Beauty

Walking along Bilinga beach on the Gold Coast

Look for beauty with an open heart and you will find it; the mocking of beauty comes from the hardened heart.

Have you a favourite movie? A favourite scene from a movie? Many years ago one of my favourite movies was Elephant Man. On April 11th 1890 Joseph Merrick was found dead in his hospital room. Almost one hundred years later director David Lynch made the now famous movie ‘The Elephant Man’ about him. Starring Anthony Hopkins as Dr Frederic Treves and John Hunt as Joseph Merrick the movie follows the journey of the badly physically deformed Merrick from poverty, rejection and abuse to tolerance, acceptance and dignity. Treves, a Victorian England surgeon saw past the monstrous façade of layers of disfiguring tumours to the sensitive, intelligent, poetic person within. In a poignant scene Merrick is chased by a mob until cornered in a dead-end where in the midst of howling abuse he cries out, “I am not an animal!”

For many long years after the death of his mother and the physical abuse of his father Merrick was the chief exhibit in a freak show in Leicester. Known as ‘the Elephant Man’ Joseph’s life was full of misery and rejection. Finally his ‘case’ came to the attention of a London doctor Treves who offered life’s greatest treasures; acceptance, dignity and self-worth! Treves saw beauty where others were repulsed. Treves saw the person, others only the veneer. Treves saw a story, others only a label.

Too busy

Sadly too many of us are so busy we fail to see beauty. I am currently away from my community working on a book I am writing on Service Learning. On Monday I got up at my usual time for my daily sit and after lighting my candle looked out across the beach at the sunrise; a moment of beauty. How often have I rushed by the moment or scene of beauty not seeing because I am so taken up in my thoughts and worries? Remember that old saying, “Take time to smell the roses!” One of the great things about a spirituality of the present moment – of growing each day in conscious awareness is that we begin to see and truly see. We begin to see the beauty all around us. We begin to notice the butterfly or the wildflower, the beach shell or the new bud. We begin to notice the act of kindness, the greeting of hello, the twinkle in the eye or the gentle touch of love.

Conscious awareness along with appreciation and gratitude are the secrets to seeing and finding beauty in our lives. Those moments and those expressions of beauty are there, always there but so caught up in our ego roundabout or the rush and pressure of our day we either just don’t see them or are aware of them.

Snow or Mountain Buttercup on the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand

Beauty and seeing beauty slows us down. Can you rush through an art gallery? Can you rush through a forest? Can you garden in a hurry or rush the final words to a loved one? No, beauty ‘takes your breath away’. I love Eva Cassidy’s song, ‘You take my breath away’ – a truly beautiful, heart touching melody and lyrics. Beauty captures you. Beauty leaves you speechless – for so often words get in the way. Have you ever been at a concert or at the musical recital and wished it would never end or were disappointed when someone broke the silence by speaking? I was once driving at night with a friend and the song ‘I build myself a life’ from the movie ‘Life as a House’ was playing; there was a beautiful silence between us as I drove and I looked over at my friend to see tears gently coming down his face. It was a poignant moment, a sacred moment – a moment of beauty.

Eyes to see

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Seeing beauty is a choice of the heart that sees past labels, that sees the truly important, that sees dignity and worth. This seeing must come from a heart that is longing and is humble enough to let go of ego and judgement and blame. As we journey into beauty seeing eyes that which once repulsed or you feared now becomes a place of encounter.

I believe we can cultivate these eyes. One of my most treasured memories from my childhood was of my mother Zena teaching me the names of all the flowers in our garden. From an early age Zena taught me when to prune the sunflowers, the Lagerstroemia or Crepe Myrtle (or Christmas bush) and the roses, how to mulch and the signs from nature to say that rain was coming. All of this I am sure gave me an appreciation of nature, an appreciation of the little things around me, an appreciation of the natural world – all of which led me to an appreciation of the beauty of the natural world. The seeds Zena planted in me that have led to awe at sunrise and sunset have also led to tears at fish kills, the rape of forests and the poisoning of the Earth.

And as Zena taught appreciation of nature she was never rushed! What I have reflected above about Zena and the natural world is paralleled in all forms of art – all forms of the heart.

Appreciation leads to beauty seeing eyes! The same Zena reminded me to call people by name, to appreciate and express gratitude for all that was and is done for me, to respect all people but not be afraid of them. The ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ of our childhood days helped form eyes that saw the beauty and dignity of all for all were and are worthy of respect. One of the greatest things both Zena and my father Frank taught me was to respect and honour everyone and especially the ‘little people’ that some would label servants. The ironing lady and the gardener, both from very poor families in our town, were treated by my parents like nobility – and I am sure that in my Mum and Dad’s eyes they were. So if today I am blest with eyes that see the beauty and the dignity in all; big and small, so called important and unimportant, significant and so called insignificant – it was because two of my great life teachers lived what they preached.

I love the Namaste pose. I love the way people bring their hands together in the praying hands position and then bow low to the other – saying from their heart, “Namaste!” The Sanskrit word ‘Namaste’ and gesture represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgement of the soul in one by the soul in another! One of my friends Kate once taught a group of us the prayer of the four directions; we would face each direction in turn, stand in silence and then bow low with the Namaste pose towards that direction. It was a prayer and ritual honouring life and honouring beauty.

Beauty in the midst of pain

All around is not beautiful. There is pain and hurt, anger and oppression, violence and vengeance and hates many cousins. It is so difficult to see beauty when your heart is being torn apart. It is so difficult to find beauty when the rain-forest is bulldozed, the reefs dynamited, the slum dwellers are evicted to give way for condominiums for the rich or any soul is wrapped in the grief of loss in its thousand forms.

At times like these one can feel so powerless, so empty, so naked. Sometimes all you can do is go within to a silent place. In that silent place your heart will be held and your tears – justifiable tears – will flow and in flowing will nurture the most fragile, flickering flame of hope. Then somehow, despite the pain, you will see reflections of beauty in the protester, the poet and dreamer, the ‘no more’ chant and the courage of the little person in the face of the Goliath of hate. At times like these beauty does not dance with joy nor wrap you in warmth but it invites you to see worth and dignity and to bow with respect. Like multicoloured balls of wool intertwined beauty in the midst of pain is enmeshed with hope, meaning, courage, fidelity and awe. You may see or sense beauty during these times but you may also found yourself called into that place and journey of faith and trust that despite the darkness all around – you know that one day the dawn will come and that dawn light will reveal those strands in the ball of wool that help you begin again. Trust that feeble and flickering faith and trust!

The power of beauty

The power of beauty though is that it is timeless and unchanging in the face of all that seeks to threaten it. When beauty is at home within you and beauty has touched your eyes and your heart – you will see and acknowledge beauty all around you. But your greatest gift to us all and to the Universe will be that you will see beauty where others cannot see any. You will see beauty and hope where and when others have lost hope. You will stand courageous in the face of oppression and tyranny with a peace and a beauty that will confound those who cling to power over. And yes, in the face of that oppression and tyranny you will too see beauty and whisper forth the hidden beauty present there – even if it costs you your life.

And it may cost you your life – not necessarily the martyr’s death but you will be called fool, branded naive and simple – even stupid, one of ‘those’ and mocked while all the time you and your eyes will only ever see beauty. But it is no naive seeing. You are no doormat to be trampled over, no easy-beat nor victim to be ignored. The prophet and the dreamer, the poet and the artist of beauty – their very presence will challenge power over, will ask the question that gives life, will encourage those oppressed and will give hope for those who have lost same.

I thought I’d end by sharing this poem that I was introduced to many years ago. It was written during WW2, on the wall of a cellar, by a Jew in the Cologne concentration camp.

“I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love,
even when there’s no one there.
And I believe in God,
even when he is silent”.

Joy

Autumn Sunrise near Ballarat, Victoria

There is an extraordinary Jesuit priest. His name is Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard once said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God!” I don’t know much. Each day I think I know even less. Perhaps it is growing old but life seems more simple. I know the questions never cease, just when you think you find some sort of partial answer – the questions change and the dance continues. I know that many shudder when they hear the word ‘journey’ – that it is too much of a cliche – but, sorry – life is a journey. It has its ups and downs, its swings and roundabouts, its storms and gentle sunrises. And I know that in the midst of all of this our job is to be faithful, to be real, honest, courageous in the little things and to forever hope.

But more than anything I know that there is an intimate – unbreakable, unchangeable bond between joy and love. I also know with total certainty that ultimately love conquers fear, love will always win out over tyranny and love, sometimes through a veil of tears – will always tickle you with joy.

Like the butterfly, joy chased is never caught. But when you trust that urge within, trust yourself to the whisper of the heart, risk that dance your toes begin to tap and look with childlike wonder at flower and sunset and friend – you will know joy in the most beautiful of ways. Like love, joy can never be bought. It must dance free, it must be hugged and tickled into life and it must be allowed to weave its magic.

The shallow, the fake, the ego satisfied, greed, power over, pleasure and possessions can all masquerade as joy or its journey. Too often each of these lead to the empty morning after feeling. Too often they create a world of pretend where the questions nor the heart struggles are never real – but only an easy doorway to more pain.

Joy sneaks up on the lover for the lover gives. Crazy eh! But when we give, when we are other centred, when we empty of greed and ego we are embraced by joy, real joy, heart hugging joy, peace gifting joy and we discover a heart home.

Have you looked into the eyes of a lover? Have you looked into the eyes of the one the greed world calls ‘fool’? Have you looked into the eyes of the childlike? You will see a mischievous smile, a twinkle of eye and a peace beyond words – you will see joy.

Like the seed buried deep beneath the winter snow, joy bides its time. It is forever there but sometimes not so easily seen. It is forever there but will not appear at the click of fingers or the switch flick of power. No, joy, forever there will whisper when needed, will wrap arms when needed, will appear when heart needed but not focused upon. Joy has a fireside warmth, a gentle presence that enfolds and a depth of presence that is neither fleeting nor forced.

Joy knows pain. Joy knows the fidelity of the midnight bedside watch beside the lonely the lost and the ill. Joy knows the sacrifice of commitment and the courage to see beauty when all around screams not. Joy know the pain of powerlessness as the addict shakes, the trapped weave bonds ever tighter and the power bound player clings to shallow scripts. But even here, the pilgrim and the poet, the lover and the dreamer cling, walk beside, sit with and be. And despite the tears that these vagabonds shed, joy will tickle and sneak through for it is the face of love, the other glove of hurt and the flower from the seed of that very pain.

Joy does not constantly laugh. It does not need to. Joy does not constantly smile – how real is that? Joy is the underneath knowing beyond words that all will be well, the there is meaning and purpose, that love will always have the last say.

Commitment nurtures joy. Pain deepens it. Loyalty cloaks it. Integrity knows it. Giving gives birth to it. Fidelity sustains it and love whispers it as YOUR heart song deep within. Set out on the journey, walk it with feeble felt courage, trust in your dreaming, gather lovers round you and joy will be your deepest soul mate.

Yes, joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.

Covid Kindness

Winter sunset in Italy during Covid 19

Recently I shared in a blog a quotation I saw on a poster by the side of the highway;

“In a world in which you can be anything; be kind!”

Jennifer Dukes Lee

Got me smiling

I was out walking on the weekend and crossed a small bridge across a creek. On the handrails of the bridge – often used by cyclists – there was a set of house keys attached by a plastic strap. Obviously they had fallen out of someone’s pocket – and another hiker or cyclist had seen them and then gone to the trouble to attach them to the railing of the bridge in such a way that they were easily seen and still not fall into the water. Only a small thing, but it got me smiling.

On that same walk I and my walking companion were passed by many cyclists and time and time again they thanked us for staying close to the side of the path as they passed by – allowing them more room. But the constant ‘thank you’ as a blur of lycra flashed by got me smiling. In a supermarket the other day I asked one of the workers where the ice cream cones were. He could have replied, “Aisle 5!” and continued on with his shelf stacking but no, “Come this way Sir” and he walked with me to a space right under an almost neon flashing sign that said, “Deserts!” some four aisles away; he got me smiling.

I was once hiking (tramping) Stewart Island to the south of the South Island of New Zealand and arrived at a hut on a cold rainy night about two hours later than planned. I had hiked the last five or six kilometres in the dark wondering if I was lost. Finally I saw the lights of the cabin and I stumbled in soaking wet, cold and hungry but just relieved to have arrived safely. After finally getting into dry and warm clothing I stumbled into the dinning area to be greeted by about eight fellow hikers and one walked over to me and offered me a huge mug of hot chocolate; it really got me smiling! I was visiting my niece today to meet her newly born son. On the doorstep was a small package addressed to the newly born (his first ever article of mail) and inside it was a book, beautifully autographed, sent to the family by a famous Australian poet; it got me smiling.

I know these are silly little examples but IF we look, our lives are full of them.

Last week a friend pointed me to a film clip. It was from Simon Sinek and he was talking about the highest performing organisations and teams on the planet and he referenced the US Navy Seals. Sinek said,

“The Navy Seals are one of the highest performing organisations on the planet. And a former Navy Seal was asked, ‘Who makes it through BUDs, who makes it through the selection process to become a SEAL?’ And he said, ‘I can’t tell you who gets through, who makes it, but I can tell you the kind of people who don’t make it.’ He said, ‘The star college athletes that never have been really tested to the core of their being. None of them make it through. The preening leaders who like to delegate everything, none of them make it through. The big tough guys that come in with huge muscles covered in tattoos and want to prove to everyone how tough they are – none of them make it through. Some of the guys who make it through are skinny and scrawny. Some of the guys who make it through you will see them shivering out of fear. But every single one of them who makes it through when they’re emotionally exhausted, when they’re physically exhausted some way, somehow, they’re able to dig down deep inside themselves, to find the energy to help the person next to them!’ Service, service, giving to another, having their back is what makes the highest performing teams in the world, not their strength and not their intelligence. It’s their willingness to be there for each other.”

Simon Sinek

Now I have no idea whether Simon Sinek is quoting a real conversation but I do know that what he reflects runs true to my life experience.

Question:

Reflect on your last week or two – despite all the anxiety what / who has got you smiling – how and why?

Do you agree with Simon Sinek – it is all about service? What is your experience in this area?

Covid 19

As I have shared in a previous blog I was in Italy when the Covid pandemic really began to kick in. Here I was on the other side of the world far from family and friends and in the midst of one of the pandemic hotspots. It was quite scary. Here was Italy where in the north of the country hundreds of people were dying each day – with their loved ones locked out of the hospitals unable to visit them – people dying alone and with the medical staff and facilities totally overwhelmed.

During this time I was taking part in a Sabbatical and my fellow participants were from all over the world. Sadly, often the topic on the evening news, after the shock and sadness of what was happening just a few hours away from us, was the panic buying of ‘essential’ items in supermarkets in faraway Australia! Not for the first time in my life I was embarrassed to be an Australian. Some of the sabbatical participants were confused thinking that the situation in Australia must be so much worse off than in Italy for there to be such panic buying.

Why? Why would people in one of the world’s richest countries with one of the world’s best health care systems be panic buying toilet paper, pasta, cooking oil and more? Why would Australia over the first weeks of the Covid 19 pandemic get to the point where they would have to put security guards on shopping centres and make special shopping times to ensure that the elderly could get access to what they needed to live?

The pictures of empty supermarket shelves haunted me. I suppose being in the midst of the Italian pandemic – in lockdown – with hundreds dying each day magnified the difference between Italy and my homeland. To this day I remain so grateful for our health care system and relative prosperity of Australia that has meant that our entire number of deaths and total number of infections for the whole of the pandemic period is less than some other nations for one day!

But in the midst of all of this wealth, opportunity and first class health care – why did so much greed and fear rare its head?

My feet of clay

But before I go further, rushing to take any high moral ground – Damien is no angel – no mother Teresa going out on to the streets to work with dying people. I did not give up my plane ticket back to Australia as the pandemic worsened to someone in greater need. Would I have filled my shopping trolley full of toilet paper had I been back home and tasked with the community shopping? Would I have fought over the last bottle of milk on the supermarket shelf? Would I have elbowed the little old lady out of the way as we both reached for the last packet of pasta?

It is so easy to take the high moral ground. But I wonder what is it in we humans that sometimes when faced with fear, with physical threat to life or limb, some descend to animal instinct of ‘kill or be killed – survival of the fittest’ – while others seem to respond with heroic self-sacrifice? I understand that there is that innate drive or need to protect those who are near and dear to us and this would explain some of the motivation to ensure one’s own family did not go without.

Paradox

I suppose all of this was an invitation to me to reflect more deeply on kindness and generosity. I suppose the word that continues to come back to me is paradox. The paradox is that in giving we receive. The paradox is that those who live by kindness, who are kind, also smile and smile often.

When was the last time you saw a blaming, shaming, fear dispelling, self-centred person who was truly happy and free?

One of the dangers with ‘kindness’ though is that we can be kind to our kind; to our kin and forget everybody else. True kindness knows no boundary of tribe or religion or life story. Kindness grows wide eyes; eyes that see beyond the label the other may be given or choose to wear. Kindness only sees the person. And kindness comes from a free heart that does not need to be thanked or congratulated or noticed. Kindness does not keep score nor is a martyr with a grim face that says, “Look at what I’ve done for you!”

I may be naive but I truly believe that the universe blesses those who are kind. When we trust our heart, when we trust love and this leads to kindness and generous giving I have found that I have never gone without.

The 90 year old sundial at my family home, “Light and Shade but love always!”

Opportunity

So here we are in the midst of Covid 19. Here we are with a high degree of stress and anxiety all around us. Here we are with so many of our brothers and our sisters feeling vulnerable and fearful. Therefore here we are with the perfect opportunity and time for kindness. But let’s not complicate this. It is not rocket science! Kindness is so very simple.

The power of kindness is in the message it gives without saying a word. So;

When we do a small task for another or with another – message – I value you!

When we write that letter or email, give a gift of flowers or some home-made jam – message – I appreciate you

When we pick up the phone and call, visit or remember in the midst of busyness – message – You are special

When we sit with, walk with – in silence or in chat – message – I want to waste time with you

When we laugh with, play silly games, set out on adventures however simple – message – I enjoy your company

When we just are with people and they know – deep within them that we enjoy their company – message – You make my life richer

When we don’t dump in anger, don’t see the petty selfishness and allow and accept the foibles of another – message – I, like you, am far from perfect

When we remember their pain, walk with them in their fear, share our fear and feet of clay and face adversity together – message – You are not alone

We are all in this together – and I am beside you

The sun will come up tomorrow – the dawn follows the night, the calm follows the storm.

Yes, our Covid Kindness will sow seeds of hope, focus our hearts on the positive and find meaning in the sorrow. From our Covid Kindness we individually and we collectively will emerge stronger and wiser. The kind and reflective heart will mull over the lessons of Covid and sow seeds that will truly gift future generations with a better world for all.

Self-Kindness and Earth Kindness

Each morning after our community sacred sit and song I turn over our compost bin before breakfast. I check on the garden, notice a new shoot on the newly pruned roses, and notice a new strawberry flower and which paw paws are showing signs of ripening. All of this is my little way of beginning my day with kindness; self-kindness & earth kindness! From this space hopefully my heart will change so that naturally, like breathing, I will find myself being kind to the other, kind to the stranger – kind to the life I have been granted the privilege of sharing for another sacred day.

And will I fail? Sure, often and almost always – and I then will hopefully smile a kind smile, an ‘oh well’ shrug of the shoulders and laugh with the adventure of being alive in this most precious time of wisdom. And remember what Sinek said,

Service, service, giving to another, having their back is what makes the highest performing teams in the world, not their strength and not their intelligence. It’s their willingness to be there for each other.

In the midst of Covid let’s be there for each other and for the only Earth we have!

Covid Tough

Beech forest in New Zealand

You all know I love hiking. I am not sure what it is – probably a combination of being with good friends, being in nature, the adventure and the vistas! Having said that I once tramped (New Zealand for hiking) the Routeburn Track in the South Island of New Zealand in pouring rain for almost four days – so no vistas there! It certainly is not the snorer beside you in the bunk house nor the group that insist upon getting up and getting going by 5 am and all you want to do is snuggle deeper into a sleeping bag. No matter how quiet they may try to be – the bang clang zip of cooking their porridge, cleaning dishes, packing their packs is all magnified in a hut high above the tree line. Bless them!

Isn’t personality a mysterious thing; I always find myself amused by the hiking party that needs to be up and gone by 5 am when we all know it is a 7 hour hike to the next hut and that when you arrive there just after 12 noon there is nothing to do all afternoon but read or play cards. Why not sleep in, a leisurely breakfast and then set forth for adventure? Oh well; c’est la vie! I have no doubt they too are amused by those who want to sleep in while the beauty of the day beckons!

I mention hiking because most of us are doing it tough at present. We are ‘over’ Covid 19! We are over lockdowns and social isolation – keeping 1.5 m apart, wearing masks, clinging to hand sanitizers and the never ending news cycle of Covid related items. I am no different to you; I’m over it too. I had a ten day period in Italy back in February where I would fret over every ache and pain after I had travelled within the country just immediately prior to the lockdown – fearing that every little itch or temperature change may be the onset of Covid. Then in Italy the nightly death toll from the North was like nothing I had ever experienced and the feel of dread and fear on the streets of the small village near where I was staying had to be seen to be believed. Then I had my 36 hour dash back home to the safety of Australia – cringing should anyone close by in the plane cough and then being greeted at Sydney airport by white coat, mask wearing nurses taking my temperature. Two weeks of quarantine followed and then the lockdown. So – yes, I like so many of you are over it.

There can be no doubt that we are surrounded by anxiety and in some cases fear. It is almost as if there is an underlying anxiety at the back of our minds just questioning life as we have known it – and placing some uncertainty around the future.

Question

How has this Covid time been for you? Are you aware of any increased anxiety within you or within those around you?

But why mention hiking? If there are two things that my years of hiking have taught me they are the beauty and the power of the present moment AND to set and reset continually my short term goals. You see, hiking for nine or ten hours up and down the New Zealand Alps carrying a huge pack on your back with all you need to survive – while enjoyable – is also tough. Often, with my lungs burning for air – my goal would be to make it to the next turn on the track – twenty meters away and then the next and then the next! Many of the tracks are up and down, up and down and the fifteen meters of altitude you just gained through sheer hard work and determination are followed by a twelve meter downhill slope and then – you guessed it – a seventeen meter gut wrenching shuffle back upwards – only to find that after half an hour of tramping and covering some four hundred meters you have gained only some five meters of altitude overall! That mountain pass seems like forever away.

Sure, that four hundred meters is truly beautiful; sometimes mountain vistas, sometimes the dark green of the beech forest, sometimes tumbling waterfalls, moss and lichens, bird call and flax plants and more. But often, in the midst of the beauty it is sheer hard work. No beer has ever tasted as wonderful as the beers in the National Park Hotel at the end of the 12 hour hiking day doing the Tongariro Crossing (one of the most beautiful one day hikes on the planet).

But over the years I have come to discover that strangely this is one of the things I love about hiking. I love the challenge of the nine hour hiking day. While I don’t love the sore legs, the aching back and the lungs that just can’t get enough oxygen I would do it all tomorrow for the feel at the hut at the end of the day or the beer with mates on the last day of the hike. When you are snug and warm in the hut that night, the light of a small candle and a pack of cards you recall the adventure that was that day. And even then, after only one day, the mountains have already got higher, the bear bigger, the swing bridge just dangling above the chasm below.

But you made it – because you set yourself hundreds – probably thousands of short term goals that day; to get to that tree, to get to that tree, to get to that corner, to get to that corner, to rest next to that small cave, to sneak a small piece of chocolate when you get to that clearing. While the Brothers in my community would definitely not call me sane I have survived Covid so far because I am lucky to live in Australia and because I have each and every day set myself a whole series of short term goals.

The Tongariro Crossing

My hiking adventures have been truly special; from the beauty of the Kosciuszko National Park in early spring to the Travers Saddle, Mt Doom on the Tongariro Crossing to the crystal clear Lake Mackenzie on the Routeburn track I have seen some truly beautiful parts of our world. But the danger is that we simply ‘do’ the Kepler Track – what is the value in that?

So the second thing that has got me through Covid – relatively sane thus far is the power of the present moment. Again, it is no secret that I love the writing of Eckhart Tolle and his Power of Now. Tolle reminds us that all there is is now. Too many of us live constantly in the past or in the future; full of regrets or wishing we were back in a time which was simpler and fun or we live in the future – the ‘one day’ syndrome. Yes, ‘one day’ I will be fit, ‘one day’ I will not be jealous or resentful, ‘one day’ I will be kind, ‘one day’ I will be successful. As the saying goes, “One day (tomorrow) never comes!”

So on the hikes I gift myself with the present moment over and over again. I truly take in the wild flower, the mountain vista, the hanging glacier, the last small patches of late winter snow and more. On a hike in Tasmania with my friends Paul and David a couple of years ago I drove them crazy with my constant stopping to stoop down and take a photo of a wild-flower. My computer desk top has a 30 second revolving gallery of some 600 nature shots from my hikes. Each one a memory. Each one something of beauty that brings me into the now; the present moment. On the hikes my eyes and my IPhone (switched to global roaming to preserve the battery) help me embrace more deeply the present moment.

The gift of that present moment keeps on giving. When you truly see that flower or leaf or koala bear or waterfall you are in that moment and not regretting your past or wishfully dreaming of a possible future. That present moment hugs you. That present moment says that all there is is NOW. That present moment just IS. That present moment is to be savoured and enjoyed – like stopping to cook up a brew on the Three Capes Track in Tasmania with views to die for as a backdrop.

Cooking up a brew on the Three Capes Walk

So on my Covid journey – yes, I am over it. But yes, I am valuing the hundred small short term goals I set myself each day. And yes, I am attempting to continually be in the present moment – and truly there, truly in it. Obviously I am aided in this both by my love of gardening and my love of nature and my daily walks. But all of us have our version of these. Within the last few days my niece has given birth to her first child. I have no doubt that over the coming month her little boy will give her thousands of tiny moments of joy (and sleeplessness); those little baby noises, the eyes wide open taking in of you looking down upon them, the tiny little fingers grabbing hold of you, those tiny little finger nails, that little smile, the laughter or half giggle for no apparent reason and more. These for my niece will be her moment by moment present moment. How often have you heard someone say that babyhood goes too fast and they wish they could slow it down!!

I have discovered that I have NOT lost anything by not listening to the endless cycle of Covid news each night; so gift yourself a change of channel or a good book or a conversation with a friend. I have discovered that my mind can so easily cycle back to my anxieties and fears – often about things I have little control over. So what I do have control over is my present moment. So (and it is not avoidance) I focus on the flower, on the sunset, on the friend I am chatting to, on the small task I have chosen to be engaged in.

So Covid;

  1. It is with us – no good fighting it or resisting it or wishing it was not – it is – accept it
  2. Thank the Universe for the gift of each and every day
  3. Choose a whole series of short term goals to focus your day (these do not have to be work related)
  4. Stay fit – become fit – become fitter – get out and exercise in some way shape or form
  5. Do that thing you have been putting off and “wished you had time to do” – well now, you have the time (I began a blog)
  6. Set routines
  7. Deliberately plan times of celebration, romance, fun, memory with those you love
  8. Yes, you will get down at times – and yes, perhaps more than normal – so accept that that is currently your (our) reality and then
  9. Reach out in giving to self and other – remembering that always there are people much worse off than yourself (honour them and care for them in some way) and finally
  10. Choose deliberately to live in the present moment! Do a senses sacred walk each day; close your eyes and deeply listen, close your eyes and breathe in deeply the scent of nature, open your eyes and deeply look – see – take in the beauty of sunset or sunrise, flower or bug and finally touch; touch leaf or bark, baby or that dog or cat that is so glad you are around a lot more – and loves nothing more than a tickle behind the ear!

And lets all keep things in balance. Most of the readers of this blog live in countries with great health care systems and with publicly funded medical care. So each day as you find that quiet space – to just sit or to hold some of the pain of planet Earth and its people in your heart and hands – hold too, those human poor of our planet who do not have the financial, medical and family support you and I may have.

And yes, one day, we will be Covid free – and on that day let us all hope and pray that we never forget nor take for granted;

  • The wow of a hug
  • The beer or wine or coffee with friends
  • The joy of story sharing with our elderly
  • The freedom of gathering to watch sport, attend a concert
  • The nobility of having a job
  • The belonging as you gather in worship
  • The buzz of energy when people gather
  • The heroic commitment and generosity of health workers and that
  • Pain – like love – knows no borders!

Questions:

  1. What is getting you through Covid 19?
  2. What are you doing or being that will mean you come out stronger?

Self-care

Hiking in New Zealand with my nephew Daniel.

The word narcissist is one of the many words I cannot spell. Yes, I had to ‘have a go’ and then allow those little squiggly red lines to appear under the word and then right click and get the right spelling. Narcissism is a disorder. A narcissist is someone who has an inflated sense of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, disregard for others’ feeling, an inability to handle any criticism and a sense of entitlement. Most probably you would not need to tell the narcissist that they need to ‘take care of themselves’.

A martyr on the other hand is traditionally regarded as someone who is willing to give their lives for others. In the religious sphere the person may give their life for their faith. There is much to be admired in the courage and conviction of the martyr to believe in some cause to such depth that they would be prepared to give their lives for it. People like Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler and a Philippines journalist who continually speaks out against the atrocities of the Duterte government would be someone who is very aware that their voice is a threat to tyranny and by speaking up they are risking their life. I daily thank the Universe for the gift of the Maria Ressa’s of this world.

But another use of the word martyr can be those people who give and give and give until they are empty. They ‘spend themselves’ in the service of others. I am not convinced that this is a healthy thing. One of the questions I often ask of myself and others is, “Whose needs are getting met here?” To me the litmus test of whether the giving to others is healthy or not is JOY. When giving comes from a space of love and freedom it leads to joy – the old saying, “God loves a cheerful giver!”

We live in a world that knows so much pain. At times it could be so easy to lose heart. Many years ago I did a Masters Degree in Counselling. One of the best things about the degree was that we were told over and over again that the best way we could care for the other was to care for self first. Self-care, not in the narcissistic way mentioned above, but in that balanced choice to nurture self in the many ways that YOU deeply sense you need to be nurtured, is a gift that keeps on giving.

This self-care is not as easy as it sounds. Too often we remain as victims of past hurts and this can cloud how we view the world. Too often we choose to cling to those hurts – almost like a reverse security blanket, in our misery we ‘feel good’. Crazy! Too often patterns learnt in our childhood can bind us and never allow us to dance freely – this is certainly my own story. Too often we should on ourselves and allow these shoulds to dictate how we live our lives. Too often we spend our lives marching to someone else’s drum. Too seldom do we place healthy boundaries around our hearts and so allow the crap of others to be dumped on us – unfairly.

In a previous blog I shared about self-esteem and that so many of us have a filter that blocks out the affirmation of others. Ultimately we can be affirmed by many others but we have to choose to believe in what they see and come to see it for ourselves; this is a choice we have to bravely make, noone else can make it for us. This choice, made day by day and in some cases hour by hour leads us to that space where we need to care for our one precious life. I love the Mary Oliver poem – Summer Day. The poem concludes;

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do – with your one wild and precious life?

To me there is no easy way to a life of self-care. I certainly don’t believe that there is some magic formula or must buy book. Sure the wisdom of insights of others may help – but ultimately this is one journey we can only walk alone and walk OUR way. But when we begin that most sacred of journeys it begins to become an adventure and life is never the same again.

I love the poem Desiderata. Written by Max Ehrmann in 1927 it says among other pearls of wisdom;

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

A teacher meditating on a retreat near Oamaru, South Island of New Zealand.

Question:

Below are some ‘pointers’ for self-care – what would you add to YOUR list and why?

Pointers to Self-care

  1. Can you say ‘no’ to unfair and too many commitments?
  2. Can you gently accept a compliment – acknowledge it and then accept it
  3. Can you allow a compliment to truly ‘go within’ so you truly hear it?
  4. Can you gift yourself with quality time with those who love you?
  5. Can you gift yourself with quality time with mother Earth (beach walk, forest walk, gardening etc)?
  6. Can you gift yourself with time for what you love – a hobby – gardening, listening to music, playing an instrument – whatever?
  7. What gift will you give your body today? A massage, a healthy meal, some stretching, a gym session, a leisurely walk?
  8. What gift will you give your spirit today? A meditation session, a sacred sit, an awareness time in nature, some journaling?
  9. Begin each day with ten long slow breaths – then look around you – despite all that will come your way that day – you have been ‘gifted’ with another day
  10. Surround yourself with positive people who are dreaming of a better world for all
  11. Do a slow senses walk in nature; close your eyes and take in the scents, look – deeply at a flower or leaf or ant or whatever, gently touch – bark or petal or leaf, close your eyes and welcome in the sounds of that place; the wave, the bird, the humming insect, the flow of water …whatever
  12. Linger over a meal with loved ones
  13. Small is more than OK as is one step (life is a journey and a dance, not a race nor a stock market)
  14. Look into the eyes of someone who loves you
  15. Accept a hug – gently ask for one
  16. Write in your journal, plant a tree, start a compost bin, write a poem – a song – a melody ….do whatever gets YOUR creative energy going
  17. Forgive yourself over and over and over again – until your hearts truly hears it and then ritualise the hearing
  18. Do coffee with a friend and recall old memories – laugh a little
  19. When regrets come – as they will – gently smile, let them go – you did what you could with what you knew and who you were at that time
  20. Welcome tears when they come and light a candle for those who can’t or have forgotten to cry
  21. Catch a movie
  22. Read a book
  23. Listen to your favourite music
  24. Enrol in that class that you always wanted to but never felt you could; learn to dance, paint, DIY home projects
  25. Take a photo of something that grabs your attention or your heart – share that photo
  26. Snuggle up with a glass of wine – and perhaps a loved one
  27. Sleep in or get up early and watch the sunrise
  28. Waste time with those who love you
  29. Ice-cream, chocolate ….whatever
  30. All there is is NOW
  31. It is as it is; acceptance of the present moment is not surrender or fatalistic – but a doorway to freedom
  32. Choose a motto for yourself and put it in a place that you will observe it often
  33. Make a list of the ten things in your life that you most appreciate – and when necessary – update it
  34. Your wisdom …….

A friend of mine often says to me, “Damien, gift yourself one hour a day, one day a week, one week a year to gently but specifically nurture your spirit!” A couple of years ago I was working overseas for a month and the team I was working with were working seven days a week. After ten days without a break I said, “Stop! I can’t do this. I am a hard worker but I can’t and I won’t work seven days a week. I need one day just to be, to re-create (I love that word), to just potter around!”

As we have reflected on self-care it could be very easy to allow ‘guilt’ to sneak in. The false self, the ego loves and thrives on guilt. We feel guilty that we did not give and give and give. We feel guilty that we could have done more – been more. We feel guilty that we did not save the world! Guilt is the most useless of emotions – it white-ants our self-care.

But, the ultimate thing about true self-care is that it will naturally and beautifully lead you out to others. And when you engage with the other from this sacred space of self-care you will do so with a sparkle in your eye, a lightness of step and a freedom that others will be in awe of. What an adventure! Enjoy it!

Questions:

What is YOUR way of being ‘gentle’ with yourself?

Who in your life has great life – work balance? What is their secret?

What works for you – what doesn’t?

Add YOUR self-care wisdom to the list above – and if you feel inclined to – share it either with myself or someone special in your life – your wisdom may inspire or motivate others.

Random Acts of Kindness

During the battles of the Second World War ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’ – the village people of Papua New Guinea who live close to the Kokoda track used to assist Australian soldiers who were wounded to get back for medical help. This statue is in Anzac Square in Brisbane.

I was out driving today and I saw a large billboard and on it there was a message; “In a world in which you can be whatever you want to be – be kind!”

I was once living in a community with some extraordinary young adults. I had had a huge week and was exhausted. I had done my washing and hung it out to dry at the start of the day before I had gone off to a work engagement. In the afternoon it had rained. I returned home late afternoon expecting to see my very wet clothing hanging limp from the clothesline. The clothesline was bare and when I went to my room my laundry was sitting there neatly folded on my bed. I remember as the community gathered for the evening meal thinking – “One of you went out of your way to be kind to me today!” No-one said a word, no-one claimed the kind deed as theirs. But the effect upon me was extraordinary; I felt loved, cared for, thought about – held. I think I may have even smiled!

RAKS – Random Acts of Kindness – take several forms. There is a one like the example just referred to where someone does a random act of kindness totally anonymously. Somebody gives with no thought of reward and recognition. They do it in such a way that the other does not know who they are. When we do something, some kindness, – however big or small – just for the sake of doing it, when we don’t draw attention to self, when we deliberately avoid any form of attention the act has a wisdom and a power intrinsic to it.

When your act of kindness is random and has no audience it has a special power; it gifts YOU with an inner sense of joy and freedom. By acting anonymously you take the ego out of it. The ego loves an audience – actually thrives on an audience and will just love it when your kindness is seen or acknowledged or appreciated and will go all sullen when this does not happen – will actually sulk. There is a true and deep freedom when you can RAK beyond ego!!!

Last October an Australian man Richard Morris was visiting Wiltshire in England when he left his wallet on the top of a hire car and drove off. About to cancel his credit cards and change other identity items that were in the wallet Richard was surprised when – some weeks later – a package arrived from the UK containing the wallet with everything still inside of it including quite a sum of cash. Not only was this RAK anonymous it had cost the ‘good Samaritan’ quite a deal of money. With the package was a simple note;

Another time I was working in a large school and had overseen a large evening function where the parents and their sons had come to the school to talk about a trip to East Timor. The large room which we had used was going to be used at the very start of the following day. I had left the room to say good night to the parents and ensure everybody got safely away. In doing so I got caught up in a long conversation with a concerned parent. Upon my return to the venue an hour later expecting to be spending another hour cleaning up, putting away the Audio Visual equipment and stacking chairs I discovered that someone had done it all for me – leaving the room spotless and ready for the following day. To this day I do not know who did it all for me.

They were not asked to do it. They got no praise or recognition for doing it. It was not about them. It did not get them ‘brownie points’ in my book. Their name or names were not put up in lights. It just was done and done well. Like the pebble in the proverbial pond the RAK flows outward; it gives, it gifts, it creates a ripple of positive energy, of joy and of hope. This ripple of positive energy firstly begins within you as this mindset of giving just becomes more and more part of who you are and what you do. But the effect on the other can be powerful too with its own ripple effect. As they experience the kindness, not knowing who was the giver – this ennobles them, empowers them, invites them to do the same – they grow more positive, more hope filled and perhaps you have inadvertently sown the seed of RAKS within them too.

One of my favourite past-times is to go hiking. I have a group of about ten friends and each year – some combination of three of them and myself will set out on an adventure – often in the Alps of New Zealand or down in Tasmania – wherever. As we walk along – it is almost an unspoken rule that we pick up the little bits of plastic and paper that others have dropped. They go into our rubbish bag at the end of the evening meal. No big deal, no massive thing – just do it! Leave the forest cleaner that what we found it.

Another form of a RAK is when the person just does the kindness as part of who they are and do it to a stranger or someone that cannot pay them back. I’ve seen people at a cash register struggling to find the right money to pay for something and a stranger steps forward, pays the amount owing and walks off. I’ve seen people assisting a mother with a large pram get the pram on to or off a train and then just walk off. I’ve seen a school student who had crossed a busy street at the lights return to the middle of the crossing to assist an elderly man who was struggling to make it across before the lights turned and allow the flow of traffic.

While I am not a fan of the company NIKE in the way that they have previously abused labour with low wages in majority world countries to produce their apparel – I do like their slogan; NIKE – just do it! With Random Acts of Kindness – you just do it. There is no fanfare, no flag waving, no philosophical debate or reason – you just do it. Don’t over think RAKS! Just DO it – some simple real action that makes a difference – however small.

Another form of a RAK is when the person just does the kindness as part of who they are within the ordinary in the day to day – especially to people who are vulnerable or powerless or poor – knowing they cannot repay you. But the WAY in which they do the little act of kindness is so humble, so respectful, so reciprocal that the other is hardly even aware that an act of kindness was done to or for them.

One of the very familiar – pretty well constant memories from my family home was to hear my mother Zena doing her shuffle (in her older years) along the lino floor to the phone. Mum would be accompanied either side by her ever faithful terriers Basil and Bailey. I would be reading a book on the front veranda and I would hear mum, “Hello Ethel – it’s Zena here. How are you?” Mum would, on a very regular basis – almost daily, be phoning one of the ‘old dears’ around the town who she knew was unwell or invalid or suffering some difficult time. Zena would be reaching out to them to see if they were ‘OK’. In her younger years – up until about aged 85 she would often visit them accompanied by the obligatory bottle of homemade mango chutney or pickles or whatever.

Question:

Do you have people like Zena in your life? What is their secret?

One of my own little habits is to look at a person’s name tag when I am in a shop about to be served. I try to greet them by name. If they aren’t too busy I will ask how their day has been. No big deal, no massive thing – just do it! This is not so much about a kindness but simply a recognition – that person serving you is a person with a name. Sure they are doing their job and getting recompensed for it but by just going that small extra step to call them by name, to thank them and to engage in conversation, however small, makes a difference.

And that is what a RAK does it makes MAD! It Makes a Difference! The gift of a RAK is within. It becomes an awareness within you. You become OTHER AWARE. You become GIVING AWARE, and is so often the case, this gifts you. You become more grateful, you become more appreciative, you become more aware of the little things that people do for you. And the act is so random; sure you may occasionally deliberately plan a RAK but most often they just happen – they just flow from WHO you are.

RAK people are humble people. You won’t find them sitting at home each night patting themselves on the back and recording or recalling the long list of RAKS that filled their day. Most probably they have already forgotten about them, they would even struggle to recall doing them. It is NOT about them. It is NOT even about the act of kindness – it is just a small act – that gives and gives freely. In no way is a RAK condescending, in fact the very opposite.

Many of you have seen the book ‘Guess how much I love you!” It is a beautiful story recalling a small rabbit telling his parents just how much he loved them. A couple of years ago my friends Greg and Charlotte gave birth to identical twin boys Henry and Rohan. I asked my nephew Kieran would he sketch a form of the story – based on twins. “No worries Uncle Damien!”

We are all called to be RAK people. And true RAKS know no boundaries of ethnicity or religion or social class.

As children we were taught at home and at school the ABC of etiquette; to stand when a lady entered a room, to give up one’s seat for an adult, to say please and thank you, to not begin eating until all had their meals etc. No big deal, no massive thing – just do it! The mindset of RAKS often begins early in life but can be learned at any time – it is probably one of the best things a parent can do for their children, to grow their appreciation of all that is done or given for and to them and invite them to respond with kindness and gratitude – and in small unseen acts!

RAKS don’t have to be big things – in fact so often they are the small random things that make the difference. Have you ever had that unexpected phone call from a friend – who wanted nothing other than to say “Hi, how are you?” Have you ever discovered an anonymous note under your door thanking you for something that you did? Have you ever received a gift – however small – from someone and to this day do not know who it is from? All of these small acts are gifts and make the world the kind of place it could and should be.

My wonderful father died when I was 17. I don’t remember too many things he said – I do remember a lot of things he did. But one thing he used to say to me was, “Damien, friends don’t owe!” In our small town of Proserpine, dad was one of the key men at the local St Vincent de Paul conference – as such he was charged with giving out meal tickets to any homeless person around the town or a ‘tramp’ passing through. They would come to my father’s shop and I can clearly remember dad making them welcome; as if some nobleman or important government official had just waltzed in. The respect with which dad treated the stranger made a deep impression upon me. Dad’s whole life was full of RAKS.

RAKS – random acts of kindness – is a mindset, a way of looking at the world. You want to give – for no particular reason and do so with great freedom – the beautiful freedom of not wanting anything in return. The power of a RAKS is its randomness – it is unplanned, it is unpredictable, it is unexpected, it surprises, it comes from left field and in so doing it gifts hope.

RAKS gift and give and the giving often knows no boundary. I am forever surprised by the effect of something minor as when a car lets you in to a line of cars on a busy street. I live fifty meters from a busy road and often of a morning when I drive to work there is a huge line of traffic all waiting for the lights to change to green – many wanting to turn at the intersection to go to the airport. I have lost count of the number of times I have been waved across both lanes of traffic to that busy airport lane. Those drivers did not have to do it – they just did – and often it gifts me with a more hope filled, positive start to a busy day.

At this time on planet Earth I believe we are called to RAK Mother Earth as well. The Earth is so kind to us. Earth gifts us with fresh air, beautiful drinking water, beauty in sunrise or sunset that takes our breath away and food that strengthens and we can savour and enjoy. Can we regularly gift Earth with our RAKS? Can we compost, recycle, garden sustainably, use public transport and most of all as Ghandi so often reminded us;

“Live simply so that others may simply live!”

One of the hardest forms of RAKS is to be kind to yourself. Sometimes when I have been working really hard or am proud of something I have done – achieved, a goal met etc – I will RAK myself with a coffee, a beer, a walk in a beautiful spot, a sleep in or simply an inner hug!

You don’t go looking for them – but when you are the recipient or giver of RAKS you suddenly grow clearer eyes – you begin to see beauty where you did not see it before, you begin to ‘expect’ good things to happen, you begin to look for the good in people – and you begin to find it! So RAKS are bearers of hope and givers of joy. This week can you, can I be such bearers – through small, anonymous, random – acts of kindness!

Questions:

What Random Act of Kindness can I do for myself in the coming week?

What Random Act of Kindness can I do for the Earth this coming week?

What small, simple, anonymous act of kindness can I do for another this coming week?

The Power of One

Paul working with children in Kenya – it is all about relationship.

History is full of stories where ONE person stood up against evil or oppression. A polish Franciscan friar, Maximillian Kolbe stepped forward and volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the German concentration camp of Auschwitz in August of 1941. In December 1955 Rosa Parks, an Afro-American woman rejected the demands of a white bus driver to give up her seat in the ‘coloureds sections’ of the bus to a white passenger after the whites-only section was filled. She was arrested for “civil disobedience.” On the 23rd of August in 1966 an Aboriginal stockman, Vincent Lingiari tired of the Aboriginal people being ‘treated like dogs’ in their own country, led two hundred of his people, employees of Wave Hill cattle station in a walk off that ended up lasting nine years. Lingiari and his people were simply demanding better pay and rations and protection of their Aboriginal women from their white overseers.

What this Afro-American woman, this polish priest and this Aboriginal stockman had in common was that they were nobodies. No-one knew who they were. At the time when they stepped forward, walked off or did not move they were not known beyond their close friends but each was fired up by a deep sense of justice and courage to face injustice. Kolbe died within days of his action while Lingiari and Rosa Parks lived for many years and saw their struggles and demands for justice come to some resolution.

Too often we can read the annuals of history and think that those who have truly made a difference were big and courageous and famous. We forget that Mandela was once a poor young lawyer in Johannesburg, Mother Teresa a poor Albanian teenager and Abraham Lincoln was born in poverty in a log cabin in Indiana, was self-educated and eventually became a lawyer.

In the face of great walls of difficulty we can cow down, we can lose heart, lose confidence. Too often violence or poverty or disease or prejudice or whatever robs us of our noble dignity can seem so overwhelming, so all-consuming and so powerful. It is no accident that one of the greatest photographs of the Twentieth Century captures an unidentified Chinese man standing in front of a column of tanks on June 5th 1989 – the morning after the Chinese military had suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests. One man – a column of tanks – and that one nameless man has inspired millions and become an iconic symbol of freedom from oppression.

The great anthropologist Margaret Mead is often quoted as saying,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has!”

Every person I have referenced in this blog would have felt alone, felt small, felt unimportant, felt singular, and felt daunted by the enormity of the challenge in front of them. The problem with even referencing them is that something in each of us says, “Yeh, but I’m no Mandela or Mother Teresa!” They in their turn and in their day would have said, “I’m no William Wilberforce (the British politician and philanthropist who led the moment to abolish the slave trade) or Thérèse of Lisieux (the young French Carmelite nun who lived heroic love in the day to day ordinary of her life)!” Certainly Mandela was no Wilberforce nor was Mother Teresa = Thérèse of Lisieux. Rather they were their own best selves determined to face the injustice or lack of love that  they found confronting them in their everyday lives.

It was the Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke who once said,

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing!”

Questions:

When in your life have you felt powerless in-front of overwhelming injustice, grief or loss? What did you do to engage positively and hopefully with this? Who in your life would be a great example of an ‘ordinary’ person who has faced overwhelming pain, loss, injustice or suffering with courage?

In my many years of working in school I witnessed many acts of ‘ordinary courage’ but few would compare to a young man who was a Student Leader in his school. Each year many Australian youth celebrate their end of secondary schooling by spending a week away at beach resorts in a wild rite of passage time of continuous partying and in many cases boundary violation. The particular student leader had become aware that some of his peers had produced a highly offensive T-shirt to be worn during this week. The T-shirt had printed on it sexist remarks that basically said that young women owed these young men sex.

Upon discovering that quite a large number of these shirts had been sold privately the student leader convened a meeting of the soon to be graduating class. He stood in front of them, held up one of the offending shirts and speaking from the heart spoke of his sadness, his anger, his hurt that they – his friends – were letting themselves down by such a shirt – and insulting all the wonderful women in their lives. There was absolute silence in the room. At the end of the speech, the student leader demanded that every shirt that had been produced be brought to him for him to destroy. They were all returned and that year at the final graduation assembly he received from his peers the longest, sustained standing ovation I have ever witnessed!

In June of 1966 Senator Robert Kennedy returned from a visit to South Africa deeply touched by the poverty and the struggle for freedom that he had witnessed there. In one of his finest speeches Kennedy said,

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Every one of us has been privileged to see in our lives those wonderful individuals who – in small ways and in big – have put their hand up, stepped forward, risked, found a little courage and more – to make our world a better place for all. They do so without fanfare, they do so not asking to be thanked or written about, they do so simply because they feel compelled to by the pain they witness, the relationships they have built, the world they see or the world they dream of. I have had the privilege to drive buses full of young adults giving up their holidays to spend time with small children from struggling families. I have seen young people sitting with the homeless sharing story over a cuppa on a cold winter’s night. I have seen countless parents get up in the middle of the night and do what needed to be done for the children.

We all have witnessed the power of one. These extraordinary individuals would never feel comfortable being called that – called extraordinary. The word however is powerful – it simple means OUT OF THE ORDINARY. These people and their acts of courage and love come OUT of the ordinary which is their lives.

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

In my privileged life I have had the opportunity to experience some wonderful things. About twenty years ago I was invited to spend time in Kolkata at a Social Justice conference hosted by my fellow Brothers. As part of the conference we were broken up into small groups of three and a boy from one of the local Brothers’ schools was asked to give us a tour around Kolkata – especially the Kolkata that the normal visitor does NOT see. I was in a group of two and our guide was Raoul. A wonderful friendly fourteen year old, Raoul bounced his way down many a side street and lane of the city, excitedly pointing out different landmarks and more.

Eventually, Raoul who was an orphan asked myself and my companion, “Would you like to meet my mother?” While the slow brain part of me was attempting to comprehend ‘mother’ and ‘orphan’ Raoul took us further away from the main roads and deeper into the slums. Finally we came to a long stone wall that obviously had some important building behind it. Along the footpath were a whole street of blue tattered tarpaulins going from the top of the wall and attached to stones on the footpath. Beneath them were people’s homes. We came to one patch of cloth and some bags and pots and pans – to Raoul’s mother’s home.

On the cloth was a small woman dressed in a sari. Raoul bowed low and did the Namaste pose to her – with deep obvious affection. His mother returned the gesture of respect. My friend and I bent down and took up our cross-legged sitting on the cloth. I tried my feeble attempt at a Namaste bow. She smiled. Raoul’s mother knew little English so he translated to us. We were very welcome to her home and thank you for taking take of Raoul. She poured us small cups of luke-warm Chai. We sat and drank while Raoul looked at her with an extraordinary smile of admiration and pride. As his mother was taking our empty cups from us I noticed her movements. Then, I noticed that she had no legs – she was moving around her small ‘house’ on her hands.

We took our leave and returned to the Brothers’ school where we were staying. I recalled that story to the local Brothers that night. They told me that yes, Raoul was a boarder at the Brothers’ orphanage and that he had a sister at the Loretto Sisters. Then they told me how each day Raoul’s mother will travel – on her hands – some 500 m to catch a bus which in turn takes her to one of Kolkata’s large rubbish dumps. There – on her hands with a small hessian bag slung over her shoulder – she scavengers through the piles of rubbish finding small bits of wood with nails in them. She carefully removes the nails and with a small hammer straightens them. By the end of the morning she has a small pile of nails. She then makes her way (on her hands) to a small roadside stall and sells the nails. She returns to the rubbish dump and then – for several hours – goes from spent cooking fire to spent cooking fire and with a small sieve – sifts the remains of the coal or charcoal. She gradually builds up a pile of coal in her hessian bag. This in turn she – again on her hands – sells to a local merchant.

Raoul’s mother does this every day of the week. Once a week she makes her way across the city – by hands and by bus – to the Brothers’ school and there insists that they take some rupees to help pay for Raoul’s education. Let us never underestimate the power of one. As I said in my last blog,

“One of the greatest things a person can do is to plant a seed that will one day grow to be a great tree that will give shade to people they have never known!”

One person?

I want to conclude with the story of ONE person who truly made a difference. In 2004 Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. At the age of 37 Wangari began the Green Belt Movement. During her 71 years Wangari worked tirelessly for the empowerment of women in Africa and for a greater quality of life for them. She was disturbed by the environmental degradation of her native Kenya. She witnessed year by year the loss of huge areas of forest and the resultant poverty of those who called the village home. She saw that women were needing to walk further and further to find firewood for their cooking fires and to find drinkable water. So she began planting trees – one tree at a time. She planted thousands of trees and began a movement – mainly made up of women who planted millions of trees – the Green Belt Movement. Maathai could see the intimate connection between the planting of trees, environmental protection and women’s rights. She and her followers fought hard against the overwhelming odds of big business for reforestation. On the international stage Maathai simply became known as “the tree lady!”

Sure, our world today is beset by so many struggles. In some ways things may get worse before they get better. But in the midst of all of that struggle let each of us be bearers of hope – light in the darkness, planters of seeds – people who in our own small way make a difference.

Let’s begin in our own home, in our own community. Then in our own village – our own immediate sphere of influence. Then – like Robert Kennedy suggested – we will do our little bit to add to that “tiny ripple of hope!” Don’t go looking for a Mandela by your side or hope that a Rosa Parks will invite you to sit next to her – no, simply be your best self – dream of a better world for all and believe in the power within you!

Questions:

What in this blog did you identify with and why? What in this blog did you struggle with and why?

Who are like minded people to yourself that you could link with for support and shared solidarity as you do your small bit to make this world a better place?

What is the one thing that is stopping you from stepping out, putting your hand up or taking that risk that you truly want to?

Discussion: Take the ideas from this blog and discuss them with someone significant in your life OR make a comment on the blog site.

Global Village

My wonderful father Frank Price left New Zealand as a young man seeking to progress his career as a journalist. In those days when you were involved in a newspaper you did everything; you were the reporter, the type setter, the printer and more. So dad left Napier, travelled to Sydney (where he met a young Zena Faust studying at the University of Sydney), then on to Melbourne, Johannesburg and finally Munich – all places where journalism and printing were held in high regard. At the end of the Second World War dad made his way from London to Toronto to begin his formal studies in journalism. Here he came under the influence of Marshall McLuhan. Marshall lectured dad in journalism. McLuhan is famous for his insights – way back in the 1940’s and 1950’s that we truly were becoming a global village. McLuhan coined that term and his book, “The medium is the message” was one of the first works that pointed to the power of the media and its effect on this ‘global village’.

McLuhan, my father and my older brother Simon who too was a journalist would all decry the power of the Rupert Murdoch’s of this world – arguing that the role of journalism is to tell the story and to seek the truth regardless of power and prestige – the power of the pen! The World according to CNN or the World according to FOX is not always truth nor justice.

Ubuntu

This global village is a beautiful place. Nelson Mandela used to often speak of Ubuntu; I am because WE are! Mandela would tell the story that in his youth growing up in the village, when a stranger came to the village they were afforded welcome, hospitality, and sustenance and when needed, protection. the stranger experienced Ubuntu! It is a beautiful term Ubuntu; it names the deep interconnection and interdependence we all share and our responsibility to care for each-other and for the whole.

A famous African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child!” This wisdom speaks of the responsibility all members of the village share to care for and nurture the young – the future of the village. In my blogs I have spoken constantly about innate dignity, of coming as guest and being present. I have constantly come back to the theme of ‘story’ and the power of story.

Building Walls

At this time of global pandemic we have never been so aware that we truly live in a global village. The danger of this time is that as the lion reaches the edges of the village we all retreat back into our huts, lock the doors and hope someone else will take care of it. Other villages could build higher and higher walls to keep the lions of this world OUTSIDE while others dig a moat and withdraw the bridge. This mentality of building higher walls or hiding inside our castle has beneath it a belief that somehow we are superior to ‘them’ and that ‘them’ are a danger to ‘us’. When we truly are village we will sense that there are no ‘us’ and ‘them’ only brothers and sisters on life’s journey.

Labels

Always beware of those who label. Labels limit! Labels never tell the true and beautiful and holistic story. Labelling is too easy, too shallow, too divisive. The statesman does not label. The true leader does not cling to nor hide behind labels. The leader (and we are all called to be leaders – each in our own way) steps out and calls the village forth to be its best self. We seek the higher good.

“The place where people meet to seek the highest – this is holy ground”. From the movie – Scent of a woman.

Small children have special eyes. Small children just love to play and wander and they don’t SEE black and white, Asian and African, rich and poor – they just see the other that will play with them. These eyes are the eyes of the village. These are the eyes that see the person regardless of the labels those living with and by fear place upon the ‘other’.

I always love that scene in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel where Muriel Donnelly (played by Maggie Smith) wants to see a ‘real English doctor’ when seen to by an Indian doctor only to be seen by a West Indian doctor with the broadest English accent; her prejudice has blinded her!

Bagging rice – Kabankalan in the Philippines

Challenge & Why

Whenever the village is confronted with challenge – whether it be exclusion, prejudice, fear, violence, sickness, poverty or more – the true village person, the true leader has the courage to ask, “Why?” What is really going on here? Why are the crops dying? Why is the reef dying? Why do people fear the police whose very role is to protect the village? Why do some cling to ‘power over’ – and not power with? Why are some powerless and voiceless? Why do the voices of white men appear to be stronger and more important than all other voices?

In the true village we do not fear the ‘why’! The process and journey of asking the ‘why’ leads to a wiser, more whole, more complete village. This village will know more laughter, more sustained life and the security of belonging to a tribe beyond exclusion.

Deeper Presence

Eckhart Tolle the author of ‘the Power of Now’ would suggest that the greater the depth of an issue, the deeper the pain or hurt – the deeper the quality of our presence needs to be to engage positively with it. One of the great dangers of this time is that we – with little or no awareness – can take a holier than thou attitude to ‘them’. Nightly as I look at what is happening on the streets of America I can assume an arrogance that ‘we’ are better than ‘them!’ Certainly, we all deplore the systemic injustice at play within American society that results in the colour of your skin dictating the quality of your health care, access to education, job opportunity and protection under the law.

Yet, there are few societies on the planet where racism, sexism and other forms of injustice are not rampant. My own nation Australia had a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody back in 1991 and yet few, if any, of its recommendations have been implemented. Despite being a signatory to the United Nations charter on human rights Australia has locked up and excluded people seeking asylum in this country despite them having every legal right to seek this asylum. We have locked away for years on end refugees and asylum seekers despite them having committed no crime – unless seeking quality of life for self and your family is a crime!

Shared Responsibility

In a true village all share responsibility for one another. Ubuntu; I am because WE are! In a true village all contribute to the life of the village from their gifts and talents. In a true village all have their role to play whether they be the elder story teller, the teacher of the young, the healer, the farmer, the artist or the dancer of ritual and celebration. In our global village the colour of our skin, the content of our character, the name one attributes to a deity, the size of our bank account or land holding do not matter. What matters is our shared dignity as members of the village; the human family.

And what people in any true village know – and our Indigenous brothers and sisters have known for millennia is that for quality of life for ALL we need to be stewards of the forests and rivers, the grasslands and the reefs, the soil and the air that surround our family and our village for they too are kin.

Difference is Gift

The great invitation and the great paradox is that difference is gift. Difference complements and draws out – completes and makes whole. Difference should not divide. There is no need to fear difference. Difference is simply the mask the ‘other’ wears until we know we share the same journey, the same dreams, the same fears and the same birthright. Then, when we see and when we know, they don’t need their mask and we don’t either.

So as we – brothers and sisters of the same tribe on life’s journey – encounter great struggle – whether it be a pandemic or drought, forest fire or war, the death of an unarmed black man or the child born in a refugee detention centre – we are called to look inward for support and strength – to an ever deeper presence. Then as we find these – we look outward in global sisterhood and brotherhood for the good of all – not least – for our children and grandchildren who will come after us.

One of the greatest things a person can do is to plant a seed that will grow to be a great tree that will one day give share to people they have never known.

All of this can sound so idealistic! Mock not the dreamer – rather – get up each day and in the small and ordinary, the simple and the humble – do your little bit to make your village a home; your home, my home – OUR home. What more nobler a task can we do for the children!

Who not what

Caught behind a truck in Christchurch New Zealand and the message caught my eye!

I was delivering a hire car back to Christchurch airport several years ago and was frustrated as I was caught behind a truck. At a set of traffic lights my eye noticed the message on the back of the truck.

“Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to slide in side-ways, totally worn-out, yelling ‘holy shit’ …..what a ride!”

I think I am a very slow learner. It has taken me a lifetime to realise that ultimately it is WHO we are as a person – who we are as community – that really matters and not so much what we do or have. Many years ago I was seeing a counsellor and was all confused about some big life decisions that I had to make. Should I do this or should I do that – I was going backwards and forwards, oscillating between one option or the other. I was so confused. In the midst of it all the counsellor said, “You are a goose!” Taken aback I said, “What do you mean?” “You’re asking the wrong question Damien!” replied the counsellor.

I was continually asking questions that were focusing on the ‘what’ of my life. What role will I play? What job will I do? What form of commitment will I make? My friend simply said, “Damien keep on asking yourself – who are you and who do you wish to be – that is ultimately all that matters. If you ask yourself this and each day get up and seek to be a better YOU – a better WHO – then the what questions will take care of themselves.”

I often find myself giving input to groups of young adults around the age of 17 as they begin to take on leadership roles within schools. I often say, “The key to great leadership is simple; to be the best ME that I can be!” If I can become my best me and you become the best YOU then we will become the best US and the world will be a happier place. It all sounds so simple and in one way it is. Following up my blog “the power of five second choices” – life is quite simple. Each day I am called to get up and become the best ME I can be. That sounds so easy but I find it so difficult as I go into comparison of self with others, allowing my ego to run rampant, living in the past or the future and not the present moment of NOW. So when I break it down and make heaps of small five second choices to be the best ME in this situation and this encounter and this moment and this awareness and more – then I will grow into the WHO, the best WHO I can be.

And I’m not talking perfection. I’m not talking the perfect me – the perfect you – but rather the best, human, fragile, broken, fallible, feet of clay ME and you. As I have said several times now I have never taught a young person who needed me to be perfect. But they needed me and longed for me to be faithful, real, humble, authentic and there!

Can you think of a time in your life when you focused too much on the ‘what’ of the issue confronting you and not on ‘who’ you want to be in and through it? What lesson did you learn from this time?

A great example of this who – what balance would be Lucas Patchett and Nick Marchesi the founders of the Orange Sky movement. Orange Sky is a community of people throughout Australia and New Zealand who build community with homeless people and who provide a mobile laundry and shower service for the homeless. What Lucas and Nick and their many volunteers do is fantastic. But what makes it the inspiration that it is is the WHO that Lucas and Nick bring to what they do. Right from the start Lucas and Nick have been insistent that the laundry and shower service must be built on respect filled, reciprocal relationship. If you ever listen to Lucas and Nick give an address at a dinner or something they constant refer to “our friends on the street”, “sharing story”, “building relationship” and more. Their brilliant WHAT flows deeply from who they are.

Lucas Patchett, Conor Finn and Nick Marchesi – all three have brought the depth of their ‘who’ to what they do with vulnerable people.

Whats

The whats of our lives are important. Our career, our business, our CV, our home are all wonderful things. But whats without an authentic WHO behind them are hollow and shallow. How many great movie stars or great musicians or great anything for that matter have we all seen who come crashing down with substance abuse, with infidelity, with suicide! How sad. When the focus is on the what – the thing – often as an end in itself we will finish up lonely. Our whats do NOT define who we are.

Think of pretty well anyone that you admire. They will often have great ‘whats’! Nelson Mandela was President of South Africa, Gandhi was the leader of one of the world’s greatest non-violence movements, Oskar Schindler saved thousands of Polish-German Jews from the holocaust, Teresa of Kolkata spent her life helping the poor on the streets of her city find dignity, Rosa Parks challenged racial prejudice in America and Florence Nightingale gave birth to a whole new way of looking at nursing. But while each of these are famous for what they did – it was ultimately based upon the person they were – their WHO.

Mana

As I have shared before my father Frank was a New Zealander. Kiwis have a special word MANA from the Maori people. Mana means integrity, courage, honesty. There is a powerful movie, “Once were warriors” and this movie tells the story of a family living in the poor areas of South Auckland. The father Jake is a tough, at times violent, man’s man. The mother Beth is the ever faithful, forgiving, accepting figure who keeps the family together in the face of violence and abuse. At one point the daughter is sexually abused by one of Jake’s mates and Beth confronts both Jake and his mate. The movie concludes in the most powerful of ways as Beth comes up to Jake who after bashing his mate thinks it will all be OK again back in the family home. Beth looks Jake in the eye and says,

“Our people once were warriors. But unlike you, Jake, they were people with mana, pride; people with spirit. If my spirit can survive living with you for eighteen years, then I can survive anything.”

Jake has spent his life clinging to the whats of his life as gang member, tough guy, fighter, hard drinker and more. Beth walks away, not turning around to address Jake’s pleading for her to stay with him. She walks away noble and free – she claims her ‘who’ at the deepest level.

The whats of our life need to flow from our who, stretch it, reflect it, affirm it and deepen it. The danger is that in a world that is so materialistic we can focus entirely on the what. Building up possessions as an end in themselves, surrounding self with luxury, focusing on titles and power focused networks can all mean that underneath we lack a confidence, a belief in our WHO.

There is something truly beautiful and empowering when we meet someone who is totally at home in their sense of self; their who. These people have a presence about them, a freedom and no arrogance.

The invitation is to focus on who we are and who we wish to grow to be. When this happens, when this is our focus then the supporting whats of our life will flow naturally. I was once the school counsellor at a large school. I brought my sense of self to the role, I brought the wisdom of my journey, I brought the empathy and listening skills taught to me by my parents and those who have loved me. As I got into the role I was very aware that I needed to grow my skills in the counselling sphere so I enrolled in a Masters in Counselling. This ‘what’ empowered and stretched the who I brought into the counselling space.

I have had the privilege to know some people with high profiles. Edwina Gateley is an extraordinary English woman who for many years has lived and worked in solidarity with women living on the streets of American cities – especially Chicago. John Eales is a former Australian Rugby Captain and John Buchanan a former Australian Cricket Coach. Wayne Bennett is one of Australia’s most successful Rugby League coaches and Rohan Lund has been the CEO of some of Australia’s largest companies. But Rohan, Edwina, John, Wayne and John would all know that it has ultimately been who they are as people that has led to their success, their ability to influence their sphere of ‘power and control’ and their ability to harness their gifts for the common good.

Not for one minute would any of these people claim to be perfect and that their daily life does not have its share of mistakes. In fact, the ‘at home-ness’ with your fallibility is part of who-ness. It is not about being perfect. It is an authentic, humble, walking of life’s journey knowing that who you are in your ordinary day to day and also deepest ‘best self’ is your unique and special contribution to our world. What a gift!

Our struggles, our efforts to improve, our generous giving – all of this grow our WHO; our sense of who we are – our innate dignity. This engagement with our who is an ordinary, humble space. It does not have bands playing nor fanfare, it is not in the public eye and is not debated in the public sphere. Our who is built on our small daily, ordinary decisions for love, for forgiveness, for acceptance and for generous giving so that the other – in all the forms that the other takes – will have life to the full.

The paradox of ‘who’ is that it is gained and grown and deepened through giving. Some of this giving is to self – giving self time, space, relaxation, rest, rejuvenation and more. But much of it is giving to the other; generously, humbly, naturally – with no sense of needing to be given to in return. My wonderful father used to say, “Friends don’t owe!” How true! And when we give – we receive, when we die to self – we find we are re-born in ways we would never expect, when we forgive and accept – our hearts grow and deepen and in our own unique way – we dance – in whatever form OUR dancing takes!

Questions:

When on your journey have you experienced the ‘paradox’ referred to above – a situation where in ‘giving’ you actually received?

What in this blog have you agreed with and why? How has it linked to YOUR personal experience? What in this blog are you struggling with and why? How is YOUR personal experience different?

Stillness and Silence

Cave Hill Creek retreat centre, Beaufort, Victoria.

Treadmill or trapped

Have you ever had that ‘on a treadmill’ feeling? You are running around in circles, not getting anywhere! The phone does not seem to stop ringing! The email list is endless and you are going from one commitment to the next! Your life seems to be rush rush rush! And when you finally get to stop – your inner engine keeps on running.

Have you ever had that facing a mountain feeling? The list of jobs is endless. There does not seem to be enough hours in the day. You are trying to be ‘present’ to people but as you are listening to them part of you is at the other meeting about to begin. You wish there were two of you or fewer of ‘them’.

Have you ever had that caught feeling? So many demands upon your time. So many people wanting a piece of you. So many questions to be answered, problems to be solved, differing views to be adjudicated and other needs met.

Do you ever feel that the noise in your head is incessant? The ego voice saying one thing one minute and then something else not long after. Voices of self-doubt. Voices of confusion. Voices warning you to look out for one enemy or threat and then questioning whether they are either enemy or threat and more!

In the midst of all of this, some goose writes a blog about coming as guest, being deeply present, allowing your heart to open in compassion and focus on the innate dignity of all and their sacred story! It can be all too much.

People of quiet presence

Have you on the other hand met people who seem to have all the time in the world? You meet those people who just seem to be ‘at home’ in their own skin. There is an aura of peace around them. They do not appear to be fighting battles nor on some enforced march or climbing any mountain and you ask, “What is their secret?”

There is a wonderful Australian Aboriginal woman from Daly River in the Northern Territory – her name is Auntie Miriam Rose. I have written about her before. Miriam Rose talks about ‘Dadirr’; deep inner heart listening. For the Aboriginal people of Daly River there is a deep oneness with all of life and this oneness is the fruit of stillness and silence! They can sit in a dry river bed and hear the trees – they sense what the earth is saying – and have a profound sense of the oneness of it all.

One of the most powerful experiences of my life was to be spending some time at Wadeye in the Northern Territory at an Aboriginal Community there. After several days, my friend, William Palmbuck gave me the honour of inviting me to join him and some of his extended family on country – on his people’s land. So we packed up the four wheel drive and carrying many more people than the legal limit for such a vehicle went ‘out bush’. William’s country bordered the sea and after an hour or so of bull riding movement in the front of the land cruiser crushed in between two of William’s aunties we arrived at a large tree next to a beautiful beach. Damien was trapped in ‘white man time’. I wanted to know what we were going to ‘do’ and ‘when’ we would do it. So the kids ran down to the beach to play and the old people (myself included) sat under this beautiful old tree. Over the hours that followed – every now and again people would get up and ‘do’ something like fish, collect food from the mangroves, go crabbing and more – but for most of the time we just sat there and did nothing. Eventually a fire was made and some billy tea boiled. Then – at some point – some of the fish was cooked and the crabs and other native delicacies enjoyed – all with a minimum of talk but a full wholesome presence.

Thank God that after several hours – Damien had enough sense to take his watch off his wrist and put it into his pocket; for he was THE only one conscious of time. After the watch got put away – I had one of the most precious days of my life – culminating in the most stunning sunset with twenty or so of my new found family sitting around me on the beach. During this precious time on several occasions I had to resist my white man temptation to reach for my watch “To see what time it is!” Who cared? Certainly William and his family didn’t. What was time anyway?

Recall a time in your life when you felt the power of stillness and silence?

The gift of stillness and silence

I don’t know about you but my feeling of treadmill or trapped seems to be in adverse proportion to my ability to spend time in stillness and silence. As people grow in inner wisdom they appear to need to speak less, sit more, wrap silence more – they appear more and more able just to be. In my almost twenty years of working with homeless people often I would find myself sitting at the edge of a park or city square with the homeless and especially the old men and women – they would be happy to just sit with me in silence. There was a strength of warmth and connection between us – there was no need for any talk.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is saved-50.jpg
Dingo and Alf, two of my friends on the street – true contemplatives in the midst of noise and rush.

The present moment invites us and the doorway to the moment is stillness and silence. It is in that stillness and in that silence that we can hear; truly hear. Silence allows us to hear the ego whisper. Silence allows us to hear the ‘gut feeling’ – the intuition. Silence is full and complete when born of love. Silence allows us to hear our hearts. Silence invites us to listen to what our bodies want to say to us – but this listening takes time and asks of us a rhythm of stillness and silence – and once that rhythm and that silence is a part of who we are – then the body will whisper through image and feeling, through tickle and nudge, through deep down awareness beyond words.

Silence is that special no war-zone – no fighting space – a space to just be. Silence allows! Silence sifts the wisdom from the words – it sorts in its own time. Silence has its own time clock.

Stillness and silence point to balance – life balance. When rushing and ego driven we get so caught up in the noise of life that we lose perspective. When you sit still – when the forest or the beach, the night or the early morning wrap you – you see the bigger picture – you sense where and when the inner engine is in overdrive. This stillness and this silence is your window into ‘be-ing’; where you can ‘be’ and know that your essence, your beauty and your dignity as a ‘child of the Universe’ is innate – is in your BE-ing. In stillness and in silence you FEEL this.

Some fear stillness and silence

Some fear stillness and silence because they fear what they might hear and feel. They fear themselves. They fear their nakedness before life. Hush, there is nothing to fear. Too many of us ‘fill’ the void with noise and busyness – to numb that fear – and distract from the inner journey. We are not saying that we need to spend the rest of our lives cross legged in the Yoga position living off those around us! No – but we are saying that in the midst of life’s busyness – for life to be truly lived and savoured, enjoyed and have meaning, to learn from life’s lessons and to have something of the heart to pass on to the next generation – we need the rhythm of stillness and silence in our days.

Noise makes presence difficult. I can remember going to work in Melbourne on the train. I would catch the 7.23 am from Ginifer into Richmond and often I would be THE only one in the carriage who did not have earphones or mobile phone glued to ear. Too rarely did I catch an eye to exchange a smile. Too rarely did anyone notice anyone or anything – all caught up in our world of noise and busyness.

Stillness and silence are the cousins of peace. Peace is the fruit of silence and stillness. Have you ever watched a young mother with a child at the breast? Have you ever held a new born in your arms as they snuggle into your arms and make those gentle little baby noises? Have you ever found yourself drawn totally into that moment – of silence and stillness and PEACE.

Wisdom

Wisdom, true wisdom, not the plastic TV advertising type – is to be found deep within us all. When we attain a practice, a pattern, a rhythm of stillness and silence you grow gradually into awareness. In that space – like stairs going down you gradually grow more and more still. YOU fade away. The ego noise voice slows and finally goes silent. Then you begin to hear. At first you hear ‘gut feelings’. You hear a nudge. You hear a whisper. As you grow more and more still and silent you more easily ‘sense’, you begin to hear but not with ears – it is more of a sensing, an awareness, an intuition.

As silence and stillness slow you down – you can finally catch up with your ego self. Through stillness and silence you can hear (become aware of) the false voice, the false self, the ego. The ego wants to set up dualities – it loves win – lose, it feeds off competition and winning and making the world and ‘other’ into enemy. Silence and stillness unmask this and shows the ego up to be the fraud that it is.

Lovers

Lovers don’t need words! We are all lovers – that is our birthright. Have you ever sat in silence with another – or alone – in a full silence? It is truly profound. As a small boy my wonderful mother and father – Zena and Frank, would sit on the veranda before dinner and share a gin and tonic and dad a shandy (a beer and lemonade). They would often just sit in silence – nothing more – nothing less – profound oneness. Have you ever seen a couple walking along hand in hand – but silent! Have you ever sat by a hospital bed holding the hand of a loved one – and in silence?

Who is your life has had this gift of stillness, rhythm, balance and silence? What seemed to be their secret?

Silence is a special form of presence. Words can at times get in the way. Words can complicate and ‘fill the space’ which does not need to be filled. Silence and stillness gently and automatically, when the timing is right, unravel and untangle confusion. Stillness and silence allow the wisdom to float to the surface – the left field idea, the gut feeling, the hunch and the insight.

Skills:

Because we are so trapped in a world of noise – sometimes we need to learn – re-learn the skills of stillness and silence. Meditation techniques of posture and breathing awareness can help. Awareness around that ‘monkey mind’ that will begin to dance the second we are still and silent will assist. One never completely gets rid of the monkey mind – it is part of we humans as we are – but we can learn to tame it – with practice and some simple discipline.

  1. Be aware of distractions (the monkey mind)
  2. Welcome them and acknowledge them
  3. Gently let them go and return to your breathing or sacred word or silence
  4. When they come up again – which they will – just repeat 1 to 3 and then again and again. It is a dance but the time will come when the spaces of silence will grow and the stillness become deeper.

Do it YOUR way

All that I have written in this reflection can seem so difficult to achieve. The key – the answer is to do it YOUR way. Find your way to be still and silent in YOUR time. There is NO best way, no right way. Whatever works for YOU is the right and best way. And don’t over complicate it – find the simple way to be still and the simple way to weave silence through your day. The beach walk, the early morning surf, time to journal, meditation, yoga, play a musical instrument, the wine slowly sipped, the candle, the time in the garden, the walk in the forest, the jog, and the walk with your partner – whatever!!!

I know it sounds crazy but the more we weave stillness and silence through our lives the more we will grow in guest-ness, in presence, in compassion and in liberation! As we embrace these we will, in our own unique way, grow to become the person we were always called to be in this beautiful Universe!

Questions:

What is YOUR method of finding space, being silent and still? What works for you (however small)?

What is the major block to you finding a rhythm of stillness and silence within your life? What is ONE small five second choice you could make to address this block?