The Second Highly Sensitive Men’s Seminar

Towards the end of the second week of December, the 2nd Highly Sensitive Men’s seminar will be held. I am not an organizer of this event, but plan to attend. The first such seminar, A Weekend for Highly Sensitive Men, was in person in California and held just before the pandemic. Due to COVID-19, this seminar will be online (see Details below).

Why am I attending?

First and foremost to be in the presence of men with the same or similar personality type to myself. I find that whenever I am around people who just accept, understand and get me, I can show up in a way that I might not be able to do if there are a mixture of personality types. I do not have to make excuses for myself. The ground of presence is one of acceptance and understanding for my being highly sensitive. Everyone can start from the same place and move on from there.

Secondly, to network, to build community, to hear and learn from other highly sensitive men. I would have liked to attend the original conference, but that was not possible at the time. I am grateful for this opportunity.

I hope to meet you there.

Details

This seminar will focus on the Highly Sensitive Man and career. The tentative moderators will be,

Logistics

  • When: Saturday, December 5th, 2020
  • Time: Noon to 5:00pm CST
  • Where: Online on Zoom
  • Cost: $150
  • Tickets & Further Details: Eventbrite

A Bird Flew Into A Window

Last weekend was one of unplugging and heading to the beautiful community of Hana on the eastarn edge of Maui. So isolated is the community, that at the height of the recent pandemic lockdown there was a road block established to prevent all but local residents from traveling out there, thus protecting their vulnerability. Along with my wife and a few friends, we spent the day at Hamoa Beach, enjoying its crystal clear waters. We left early in the day, some of our party cycling out there. With our early departure the road was empty, though truth be told nothing about the day was busy due the pandemic and no or few visitors being on the island.

By mid-afternoon we were beached out and ready to head home before sunset. A quick stop on the edge of town for an energizing coffee and cake and then into the twists and turns of the road to Hana.

The Road to Hana

The road to Hana is a justifiable attraction for visitors to the island. The lush vegetation overhanging the road, the waterfalls, and views across the ocean make for a very special experience. As well, with the twists and turns of the road, the drive requires concentration. After a day in fresh air I was tired, and along with the road dancing between shade and sunlight caused by the late afternoon sun, I found the never ending bends in the road exhausting. Arriving home, I had enjoyed the day and at the same time I was pleased that the drive home was over.

The Bird and the Window

With everyone on their ways to their respective homes, I unpacked the car, took a shower and sat down to rest. I could still feel the drive home in me.

Suddenly there was a bang on the window. Getting up I saw a small bird on the ground. It must have flown straight into the window and was twitching on the ground. I went outside to see if it had survived the collision. Reluctant to be picked up, but unable to fly in that moment, it flapped its way across the ground every time that I reached down to it. Eventually I picked up the bird and went to sit on the grass and cradle the little creature in my hands.

Initially the bird struggled and flapped some more, but eventually it calmed down and fell silent. Although its eyes were closed, I could see that it was still breathing. With the sun setting the day was cooling down. The wind was quietening and a special stillness was falling over the property that only comes with dusk. As the bird calmed, so did I. The drive home faded from memory. Just being present with the bird, the landscape, the air and myself became what was.

For a moment I became aware how we can be somewhere, but not there. Not present to what is immediate in that moment.

As I sat there quietly holding the bird, I became more present to my environment - the stillness of the air, the wispy seed heads of the vetiver grass, the colours of the sky as the sunset, the tiny feathers of the bird and their intricate patterns. There was no adding  to my being there. I was simply present.

Moving on

With time, I got up and gently placed the bird, still resting, in a large plant pot. That way it would be off the ground and out of site of any night time predators, and at the same time could still rest.

The next day it was not there. I like to think that it had recovered and flown away.

Looking Out on the World

This is a strong image for me, an image from the past,

A remembrance - sitting in my bedroom window at Tandderwen. Late at night, silence, quiet, looking out over the world.

Tandderwen was the name of my house when I lived in South Wales. It is not unusual for houses in Britain to have names rather than numbers. Tandderwen is Welsh for Under the Oak. I don’t speak Welsh, but when the house was nearing completion and I was pondering what to name the new property, a friend lent me a book of Welsh words (along with their English meanings). Tandderwen jumped out at me as I thought of the big oak tree that stood by the small gate leading to the house. It was a beautiful old tree, and I valued its presence standing guard over the gate and land, rooted deeply in its age.

I lived in that house for ten years. I think about it from time to time, and though my life has moved on and changed, I do miss my old home and what it gave me.

I lived there by myself. Situated in the South Wales countryside, it was quiet and peaceful. The house was designed with extra thick walls, full of recycled newspaper as insulation. The triple glazed windows added to the stillness within the house, cutting out sound.

A couple of windows, including my bedroom window, protruded out from the side of the house. The bay that they created offered up a seat on which to sit and survey the surrounding countryside all the way to the distant Black Mountains.

On occasion I would sit in my bedroom window at night, all the lights in the house turned off, gazing out into the night. I felt as though I was looking out on the world. In the distance I could see the orange glow of city life. Nearer by lights of neighbours’ houses across the fields shone out from behind curtains. Car lights moved through the country roads. Aircraft flew overhead, lights blinking.

I felt removed from the world. A part of it, and yet distant at the same time. From that vantage point, both physically and metaphorically, I was able to reflect on what it was that I was a part of, the world in which I lived. I felt in someway as though I was looking out on the lives of others, looking out on the world. People going about their nightly routines, returning from work or an evening out. Joys and sorrows, struggles and successes all happening under the night sky. We were all in this together.

In that I felt a comfort. A comfort in being able to step back for a moment and reflect on the bigger picture. A reflection that I could take out into the next day.


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

Pen & Paper helping to find a way forward

There are times when I find myself loosing focus on what I am doing and I start looking for distractions. Not unlikely it is because I am coming up against something that I don’t enjoy doing or find difficult. When I hit those situations, I am trying to train myself to get to paper & pen to gather my thoughts and find a way forward.

Imagery

📚 I love coming across phrases in books that just jump out at me. One the books that I have on the go right now is Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. I loved the imagery that Yoshimoto conjured up in this passage,

Until only recently, the light that bathed the now - empty apartment had contained the smells of our life there.

Oh, the treasure of books.

I’m alone at home right now

It is Sunday morning. I am sitting at our small desk that looks out onto the front garden and from there, in the distance, to the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. I am home alone. Sunday morning music is playing. By that I mean music which reflects my mood on a Sunday morning and allows me to drop into a reflective space. I’m appreciating the quietness, the space, the time to step back and think, write and reflect. I’ll be heading outside soon to do some work, but for now this time is important and feeding me. It is allowing a host of disparate thoughts, books, writing to all sit present in my life. Nothing is vying for attention. Everything is allowed into the mix with the trust that out of this will come some insights, or at the very least a clearing away of the nagging attention that some things are bothering me for. It’s a valuable time that I do not take for granted. I wish at times that I had more space like this, but when it does materialize, I am grateful and make the most of it. Life in these moments feels expansive, nourishing and necessary. This too will go, but for now I will gratefully accept its presence. Thank you world.

Written as one paragraph as that is how it came out, a stream of consciousness that did not feel as though it needed to be edited.

May Meditation Nudges - Final Week

As a compliment to the live meditation sessions that I am running through May on my YouTube page, I am sharing tips and advice on meditation practice.

I am calling these brief posts, May Meditation Nudges. Here are the topics and links from the forth week. Posts from the first week can be found here, the second week here, the third week here, and the forth week here.

The May meditations are now finished, though the videos remain up as do those from the April meditation series that preceded these. So they can be viewed in your own time when you are ready. Just head over to my YouTube page to view them.


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

May Meditation Nudges - Forth Week

As a compliment to the live meditation sessions that I am running through May on my YouTube page, I am sharing tips and advice on meditation practice.

I am calling these brief posts, May Meditation Nudges. Here are the topics and links from the forth week. Posts from the first week can be found here, the second week here, and the third week here.

The May meditations are now finished, though the videos remain up, as do those from the April meditation series to view in your own time. Just head over to my YouTube page to view them.


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

May Meditation Nudges - Third Week

As a compliment to the live meditation sessions that I am running through May on my YouTube page, I am sharing tips and advice on meditation practice.

I am calling these brief posts, May Meditation Nudges. Here are the topics and links from the second week. Posts from the first week can be found here, and the second week here.

I hope that you can join me for the remaining two May meditations this coming Monday 25th and Thursday 28th. Meditations are streaming at 12:55pm Hawaii time on those days. Head to my YouTube page to see the thumbnail to click on to access the stream. If you cannot make it at that time, all videos are archived for viewing in your own time.


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

May Meditation Nudges - Second Week

As a compliment to the live meditation sessions that I am running through May on my YouTube page, I am sharing tips and advice on meditation practice.

I am calling these brief posts, May Meditation Nudges. Here are the topics and links from the second week. Posts from the first week can be found here.

I hope that you can join me for the May meditations.


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

May Meditation Nudges - First Week

Through May I am streaming twice weekly meditation sessions on YouTube. For those who cannot make the live stream, all of the videos are archived on my YouTube page. The schedule can be seen here. As a compliment to the live sessions, I am writing daily short pieces on tips and advice for meditation.

I am calling these brief posts, May Meditation Nudges. Here are the topics and links for the first week.

I hope that you can make the May meditations.


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

May Meditation Nudges

To compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be running through May on YouTube, I am posting what I call a daily ‘Meditation Nudge’.

These short posts will offer a meditation instruction or practical meditation tip. I am posting them on my Micro.blog site. If you bookmark this page and refresh it each day, you can read the latest post. I hope to have them up mid to late morning (Hawaii time) each day. As of this post, I have just posted the third nudge.


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

May Meditation Schedule

With the April meditation series now over. The question came up for me as to “what next?”

I set up the April series not only as a class for those who wanted to learn more about meditation, but also as a resource for people struggling with the stay-at-home order. Through meditating individuals can start to build tools for themselves to work with their minds, quite often the source of these struggles.

I enjoyed running the series, and it was well received.

May Stay-at-Home

Then I heard the announcement that here on Maui the stay-at-home order will carry on through Maui (with some staggered openings). Similarly such appeared to be the case across the country, indeed the world.

Meditation sessions

So along with some interest from those already sitting, I decided to run a May series of meditations. There will be less weekly sessions, but the continuity will be complimented by some regular (daily?) posts about meditation on my Micro.blog site. Maybe also a day of sitting?

More details can be found here. I hope that you are able to join me in meditation during May.


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

Journaling while in Self-Isolation

I have long kept a journal. For me it started as a record of my travels during the late 1980’s. Since returning from those journeys my journal has become a place to share what has been on my mind, to explore my thoughts and work through them. It has been a place to just write with no goal.

The passage of time

Journaling as a daily activity has embed and flowed. From days of intense involved writing, to weeks of occasional notes, just wanting to get a thought out of my head while not having enough time to take it further.

I have gone through periods of having my journal sit beside me during my morning meditation. If something is really nagging at me, I pick up my pen and journal and write it out of my head.

Other times I have put time aside to write, just allowing the pen to go where it wants to go with no agenda as to what I say. I might start with the weather and end up with something that happened last week.

Yet again I might have my journal as something that I carry around with me and jot words into as I go through my day - words of inspiration, something that I am doing, or just something that I am trying to work out in my head.

Medium

The journaling medium has also varied over the years. For the most part it has been a pen and notebook. I love the process of allowing a pen to track across the page. My choice of notebook and pen have varied. I find it important to write with that which I am comfortable.

As the digital age developed I started having a part time computer based journal that lived on an app on my computer and iPhone. With this I had a place to catch things on the go. In time, with the realization that if the app goes so do my journal entries, I have started to transfer those entries to a digital text based format, something that can be opened in pretty much any writing application regardless of platform - computer or phone. And with that my main journaling medium now appears to be text files sitting in the Cloud.

Self-Isolation

With a digital journal that can be accessed on my computer and iPhone, I have found it a helpful as a place to go to during this period of self-isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Self-isolation puts me and my family in a situation that we have never found ourselves in before. The isolation part does not bother me. I am use to not venturing far. But being an introvert in a very extroverted family with our needs and wants sometimes clashing, having a place to go to put down my experiences and feelings has been a great help. The process allows me to go inside, to process, to explore, and normally by the time that I reach a finishing point I find I have created some space in my life. In some way I have relieved pressure that has been building up in me. I am ready to take on other things. The exercise of writing has allowed that to happen.

How?

Each day I simply open a new file, put the date at the top, enter the time of my first entry and write. Later in the day I will open the same file, enter the current time and add more content to that file. By the end of the day it becomes a log of my experiences and thoughts through the day.

I am grateful for it.

Time passes

I started this post on April 1st according to the timestamp on the file that is holding this post. I am unsure why there has been the delay in getting this out? I think in part it has been managing my way through these times of self-isolation with my family. Today I wrote on my micro.blog blog,

One of those days which never really feels as though it gets going, such that by the end of it there is a sense of frustration and a “cross my fingers” that I am not there tomorrow.

Life over the last almost four weeks, that is how long my family & I have be practicing self-isolation, has been an up and down ride. Some days have gone well, others have felt like trudging through mud - unproductive, lethargic, family members struggling.

Through it all I have been journaling. Some days more than others - the frustration that I speak of in the blog post above can play a part in that. However the day plays out, the writing helps to keep me going.

You?

What are you using to help you manage your way through these times?


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

An Invitation to some Self-Isolating Meditation Sessions

Starting tomorrow, Tuesday, April 7, I shall be offering a free virtual meditation session each day, probably through April. The intention is to give me and hopefully you a break during your day, a time to come back to yourself in a world of self-isolation.

Details on how to join me or watch later are in the invitation below. No experience is required, just a wish to stop, breathe, be with yourself and let the world carry on without you for a few minutes.

I hope that you will join me.


The Invitation

Dear Friends,

I am writing to let you know of a daily meditation session that I will be offering during this time of self-isolation. My plan right now is offer it until the end of April, but that is open to change. My aim is to show up each day, and at the same time I am aware that life might happen to make that impossible. I shall try and inform everyone if I know ahead of time that I cannot make it.

Why am I doing this?

  • Friends asked me if I would offer some meditation instruction.
  • I find that living this life of self-isolation with family, for me some days are good, some days are a struggle. The answer to this for me is to make some time where I can reset and come back to myself. This daily, midday meditation I hope will serve that purpose for me and for you.

Logistics

  • The first session will be streamed live on Tuesday, April 7th at 1:00pm Hawaii time (4:00pm PST / 7:00pm EST / 12:00pm New Zealand / 12:00AM UK).
  • I will look to be online 5 minutes before the top of the hour.
  • No meditation experience is required to take part in these sessions.
  • The whole session will last no more than 20 minutes, with meditation about 10 minutes (don’t worry if that sounds too long, I will have you covered).
  • You can be at home, in your office, in your pajamas, in a suit. My only suggestion (if possible) is to find a quiet place to sit comfortably (and not be driving).
  • As I will be using YouTube to stream the sessions (see tech details below), they will be recorded and can be watched later if you cannot make the live time.
  • As I will be at home I hope and will ask for no interruptions, I cannot guarantee that as life happens around me.

Technical Details

I have decided to use YouTube to live stream the meditation sessions. This will be my first time using this platform to stream videos. I have spent time experimenting with it, but I do ask that you bear with me as I get use to YouTube’s intricacies. Here is what you need to know:

  • Click on this link to be taken to my YouTube channel.
  • You will see a thumbnail link to the next scheduled video (take a look now), click on that and the video will start at the designated time(ish) - providing I hit “Go” at the right time).
  • Recordings of all past sessions will be available on my YouTube Channel.
  • Comments and chat will be disabled for the videos, at least that is the plan so that we can concentrate on meditation. If you have any questions or comments (put anything out there as I want this to work for people), contact me if you have my contact details, otherwise there will be available via my YouTube channel (click on the About tab).

Have I missed anything? Is something unclear? Please get in touch.

Please pass this onto anyone else who you think might be interested.

Thank you for your interest in these meditation sessions. I looking forward to seeing you there.

Stay safe. Be well.

David.


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

Passing it on - Advice for this time of Self-Isolation

Laurie Helgoe is a psychologist and an author whose work I admire. Her book Introvert Power has long been a favourite of mine on the growing genre of books on the subject of Introversion. She recently posted a piece of advice on Twitter which I thought was very helpful for these times. Retweeting it is one way of passing it on. Sharing it here is another.

Looking back

Are you struggling with the self-isolation which appears to have been imposed on most of the world? Is it overwhelming you?

Stop for a moment. Imagine yourself in the future looking back to your time of self-isolation. What do you wish you had done or experienced?

Do that or experience it, NOW.

I feel that this is a good piece of advice for any time in my life, perhaps when I am feeling down, or stuck, or as though my hands are tied in some way.

What opportunity is available to me now? What would I like to experience now?

And it might be as small a thing as stepping outside, or opening the window to breathe some fresh air.

Source

The original tweet is here.


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

Seeing with New Eyes

I mentioned in my last blog entry how I live overlooking the Hana Highway in Maui. It is one of the major attractions for visitors to the island, to drive the two hour journey out to the town of Hana that sits at the far end of this road. Actually the two hour pin is from the town of Paia. Depending on where you are staying on island, the journey could be closer to three hours one way - and, “yes” you can stay in Hana.

Sometimes when I am driving home, following a car containing a family or persons visiting Maui, I wonder how they are seeing the road and its surrounding scenery? For them, each bend in the road will be revealing a vista that they have not seen before. Views that for me I see pretty much every day, will be a first occurrence for them. Are they seeing more than me? Am I missing anything in my easy to drop into complacency of seeing these scenes so regularly?

Bristol

I remember years ago walking through the city of Bristol in England where I grew up and looking up at the tops of the buildings that I was passing by. Aside from the more modern buildings that have gone up in my lifetime, I cannot pin point when buildings around Bristol were built? However, suffice to say that many of the larger buildings in the city centre are old and have details carved into their walls that can easily be missed if you are just walking along, head down, focused on where your next meeting is or something that is bothering you.

So what made me look up on that day I am not sure, but look up I did and saw details in those buildings that I had not noticed before. Buildings that I knew well, that I passed regularly, but took their presence so much for granted that I found myself actually not really knowing them.

What do we see?

This experience got me thinking,

  • “What are we truly aware of in the world around us?”
  • “What do we see and what do we miss?”

Awareness

Meditation practice opens our senses to the world around us. As I build on my practice, I start to become aware of aspects of myself - how I think, how I act - that before I was not aware of. This is not always easy. I might be exposed to a behavioural pattern that I have chosen not to look at, or was simply completely unaware of. With this comes the opportunity to grow in myself as I start to make friends with and integrate this new awareness.

In the same way that my awareness of myself grows, so does my awareness of the world around me. As I start to notice aspects of myself, the good and not so good, so do I also become aware of those around me - how they are acting and how I am reacting to them! As an American Buddhist monk once said when asked what he had gained from his meditation practice, he replied,

I know that I get angry.

Sadly that is not something that we are all aware of all of the time.

The Post-meditation Practice

The effect on me is that as my awareness grows, so does the world around me, or should I say my awareness of the world around me.

All of this takes time and effort. Time in that one should not go looking for the change, but notice it slowly making its presence felt in your life as your practice of meditation grows. Effort not only in the effort that I make in my meditation practice, but also in the effort that I make in my post-meditation practice, my daily life.

My time away from the meditation cushion feeds my formal practice to the degree that I make an effort to be aware, to notice things. So as I walk the streets of Bristol I look around, see what is there. Or I strive to maintain an awareness of my emotions as I move through the day, keeping them in check if they are going to cause me to act in a way that does not serve me.

Back to the Hana Highway

Or as I drive home along the Hana Highway, while keeping an eye on the road, I notice the world around me and do not become complacent in my familiarity.

Where are you being complacent in your awareness of the world around you?


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

Finding Balance in my Life

There is a saying, that ‘a change is as good as a rest.’ A few days ago I decided to make that change and it made me realize how little I make space for such in my life, and with that how much I do benefit from when I do honour the opportunity for doing something different.

Over the weekend I headed out to YMCA Camp Keanae with two friends who are a part of the Maui community of The ManKind Project (MKP) here in Hawaii. MKP uses the Camp as a venue to hold weekend workshops, and in order to help keep our costs down for participants, the Camp offers MKP work exchange days.

The drive out to Keanae, the village above which the Camp sits, is along the scenic Hana Highway, so called because of the destination town on the eastern most point of the road. I can see the highway from my home and each day it busy with visitors heading out on the two hour, narrow and twisting drive out to Hana. The drive is a justifiable attraction. Although the road is hairy in places as it turns sharp corners while hugging the cliffs high above the Pacific ocean, the views of the sea and the remote coast line are stunning. I have driven that road a few times and am still struck by its beauty.

But this journey is not a regular occurrence, and visits to Camp Keanae are fewer.

The Day’s Plan

The plan for the day was quite simple. We drive out in the morning, find out what work needs doing, help out for the day, and head home early evening. All the while chatting and working aside good friends.

The day was beautiful, an atypical winter day from what we had been having. Clear skies, warm sun, and wind to whip the ocean into a froth of breaking waves.

The Camp sits above the village of Keanae, and the views from the kitchen/dining area look down onto the tarot fields, church and few buildings that make up the small hamlet. A disappearing part of old Hawaii.

The Job

I was assigned the job of tearing up and replacing some decking, under the guidance of an experienced carpenter. I was in short the grunt man. We worked through the morning tearing up the rotten wood and laying the start of a new deck. At lunchtime I took myself off for a walk around the grounds and to sit and gaze out at the cliffs stretching into the distance.

It still amazes me that in living here on Maui, I am sitting on a massive volcano - Haleakala.

After lunch we moved on through a hot afternoon. Where we were working was a sun trap and we were protected from the cooling but refreshing wind. By the end of the day the base of the new deck was in place for those who came the next day. Indeed tomorrow’s crew showed up while we were getting ready to leave and started on the next stage.

Heading Home

As can often happen, I find, the drive home felt quicker than the ride out to Keanae that morning. We chatted happily, reflecting on our experiences within MKP.

I was the first to be dropped off. My wife was still out and so I had an hour to settle back into home, clear up and put work clothes away.

The day was transitioning to dusk. The light changing, that sense of winding down for the day. As I cleaned up, I looked back on the day. There was a sense of time having passed, of jobs done, conversations had, of having been somewhere else. Home felt different, different through being away from it for a period of time and enjoying myself in that time away. In being away, home felt refreshed, different yet familiar. And I felt refreshed, pleased to have been away. Pleased to have decided to take that time to spend time in good company, somewhere different to my usual daily haunts.

A change had indeed been as good as a rest.

And finally

Just before reading this piece through and preparing to post it to my blog, I headed out for Saturday morning breakfast with my wife and her daughter - again something I seem to do with less regularity than I have done in the past. My day now feels fresher, cleaner, newer. I will be starting on home tasks with a sense of renewed vigor. More benefits from a change.


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

Meditation as a Toolbox

There is a Tibetan saying that just as every valley has its own language so every teacher has his own doctrine.
~ Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism

While this saying contains many exaggerations, it speaks to the variety of Buddhist traditions within old Tibet. In the same way meditation is not just a handful of techniques, but rather a multiplicity of methods that have evolved over the millennia as those who have used meditation have found the need and want for that development. Indeed that development continues until this day.

Meditations development

Meditation is not the purview of any one tradition or philosophy. It can be practiced by someone following a spiritual belief or none. And what that meditation practice might be, possibly even within a single tradition, can be different from one person to the next. The different mediation practices have arisen out of the needs and dispositions of the individuals who practice it.

Some things that meditation might be used to develop and work with include, but are in no way limited to,

  • Relaxation
  • Quietening the mind
  • Developing compassion
  • Developing patience
  • Connecting with God
  • Seeing the humanity in everyone
  • Walking meditation
  • Achieving better focus

The toolkit

Through learning meditation it is possible to develop a toolkit of techniques for working on the mind, whether that is a single technique or many. This is a toolkit that you can carry with you at all times. No one need know that you are carrying the toolkit, but when the need arises to apply a certain technique - to calm yourself down, to bring you back into the the present, to develop your compassion, to be more patient - you can reach into your toolbox and apply that meditation method, quietly and to yourself.

On the cushion and in practice

Our formal meditation sessions have their place, they are important, very important. It is there that we get to focus on the practice that we wish to develop in an environment that we control and is (hopefully) undisturbed. But our life is lived out in the wider world, and if your patience, compassion, or focus stay on the cushion, they are of not much use to you. Indeed then we might question the usefulness of our meditation practice aside offering us a quiet place to be.

So with the benefit of our formal meditation practice, we step out into the world and use the tools that we have developed in that place where the rubber meets the road.

The toolkit’s contents

There are no prizes for how full that toolkit is. What is important is the quality of the tools within it and how often you reach in to use them. In my opinion it is better to have one tool that you regularly use and develop, than have a catalogue of tools that occasionally see the light of day.

And you will find that your formal practice will feed off the efforts that you make in your post meditation practice and vice versa.

Your toolkit

What’s in your meditation toolkit? Are those tools getting some good use, or could they do with a bit of cleaning up?


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

Stepping out of Retreat, and Valuing Solitude

I share here an experience from a few weeks ago. I stepped outside, I made it into town for the first time for two weeks. The world appeared so vivid and colourful, so bright, so varied. I was reminded that the world carries on regardless of whether I am a part of it or not. That was freeing. Through unplanned circumstances I had spent a week in relative solitude. Let me explain.

It had been raining here on Maui for two weeks. My wife left the island to visit her mother. When she flew out the weather was good, or was maybe on the turn. When she returned, the weather was good. In between it rained, and rained, and rained. Island wide.

Now I like my alone time. I like solitude and quiet. It nourishes me, allows me to ground myself and refocus, but this was different. Why? In part because it was unplanned. While I knew that I had time to myself, I still expected to get out and about. The weather kind of put a stop to that. It just poured and poured and with that I just found myself staying at home. Commitments where I had them and work were honoured. Otherwise I just stayed put. I rested, read, reflected and fed myself. Before I knew it the first week was over…..And with it a deep sense of fulfillment, contentment and healing, but I found myself stopping and reflecting on what had just happened. I even wondered if I had been selfish?

Retreat

You see my step-daughter and her family live next door. I normally see at least one of them each day. I saw none of them during that week. My doubting mind started asking if I could have used my time more productively, more usefully, without actually quantifying what those terms might have looked like? When I sat with this, asking if it was true, what I found coming up was a question. That question was,

"Why was I questioning taking this retreat time?"

When I lived in a Buddhist Community in the early 1990’s, retreat time was part of our yearly commitment. Either supporting people who were taking time out to just focus on their spiritual practice, indeed they supported me in such an endeavour before I moved into the community, or doing a practice together as a community. There was always work to be done inside in the community. There was always work to be done outside of the community. But in these times of retreat, individuals were saying,

"I need and want to take time to feed myself inwardly. Life will carry on just fine without me, and when I return to the outside world I'll be refreshed and ready to carry on my commitments."

For me that was a major insight, maybe slightly unsettling at first, that life carries on just fine without us. It is good before you drop into retreat that you make sure that all your ducks are in a row and that you have got all necessary business wrapped up with family, loved ones and work colleagues. Don’t just disappear. But with that taken care of, you can close the door and be assured that others will get on just fine without you.

Nature of your time away

You can choose to go completely offline while in retreat, or as I did for this wet week, to honour commitments that you have but don’t do anything ‘unnecessary.’ In my case, my quiet time had not been planned and so just disappearing would have been very inappropriate. People were relying on me in some areas of my life. So I did what had to be done, and then returned home, staying within the confines of my home.

I listened to my body and did what I felt I needed. This retreat was as much about resting, reflecting and nourishing my body. A retreat might be about focusing on, say, a meditation practice. That needs its own preparation, which might also include some rest before getting started for if you arrive exhausted, you will not have the mental stamina to make it through the retreat.

The men’s weekends that I attend occasionally require that I wrap things up with family before I head off (this retreat is men’s work, but is also ultimately about family and those in your life). Making sure that all unfinished business with family is made good and that they have any contact numbers should an emergency arise - otherwise I am offline.

Are you making time for retreat?

One take away for me in my week’s retreat was how much I don’t make space to take time out from my life. Going forward it is something that I want to prioritize in my life. It might not be for a week. A weekend might be more appropriate, or maybe a day, or perhaps even just an afternoon. However, I want to be wary of where I sell myself short and let excuses get in the way of time taken. Life has a tendency to make its presence felt a little too heavily at times - at least I know that I can bow very easily to my life’s demands.

Finding time

So if retreat time is something that you would like to bring into your life, how and where can you make time for it? Where are you making excuses to avoid retreat time? What needs to happen so that alone, quiet time becomes a part of your annual rhythm?


If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

Meditation - Follow the Instruction

I sometimes say that having goals is a dangerous place to be when you are starting a meditation practice. Why is that?

What I am not saying

I am not suggesting that you should cast aside all of the reasons that you decided to start meditation. That would be ridiculous. The reasons that you started asking questions about meditation or sought out meditation instruction, are the motivating factors that will drive your initial forays into meditation. They are important and need to be respected and nurtured.

What I am saying

Let’s say that you want to learn how to meditate so that you have peace of mind. That is a quite legitimate reason to start a practice. At the same time one can start having preconceptions as to what peace of mind looks like. What you will be able to do and not do, or how you should feel when you will attain peace of mind. Even the idea of “when you will attain” can be fraught with problems - you are holding the possibility of being able to identify when you get there, and also suggesting that it is a permanent state of mind. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but you are holding an image that you have created for yourself of a state of mind that you have not experienced yet.

And another loaded question, “how long will it take me to get there?” Once you have a timestamp on how long you will need to meditate to attain what you wish to attain, it feeds into your ideas of what it will look like, what you need to do and when you can stop (as if stopping is even an option).

With these goals in mind you are in some ways setting yourself up for failure, or at least frustration if these goals allude you, as they almost certainly will.

From my experience, the path of meditation is not linear. With steady practice there will be progress, but the path is over very mixed terrain full of bumps and smooth ground, valleys and peaks, fast roads and long treks through deserts.

So what to do?

That is a question that probably warrants a longer answer than this piece will give, but here are some pointers.

  • There are many different meditation instructions. Spend some time searching out a practice which works for you.
  • Just follow that practice. Just follow the instruction.
  • As you start to see results in your practice, your faith in that practice will increase - what you read or heard worked for you, so you go back to it and try it again. That’s what I mean by faith.
  • When you are struggling in your practice, stick with the instruction. Practice it.
  • Don’t use the struggle time to decide to move onto a different practice. That struggle time is when you probably need to make a bigger commitment to the instruction. Double down and stick with it.
    • At these times, having a teacher with whom you can discuss your struggles can be helpful. Someone who has travelled that road before.
    • If a teacher is not possible, try a friend who is also meditating, or refer to a book.
  • Don’t set yourself timelines for achievements or goals. Just follow the instruction.
    • Meditation is for the long haul. It is a marathon not a sprint. It is for a lifetime.

Reframing your goal

Reframing your goal as a motivation is probably better. Hold that goal as your motivation for wishing to engage in meditation. That motivation will drive your practice and stay with you throughout. It will probably also develop and mature as your meditation practice correspondingly does as well. Just do not mistake that motivation as a goal.


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The Magic of a Child's View

Like some other posts here, I write this to remind myself as much as anything else. I fall into old habits very easily and then something happens that jolts me into a reminder that there is another way of seeing the world. Christmas this year has done just that.

Christmas

There are a few things that I like about Christmas. I don’t like the commercialized frenzy that Christmas seems to have become. That does not appeal to me at all. But I would say that there are four things that I do like about Christmas.

  1. What I see as the underlying message of Christmas, peace and goodwill to all.
  2. Singing Christmas carols. I have always enjoyed doing so, and don’t do it enough nowadays.
  3. The family coming together.
  4. Experiencing the magic of Christmas through a child’s eye.

It is the final one that this article is about.

Of what magic do I speak?

I do not have any children of my own, but my wife has two adult children. I am now a grandfather to two young boys - one 3 years old and the other 1½ months. This year the three year old is starting to understand what is going on at Christmas. Santa is real for him. The lights decorating houses are creating a wonderland that he gets to inhabit. Presents appearing under the tree are creating conversation and excitement. The promise of making Christmas cookies with grandma is waited for eagerly. The Sugar Cane Train to Santa Land - “look at the train, the lights, the snow.”

Around my grandson his sense of joy and belief in the world emerging around him becomes infectious. I experience a world of possibilities and fun. Not just something that he believes, but a real world that he takes us into along with him. For that magic is his imagination.

In the middle of this seasonal world of his is the Elf!

The Elf

The Elf is a Christmas decoration that ‘lives’ in his house. Every morning the Elf is somewhere else in the house, engaged in some different activity. The other morning my grandson came down almost out of breath, and in his emerging English of words, noises and nicknames, he explained what the Elf was doing when he woke up. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, though tried to acknowledge his excitement. The photograph below shows what he was trying to explain to me.

Elf on Dinosaur

Elf has also just sat on a shelf, slept on another shelf, played on a swing that he hung from a light, dangled from a thin web à la Spiderman, and hidden in a cup. All of these have been pointed out to me eagerly by my grandson as I walk into his house.

I suggested that maybe Elf would also come down to my house. My grandson was left pondering that, unsure.

Seeing with new eyes

My drive home here on Maui is in part along a road that is travelled by many visitors to the island. As I follow those whom I assume are here for the first time, I imagine that with every turn in the road they are seeing for the the very first time scenery that I see everyday. With fresh eyes, possibly seeing things that my tired seen it before eyes miss? Maybe seeing a depth to the beauty that we are driving through, a beauty that I saw once but now miss (take for granted - I hope not)?

Similarly what do I miss not only at Christmas, but year round?

Belief, joy, wonderment, possibilities. I see all of these in my grandson as I watch him live through the build up to Christmas. And his belief in that magic can take me there as well as I follow his awe and exclamations. I find it a powerful magic, something that we could all remind ourselves of, and that sadly slips away from us as the truth of Santa’s reality fades from our grasp.

Imagination

It is from my grandson’s imagination that will emerge his creativity, ideas, invention. To smother its development is to smother possibilities for him into the future. And Christmas can be a remembrance to us of our loss of imagination. Of falling into regimentation that daily life bring to us, and with it a loss of magic.

I invite you to surrender to the magic that children can bring to us at this time of year. Open yourself to possibilities. The possibility of love winning over hate, of us solving the problems of climate change, of fairy lights, of anything.

And if children are not in your life, take yourself back to those moments of magic in your own life. It does not just have to be Christmas. Magic is always there, somewhere, for us to tap into. We just have to keep are eyes and heart open.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.


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When you are the lone one amongst many

When you are the solitary introvert or HSP amongst many who are not. When you are the quiet one and your actions or needs are looked on as being off or odd. When you are looked on as not fitting in, and the sole justification is because of what everyone else is doing. When your different needs are seen as wrong because and simply because no one else present has them, and everyone else is doing something else. When societal expectations tell you that something is not quite right in how you show up, and you are judged accordingly.

Just remember, you have have the right to be who you are.

Two tools that I would like to offer here can help you build resilience against the messages that you are receiving and to trust in your own worthiness.

Tackling the beast

Feeling inadequate and alone is a debilitating experience that can take the wind out of the sails of even the most well intentioned endeavour. These beliefs can feed a lack of worthiness, and knock our self-esteem. At the same time we stand there knowing that how we feel and act is who we are. We are not trying to be awkward or act different, this is simply who we are.

If I build a belief and trust in who I am and my own sense of self-worth, it is harder for the outside world to sway me when I’m challenged. A sense of worthiness is always a work in progress. Just as you conquer one critique, another challenge that you hadn’t dealt with before will find its way in and you will feel knocked down again. But as long as the wish is to build your worthiness is there, it will only get stronger with time.

Fear

Fear is the beast that gets in the way of us believing in who we are. Fear of loosing connection with those around us. That in turn feeds into shame, the shame of being different, of standing out and being alone. Of being different and being criticized for it.

Those who have a strong sense of self-worth have the,

  • courage to be different and accept themselves for who they are.
  • compassion for themselves first, not despite others, but recognizing that for worthiness to be there, they have to have compassion for self. It has to start at home.
  • vulnerability, to fully embrace vulnerability with a recognition that without it, they cannot embrace their self-worth. One cannot exist without the other.

This path to self-worth is not necessarily comfortable, but it is necessary. Without one the other cannot exist.

Shame

The critique of others or even simply judging ourselves against others will see the rise of shame within us. The path to self-worth sees one having to face the beast of shame.

Shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can do and be better.
~Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Shame quite often gets mixed up with its near relative, guilt. There is a difference between the two and it lies in the object of identification. Shame identifies with self, guilt identifies with action.

  • Shame - “I am bad, because of an action I did or did not do.”
  • Guilt - I did something bad, ie “I broke the vase.”

Guilt is an honest admission of an action that I did. Shame is identifying with the action to the degree that I believe that it speaks to the nature of my character.

Shame resilience

If we are to build our self-worth, we need to build a defense against shame, catching it when it arises and countering the story that it is telling us…and that we are believing. Essentially pulling the rug out from under its feet.

Shame resilience as developed by Brené Brown is made up of four stages,

  1. Recognizing shame and understanding the triggers - get to know how shame shows up for you. How do you feel in your body when shame is presence? What needs to be going on for shame to show up in your life?
  2. Practicing critical awareness - counter the stories in you that are feeding your shame. How realistic are the expectations that you are putting on yourself? Do I really want to be like that? Start pulling the rug out from under your shame by telling the true story.
  3. Reaching out - find an ally, someone who you can trust and who will listen. Someone who loves and respects you for who you are. Someone who will not try and solve the problem, who will not judge you but will listen and hear your story. Connection wounds shame.
  4. Speaking shame - naming shame’s presence. Shame does not like that. Speak to how you feel. Ask for what you need.

The bumpy path

This is not a comfortable path. Dealing with fear, shame and vulnerability will never take us into a comfortable place, but it will take us to a courageous place. It is from a courageous place that we can start to build connection with who we are and stand in our own power. Then despite the voices that come from outside we are no longer the lone one amongst many. We might be different in our needs and how we act, but at the same time we are at home with ourselves.

From that place I can say, "I am worthy."

Distracting myself - taking small bites

Those days when I can’t seem to find focus. My mind is looking for ways out. I can feel the resistance to what needs to be done. Time is wasted doing that which does not need to be done, following links on websites, reading that which is interesting but not necessary right now.

I write this as much to remind myself of what I need to do when resistance creeps into my life.

Body

As the resistance to getting things done kicks in, the body tenses. For me that sits especially in the shoulders but I can also feel in my mind. Like a caged animal, my mind wants to run from where it is being held, from the tasks at hand. Unless I can grab hold of the mind, it is around this time that I start getting distracted. It is my mind’s equivalent of escaping from the cage…though in reality it is still trapped.

Anchor

What I need in that moment is an anchor. Something firm to hold onto that prevents me running off into unproductive activities. By anchor I am not necessarily talking about a physical thing, though it could be. Examples of anchors might be:

  • Drop everything, get out and take a walk. Just remove yourself from the focus of your activities and change the scenery.
  • If outside is not an option, change the scenery through a walk to the bathroom (whether you need to go or not), a walk to the coffee machine, or to a window with an expansive view.
  • Meditate - feel your feet on the ground, the contact of your body with the chair. Become aware of the sounds around you. Bring your attention to your breath, just breathing itself naturally. Watching the rise and fall of the belly can further help to ground you.
  • If you have some spiritual practice, in that moment drop into that. For example the recitation of a mantra, itself a meditation.
  • Journal - just write, let the mind run free. Perhaps write about what needs to be done. If you are keeping a Bullet Journal, get more detailed in there. Break up the tasks.

Take small bites

And then when you return to work don’t try and get everything done at once. If you didn’t do this during your break, look at the tasks that you have set yourself and break them down into smaller bite size chunks. And then slowly work through those chucks.

Take a break

Periodically take a break, perhaps every 20, 30 or 40 minutes stop, walk around, breathe deeply, stretch for 5 minutes, and then back to work. After a longer period of time, take a loner break. The Pomodoro Technique can be helpful with this, and there are many computer and phone apps that implement variations of the technique.

Go steadily but gently

Finally, go gently on yourself. Do not set expectations that you cannot keep. Incrementally stretch yourself, trying a little more each time, each time building on the progress made the day before. With practice the distractions become less, the mind tamed, quieter, and progress is made in work.

Further reading

Steven Pressfield wrote a whole book on the subject of resistance called The War of Art. Take a look a it if you would like to look at the creative blocks in your life.

What I am learning from Microblogvember

Microblogvember is a challenge that is taking place on the micro.blog platform through the month of November 2019. Each day Jean MacDonald, Community Manager at micro.blog, uses a random word generator to get the prompt for that day, which she then shares with the micro.blog community. Those taking part must then write a post containing the word.

I decided to take part. Why?

The short answer is because I wanted the challenge that would push me to post each day. As this is a micro.blog, I do not have to produce a post any longer than 280 characters. However, as someone who can very easily silence himself by wanting to “sound good”, or in other words post the perfect post, the character length does not necessarily make things any easier.

I can take a few days over a blog post. There can be nothing wrong with that. I write, edit, fine tune and finally post. However, more often than not I extend that process by too much, simply because I am not happy with how I am expressing myself. I edit and fine tune, edit and fine tune, edit and fine tune, etc, etc.

Perfectionism

Author and researcher Brené Brown says of perfectionism1,

Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.

Perfectionism is a block to the world that I want to create or offer. As long as my words do not see the light of day, the thoughts and ideas that I want to share will also never see the light of day. As long as I do not allow myself to publish a post, I do not get the opportunity to improve my writing through practice. Words might come out messy, my expression could be fine tuned here or there, but unless I allow myself to be vulnerable and speak to where I am in that moment, I will not be able to move beyond that moment. I will be stuck.

Commitment - Stepping Beyond Perfectionism

A commitment to Microblogvember asks me to step out of my comfort zone and just post. I post using today’s word today, as tomorrow will be tomorrow’s word. I play with the word in my head to come up with a context that I might use it. Next I play with two or three sentences in Drafts, and then post it.

Today, November 15, the challenge has reached the halfway point and I am happy to say that I have posted everyday. My plan is to make it to the finishing line. My hope is to take my experience from this challenge into my longer blog posts, and see a quicker turn around with them, from idea to post.

You?

Where is perfectionism blocking you in your life? What small step can you take to step beyond perfectionism?