Fighting reality

The moment I accept

the reality of what is,

is the moment

I relax.


Saturday morning, 4.30am. Jet lag kicks in and I’m not sleeping. I should sleep. I need to be refreshed. I’ve crossed an ocean for the annual tai chi workshop and I want to be rested, relaxed. So I worry about not sleeping.

Oh, the irony.

Every year that I attend this workshop I arrive with a suitcase of worries. Will it be too hot? Am I good enough at tai chi to be here? What if the travel plans go wrong? Did I do everything I needed to do before I left work, before I left home? What if I don’t feel well and miss some of the workshop? What if, what if.

And every year, I love it. I have the most amazing time. I learn, I reconnect with friends, I make new friends. I relax, deeply. I gain insights in my practice. Yes, sometimes it’s too hot, occasionally I’ve felt a bit under the weather, but I still have a great time.

4.30 am, Saturday morning. I must go back to sleep. I am anxiously awake.

Then a thought pops into my head. Should I really be asleep? Really? Is that true? No. I am awake. That is the reality.

What would happen if I just accepted that I’m awake? That it’s OK to be awake at 4.30 in the morning and it won’t ruin my whole week?

So I did. And suddenly I’m just lying awake, relaxed, in a comfortable bed. I just enjoy lying there in the darkness, listening to the first tentative notes of the foreign dawn chorus.

And all the other things I am worrying about just dissolve in the dawn.

There is such ease to be found in living life this way, accepting what is instead of fighting reality.

This is my new practise.

Letting life unfold

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,

spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Basho


I have loved this haiku ever since I first read it. Twenty-five years ago I wrote it out on a piece of card and stuck it over my desk when I was revising for my final exams at university.

I felt instinctively that the words were true, yet I was stuck in a life where I had to strive to make things happen; work, and work some more, worry, then work harder, in order to get a qualification, so that I could get a job, so that I could carry on working hard.

The end was never in sight, just a life of effort and busyness.

I longed for a life where I was like the grass, biding my time and then growing when the conditions were right.

Or a life where I was just sitting, observing, not worrying or striving to control the grass (a pointless task!). Just relaxing, waiting for it to grow in its own sweet time and trusting that everything would unfold as it should.

Neither of these were true for me at the time, instead I was full of anxiety about the future. But I always felt that Basho was speaking across the centuaries to me, pointing out a better way to live.

I’ve been drawn to the haiku again recently as I talk to friends and coaching clients and think about my own life.

The idea of something happening, growing, reaching fruition in its own time and when the conditions are right. Of not knowing what the outcome will be, just letting life evolve and grow.

So often I’ve asked the question ‘now what should I do with my life?’ or ‘what should I do next?’ and expected an answer, fully formed and shiny, a new goal.

What happens when no goal appears, when I’m not sure what to do next? Can I allow my life to unfold naturally, following my interests and passions to see where they take me, without expectations?

My biologist self looks at the grass growing by itself and knows that it is only growing because of the coming together of the right conditions for grass to grow; warmth, sunlight, rain, suitable soil, the right numbers of grazing animals, strong roots that have survived the winter, viable grass seed.

So how can we create the right conditions in our own lives?

Sit quietly, do nothing. Or go for a walk, or whatever allows us the space and time to listen. We need the equivalent of sun, rain and sweet time to let us grow.

An idea nudges us in the quietness, whispers in a small voice ‘this is what I want’.

More ideas emerge, possibilities reveal themselves, action unfolds because it feels effortless, the right thing to do.

It takes faith and courage to let things evolve, to see where your path of life leads. Sometimes it can be a lonely road, it seems that not many others are taking it. But they are.

And eventually a goal emerges, a path appears in the undergrowth. There is a map and someone has been that way before. It might take some effort, risk and persistence to follow the path, but it feels right.

You just have to start walking through the grass, which is growing all by itself.

Seek stability where you are

I found this today in an old tai chi notebook, a quote by Wolfe Lowenthal from a workshop in Scotland 10 years ago. 10 years on and I’m still working on this, in tai chi and in life. Decided to share it, despite the spelling mistake, because it’s a great quote.

Weaving a life

Are you a specialist or a generalist? Can you fit all your interests into one job, or do they spill out over the edges?

It’s a question that interests me because I’ve never been able to fit all of my interests, my personality, my strengths into one job. I always leave something at the office door.

Maybe this is normal, I don’t know.

We start out in life fascinated by so much, little sponges soaking up language and learning, our favourite subjects at school might be as diverse as art, astronomy and cookery, yet we are forced to choose as we get older.

Art versus science, trade versus a degree, adventure versus security, practical work versus academic work, physical movement versus sitting all day at a desk, fresh air versus an open plan office, making a difference in the world versus making money; we cut out options until we are left with one narrow beam of focus leading us into one narrow career and one particular lifestyle.

Maybe some people follow their passions into this narrowing of choices and end up exactly where they want to be. I really hope so, as that’s the way the world seems to be set up.

But what about those people it doesn’t work for? Who follow the rules, do what’s expected, work hard and then find themselves stuck, half way up the career ladder, unable to climb down, not wanting to climb further up, and afraid to jump off. They look around at a landscape of tall ladders, other careers, and none of them are appealing. What then?

Maybe it’s just not possible to fit everything into one job, and a diverse life can be created, leaving plenty of time for hobbies, for family and friends, for volunteering, for exercise, leaving time to just be. But full time work doesn’t leave much time, and a badly fitting job sucks vitality from other parts of life, leaving no energy for anything other than an evening spent in front of the tv.

I’ve tried various approaches, interesting part time jobs that allowed me time to paint, write, go for walks, practise tai chi. Working full time for a while then taking time out to travel or do creative projects. But always I wonder if it’s possible to weave it all together into one coherent whole, to make a difference and to avoid the times when jobs or income are not forthcoming.

And I know it’s not just me that feels this way.

What about you?

How do you weave all your various interests, creative pursuits, employment, family, dreams and adventures into one life? Any tips?

Judgement

Imagine

turning certainty

and judgement

into wondering,

into curiosity.

How then

would we see

this world?


I joined a really interesting coach training course this week, all about releasing judgement.

I thought it would be a good one for me to do, because sometimes I can be very judgemental. The current political climate does not bring out the best in me!

It is so easy to slip into a judging mind-set, comfortable even. It means I don’t have to think, to put myself into another’s shoes, to feel the discomfort of acknowledging that maybe someone else’s opinions are just as valid as mine. To assume that I know why they say what they say, why they do what they do.

And then there are self-judgement, comparison, self-criticism. For as much as I judge other people I also judge myself, and my work.

Two things really struck me:

Comparison

Instead of comparing myself with others, how about looking back at how I was at a point in the past, or how I would like to be in the future? So instead of looking at the blogger with thousands of followers and feeling discouraged, not good enough, I look back to a year ago when I had less than 10 followers and I realise how far I’ve come. Or I imagine a future where lots of people read my blog and I work out how to get to that point and then take the steps to get there.

Judgement

Instead of thinking I know why something is as it is, I could be open and curious instead.

Ultimately, judging is just part of being human. I can just notice that I am doing it and let it go. Another one of those under the category ‘simple but not easy’!

What do you think? Do you have any tips for releasing judgement?

The spaces in between

The train to Manchester was busy.

Next to me, leaning against the window and not making eye contact, a young man with a backpack. He kept his backpack on all the way, and his coat. He hunched uncomfortably on the seat, moving constantly; cracking his knuckles, jiggling his legs, sighing, yawning.

The train took its time, and I distracted myself with my phone. Both of us would rather be anywhere but here, squashed into a train with strangers.

The kind of train journey that doesn’t have space, physically or mentally.

This one does. This train, from Manchester to Norwich, is blissfully empty. Hours of countryside pass by; tunnels, rivers, mountains, woods. I barricade myself into my seat, coat on the chair next to me, bag in front, daring anyone to sit next to me. My own little cocoon.

Then the journey works it’s magic.

The rocking of the train, eyes relaxing over the long views, grey skies giving way to silver, then blue, then back to grey.

The train sings nothing to do, nothing to do, nothing to do.

Space

To think

To relax

To breathe

To dream.

Ideas appear, then drop behind. Contentment spreads.

Ideas reappear, then blossom. The future appears more fluid, more malleable.

And all I have to do is sit here and be transported.

How rare it is to find this space, the space between. Between departing and arriving, between dreaming and becoming, between beginning and end.

The space where possibilies expand with the horizon, where new futures can be envisioned and old bonds can drop away.

My most audacious goals seem possible

And yet isn’t all life lived in this space, really?

How good we are at distracting ourselves from it, filling our lives up with busyness.

As the land flattens out and the towns get closer together, I start to weave my dreams into reality, mapping out actions for the coming months. Dreaming into doing, breathing thoughts into life.

The train arrives. I depart into the cold night air.

_

I would like to find ways of inhabiting this in between space more often, instead of leaving it to chance.

How do you find the time and space to reconnect with your dreams and to plan for your future?