opens —
I am glad
that red bird comes all winter,
firing up the landscape
as nothing else can do.
Peaceful abiding describes the mind as it naturally is… The human mind is by nature joyous, calm, and very clear.
In meditation we aren’t creating a peaceful state—we’re letting our mind be as it is to begin with.