Tuesday, 30 April 2013

In Praise of Silence

I love silence.  Silence is the oil that lubricates my wheels, the store from which all my love comes, the well from which my inspiration springs.

The noisy world never stops shouting out, calling, making us laugh or cry, seducing us with its messages and the apparent comforts of company.  All that hullabaloo, which is wonderful and part of life, but not all there is.  And our minds chatter away, giving us a constant commentary on how we are doing / what that person really meant when they said that / how things are going / how they might be better / how they might be worse / things we have to do / things we have already done, but haven't left behind.  Such a lot of noise.

We used to know silence; we used to live without phones ringing and televisions entertaining, without cars roaring, aeroplanes rumbling and even the wireless had its silent times.  Not so long ago... In our grandparents' childhoods this was.

We used to walk in the hills and be able to hear the small things: the rustle of a creature in the undergrowth, the birds calling to each other in their busyness, bees humming, leaves whispering in the wind, our own footsteps on the ground, our hearts beating, the sound of our breath constantly touching the rest of the world, the murmur of our souls.

In those days we didn't have to consciously decide to leave our phones behind, because there was no phone to take, we were out there alone and nobody that wasn't alongside us could reach us, but God could.  God as I see it, what the Upanishads call That - That beauty, That air, That which is everywhere, That which we are made of, although we might forget.  That which is easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of a busy life, That which is drowned out by the louder, harsher noises in the world.

Nowadays silence is not gifted to us and we have to choose it deliberately.  We have to seek it; ask for it; find it; make space for it in our lives. 

Silence is your friend.  In silence is where you find out who you are and what you want/think/feel.  How can you learn to listen to the rhythms of your soul if you are always drowning it out with other noise?  In silence is where your peace of mind lives.  In silence is where you find that you can say, 'YES' to the world and everything in it.  In silence you will find your own true voice, the things that you think are important, the places you want to be, the stuff you want to do; freed from the clamouring voices of other people's opinions and ideas (be they from loved ones, foes or advertising billboards), in silence is where you meet yourself face to face.

I entreat you to seek out silence in your life; to make for yourself a space for quietude.  Some of you are going to find it difficult, that gentle unwinding of yourself: those of you who have forgotten how to be still will have to relearn the skill; those of you who think that not doing anything but being quiet is a waste of time, will have to find a way to be kinder to yourselves; those whose minds are loud with thoughts will need to find a way to watch those thoughts with a gentle attitude (the silence will help you to find a way to settle them, given time); those who have been using noise as a way to run away from yourselves, will have to take heart and meet yourself with as much tenderness as you can muster.

Silence is a gift that we have forgotten about; it is where all the great spiritual teachers found their inspiration and their solace.  The quieter you become, the more you hear.  Listen; your life is trying to tell you something.


Further Reading
A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Respect for Change

You are tired, you are injured or you are stressed.  The way you have been living of late, even the way you have been practising yoga, is no longer serving you.  You keep coming at things from the same angle as has always worked for you, but now it is like banging your head against a brick wall and the wall will not give.  Your asana practice, which used to nourish you, has become dry and difficult, or else it niggles your injury in spite of your best efforts to work carefully around it; your meditation practice no longer feels alive; you are frustrated, or perhaps you feel low.  It feels as though the solution to your difficulty is just out of reach, so in the meantime you carry on doing what you have always done.  It has always worked for you before, so why not now?

But you are lucky, because part of your yoga practise is about insight: the self-awareness and understanding that comes from sitting quietly with yourself and observing your patterns of behaviour, both positive and negative.  You are blessed that you have the means, first for noticing that you are stuck and second for working out what on earth to do about it.

So, with time (but often not without having exacerbated your injury / fallen further into depression or anxiety / bruised your head from all that banging against the brick wall) you realise that you are attached to the way you have been living and practising and that you are finding it hard to let go of an old way of doing things and move on to a new approach.  You are coming up against the need for change and you are resisting it.

Who can say why this is?  Where and why our resistance to change, even positive change, comes from?  Life is constant change, but human beings find this hard to accept, we like to keep ourselves safe and therefore make our lives predictable; that way we know where we are and can trust that we're not going to be thrown into a situation that we will find hard to handle.  We know, intellectually, that there is no halting change and that some of it is positive, but when it comes to letting go of the old and embracing the new we come up against some pretty basic fears.

We are afraid of the unknown.  What if things get worse before they get better?  What if things get worse and stay worse!  We cannot possibly know what implications changing our lives will have and so it can take us a long time (and a lot of suffering) before we get round to changing things.  Sometimes it feels easier to hold on to old patterns that aren't working any more than to trust that change could make the future better. 

We are afraid of loss.  What might we have to let go of in order to encompass the changes we need?  What might have to die in order for our new choices to emerge?  These losses are not always tangible; for example, you might lose your role of always being the reliable one in your family - you've always liked being that person, it makes you feel wanted and secure; but always being the one that everyone turns to in a crisis might be making you ill, or might be impractical now that you have children of your own, or you might simply have realised that the more you go around saving everyone else, the less likely your loved ones are to be responsible for themselves. 

We are attached to what we have had.  You might long for a less hectic and stressful working life, but be attached to the financial status that you have in your current career.  You might associate having a fast car, a big house or a sharp suit with success; you might even use that outward show of material success to hide inner insecurities.  There are often quite profound reasons why we are unable to let go of things - it can cause is to reflect on some deeply held beliefs and vulnerabilities.

I know yogis who have to go to the chiropractor every month to have their backs put back into line, but are so attached to their traditional practice that they prefer constantly harming themselves to seeking new ways of working with asana.

I know people who are stuck in the rut of repeating old patterns in relationships that lead to unhappiness and loneliness, who need to find a way to give a valid voice to their needs and make themselves heard.

I know people whose jobs make them ill, yet who carry on day in day out, as if they did not have a choice, as if there is no way of ever being content and happy in your working life.

I know myself and how I have done variations of all those things for fear of change.

It is true that when we turn over a new leaf in our lives, we lose forever that page on which some of our happiest times and greatest achievements are written; but it is also true that we cannot write the full story of our lives within the confines of one little page.  Our lives deserve to be writ large and this means being brave enough to turn the page when necessary. 

When things that have been good for us fall apart, it is often so that something better can fall into place.  You just have to be brave and (depending on your disposition and the seriousness of your situation) put a big toe in the water of change / close your eyes, take a breath and jump / or dive in head first and see what happens.

One thing is for certain, if you are injured, stressed, or otherwise at a low ebb and have been for some time, your life is trying to tell you something .  First listen, then follow.  You know what to do and you will do it all in good time, because once you are on this path the only way is forward.


Thank you to Helen for writing about her injury so perceptively and for inspiring this blog x

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Yoga Holiday

I'm running a yoga holiday this September near the coast on a farm in the Suffolk countryside
If you love yoga, meditation, pranayama and relaxation,
If you like good vegetarian food, good company and walks on the beach,
Then join us for a beautiful weekend of mindfulness and yoga
More details here

Thursday, 4 April 2013

I Choose Growth

When it comes to life, I choose growth.

I choose growth over stagnating in a job or way of life that doesn't fulfil me.

I choose growth over limiting ideas about who I am and what I will be able to achieve in my life.

In the face of my own fear and lack of self-confidence, I choose growth.

Ignoring the call of Safety entreating me to stay where it is quiet and safe and where I know what to expect from life, I choose growth.

Knowing full well that some of the things I do and feel and say will not be understood by the people who love me most and know me best (let alone the ones who don't even like me), I choose growth.

Taking responsibility for the mistakes I have made and the pain I have caused others, I choose growth.

Promising to listen to myself and stay true to my own belief system, I choose growth.

Committing to take action and not stand idly by, I choose growth.

Finding the courage to do the things I know I have to do, face the pain I have to face, have the conversations (real or imagined) that I need to have, I choose growth.

Being brave enough to look, listen, understand and forgive, forgive, forgive everyone (including myself), I choose growth.

One life. 
Not so long a time to work all this stuff out. 
And we waste so much time, don't we, trying to pretend things aren't happening, that everything will be ok if we just knuckle down/keep on swimming/pull our socks up/grit our teeth/buy new shoes/have another drink/eat. more. cake.

Did any of that work for you?
Nor me

So in the face of it all, I still choose growth. 
Growth is living, learning, loving better.
It's finding and abiding with the peace in my heart.

And when I get to death's door, I hope I look back and feel confident that in my life I was out in the car on the rollercoaster of life, not in the waiting room waiting for someone to give me permission to ride, or thinking I should stay where I am because it might rain, or that it looks like fun, but a bit too fast and lot too scary. 

I want look back with gratitude on the people who held my hand, gave me a push, or held my coat while I took the ride of my life.