Thursday, 27 December 2012

Illustrated Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Edward Fitzgerald)

This is a reading of most of the verses of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, as rendered by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859, accompanied by the illustrations of René Bull and the oud-playing of Khyam Allami. This a reprise of my very first ever blog post, a version of the Rubáiyát in 29 verses. The following now doubles that number.

Omar Khayyám, born in 11th century Persia, was an inspirational figure: a mathematician, poet, philosopher and astronomer, who also wrote treatises on music and minerology, and contributed to the development of a more accurate calendar. Fitzgerald's rendering of his Rubáiyát, while far from literal, is also pure inspiration. Enjoy in HD!

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that sets the Stars to Flight:
   And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

Dreaming when Dawn’s Left Hand was in the Sky
I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,
   “Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
Before Life’s Liquor in its Cup be dry.”

And as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted — “Open then the Door!
   You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more.”

Now, the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires
   Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.

Irám indeed is gone with all its Rose,
And Jamshyd’s Sev’n-ringed Cup where no one knows
   But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields,
And still a Garden by the Water blows.

And David’s Lips are locked; but in divine
High piping Pehleví, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
   Red Wine!” — the Nightingale cries to the Rose
So that her yellow Cheeks incarnadine.

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
   The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly — and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

And look — a thousand Blossoms with the Day
Woke — and a thousand scattered into Clay
   And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobád away.

But come with old Khayyám, and leave the Lot
Of Kaikobád and Kaikhosrú forgot!
   Let Rustum lay about him as he will,
Or Hátim Tai cry Supper — heed them not.

With me along some Strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
   Where name of Slave and Sultán scarce is known,
We’ll pity Sultán Máhmúd on his Throne.

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse — and Thou
   Beside me singing in the Wilderness —
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

"How sweet is mortal Sovereighnty" — think some:
Others — "How blessed the Paradise to come!"
   Ah, take the Cash in hand and wave the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!

Look to the Rose that blows about us — "Lo,
Laughing," she says, "into the World I blow:
   At once the silken Tassels of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasures on the Garden throw.

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes — or it prospers; and anon,
   Like snow upon the Desert's dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two — is gone.

Think, in this battered Caravanserai
Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
   How Sultán after Sultán with his Pomp
Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.

They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
   And Bahrám, that great Hunter — the Wild Ass
Stamps o’er his Head, but cannot break his sleep.

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Cæsar bled;
   That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropped in its Lap from some once lovely Head.

And this delightful Herb whose tender Green
Fledges the River’s Lip on which we lean —
   Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen!

Ah, my Belovéd, fill the Cup that clears
Today of past Regrets and future Fears —
   Tomorrow? — Why, Tomorrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday’s Sev’n Thousand Years.

Lo! Some we loved, the loveliest and best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage pressed.
   They drank their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.

And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new Bloom,
   Must we beneath the Couch of Earth descend
Ourselves to also make a Couch — for whom?

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
   Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and — sans End!

Alike for those who for Today prepare,
And those that after a Tomorrow stare,
   A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
“Fools! your reward is neither Here nor There!”

Why all the Saints and Sages who discussed
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
   Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scattered, and their Mouths are stopped with Dust.

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
   One thing is certain and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
   About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.

With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand laboured it to grow:
   And this was all the Harvest that I reaped —
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,
   And many Knots unravelled by the Road;
But not the Knot of Human Death and Fate.

There was a Door to which I found no Key:
There was a Veil past which I could not see:
   Some little talk a while of Me and Thee
There seemed — and then no more of Thee and Me.

Then to the rolling Heaven itself I cried,
Asking, "What Lamp had Destiny to guide
   Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
And "A blind Understanding" Heaven replied.

Then to this earthen bowl did I adjourn
My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmured — "While you live
Drink! — for once dead you never shall return."

I think the Vessel that with fugitive
Articulation answered, once did live
   And merry-make; and the cold Lip I kissed
How many kisses might it take — and give!

For in the Market-place one Dusk of Day
I watched the Potter thumping his wet Clay:
   And with its all obliterated Tongue
It murmured — "Gently, Brother, gently pray!"

Ah, fill the Cup: — what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
  Unborn tomorrow and dead Yesterday,
Why fret about them if Today be sweet.

One Moment in Annihilation's Waste,
One Moment, of the Well of Life to taste —
   The Stars are setting and the Caravan
Starts for the Dawn of Nothing — Oh, make haste.

How long, how long, in infinite Pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute
   Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

You know my Friends, how long since in my House
For a new Marriage I did make Carouse:
   Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.

But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
   And in some Corner of the Hubbub caught
Make Game with that which make as much with Thee.

For in and out, above, about, below,
'Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
   Played in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in — Yes —
   Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be — Nothing — Thou shalt not be less.

While the Rose blows along the River Bank,
With old Khayyam the Ruby Vintage drink:
   And when the Angel with his darker Draught
Draws up to thee — take that, and do not shrink.

'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
   Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
   Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling cooped we live and die,
   Lift not thy hands to It for help — for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou and I.

And this I know: whether the one True Light
Kindle to Love or Wrath consume me quite,
   One Glimpse of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.

Listen again. One Evening at the Close
Of Ramazan, ere the better Moon arose,
   In that old Potter's Shop I stood alone
Surrounded by the Shapes of Clay in Rows.

And, strange to tell, among the Earthen Lot,
Some could articulate, while others not:
   And suddenly, one more impatient cried —
"Who is the Potter and who is the Pot?"

Then said another — "Surely not in vain
My substance from the common Earth was taken,
   That he who subtly wrought me into Shape
Should stamp me back to common Earth again.

Another said — "Why ne'er a peevish Boy
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
   Shall he that made the Vessel in pure Love
And Fancy, in an after Rage destroy!"

None answered this; but after Silence spoke
A Vessel  of a more ungainly Make:
   "They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What! Did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"

Said one — "Folks of a surly Tapster tell,
And daub his Visage with the Smoke of Hell;
   They talk of some strict Testing of us — Pish!
He's a Good Fellow; and t'will all be well."

Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh,
"My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
   But fill me with the old familiar Juice,
Methinks I might recover by-and-bye!"

So while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
One spied the little crescent all were seeking:
   And then they jogged each other, "Brother, Brother!
Hark to the Porter's Shoulder-knot a creaking!"

Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash my body whence the Life has died,
   And in a Winding-sheet of Vine-leaf wrapt,
So bury me by some sweet Garden-side.

Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
    The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!

Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
   Would not we shatter it to bits — and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

Ah Moon of my Delight who know’st no wane,
The Moon of Heav’n is rising once again:
   How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same Garden after me in vain!

And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scattered on the Grass,
   And in your joyous Errand reach the spot
Where I made One — turn down an empty Glass!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Spiritual Creativity (Oriah Mountain Dreamer)


In "What We Ache For" I write about the process of finding and doing your creative work. For me,
writing is the creative expression that allows me to touch and co-create the meaning and beauty
I ache for. I know this because when I am writing I never feel I should be doing anything else,
be anywhere else or be other than I am. And this is joy. Although I am usually alone when I am
writing, I never feel lonely; writing connects me to both my essential inner self and the world
around me. Loneliness is a loss of connection with the self that knows its belonging. It can be
felt when we are with others. It can be banished when we deeply engage in creative work that
feeds us.

How would you complete the phrase: I never feel I should be doing anything else when I am…?
Can you think of more than one way to finish this sentence? If so, is there a common element
to what you describe? Is it the nature of the activities, what motivates you to do them, how you
feel when you are engaged in them, where they take place, or some other aspect? What does
this tell you about your own path to happiness?

Set aside a set period of time (minimum ten to fifteen minutes) and repeatedly complete the following phrases, substituting for the word “write” the things that came to mind when you considered the question above.

When I write, I feel….

When I write, I see….

When I write, I discover. . . .

I am never lonely when I am….

I ache for….

Write in response to the question: Why do I write? (or paint or
compose or dance . . . . or do any form of creative work.)

Mirror Image

Many years ago I apprenticed with a spiritual teacher who used to hand out what he called
Warrior Task Assignments. This was a very grand sounding term for tasks given to students
to help them shift out of their habitual ways of doing and seeing in order to become more
fully present and available to life’s experiences. One of these assignments was to do your
normal daily activities one hundred and eighty degrees from the way you were used to doing
them for one whole month. The only rule was to do no harm to yourself or someone else. So,
if you normally slept in until the last possible moment, you were required to get up an hour
early. If you were habitually early for things, you were to arrive late. If you usually planned
your meals carefully, you were to eat whatever happened to be available when mealtime
rolled around. If you normally went to work well coifed and stylishly dressed, you went in
without make-up in an old sweat suit. You get the idea.

Write a story about spending one day doing every-
thing opposite to your usual habits. It may help to
write in the third person. Imagine how others around
you would react. Fill in the sensory details and let
your imagination conjure the experience. How would
it feel to do things differently? Liberating? Oppres-
sive? Depressing? Sinful? Disorienting? Where would
it not matter and where would it be very difficult? In
what things would it seem almost impossible? Let your
writing allow you to step away from your habitual
ways of doing things and imagine things differently.

Imaginative Games

Just after my ninth birthday my family moved to a
town in northern Ontario. Many of our belongings
weren’t delivered until a week after we arrived and then
remained in boxes until my mother could find places to
put everything in the four-room house we had rented. I
remember playing with debris scattered around the yard
of the new house—old boxes, bits of wood, and metal
parts of things I could not identify. Separated from my
toy cupboards and dishes and plastic replications of
various fruits and vegetables, I spent days constructing
an imaginary bake shop—stoves, counters, cash registers,
and baked goods—with all the junk that was lying
around. I had a great time, and what I remember most was consciously realizing that when
it comes to playing, less is more. I had more fun with that junk than I ever had playing with
the prefabricated toys I’d received for Christmas. I remember feeling a little confused about
this. After all, I had asked for those toys and I continued to lust after the Easy Bake Oven that
would cook real cakes by the heat of a hundred-watt bulb. It wouldn’t be right not to play with the toys once they were unpacked, and indeed, when the boxes were emptied I abandoned the
junk I had collected. But I never forgot what I’d realized but not quite understood that day. I
am reminded of it every time I hear a parent complain that their kids seem to have more fun
playing with the empty cardboard cartons they get when new appliances are purchased than
they ever do with expensive toys they have been given.
   Imagination needs room. Creativity flourishes when the possibilities are infinite and open-
ended. The cardboard carton the refrigerator came in can be a house, a fort, a truck, a nest, a
puppet theater . . . the possibilities are endless.
   Use this writing exercise to dip back into childhood memories of imaginative play, to touch
the magic of how the mind can construct whole new worlds from what is at hand. Write a
story about a game you played as a child, alone or with others, preferably one that involved
creating roles and worlds from the items around you. I remember making houses by raking
up leaves into the walls of intricate floor plans. I remember being a mother, a nurse, a doctor,
a soldier, an actor, a teacher, a shopkeeper, and a restaurant owner (serving soup made of
LifeSavers floating in ginger ale). Let yourself relive the memory as you write, describing the
specific details.

The Place Where You Are

Daniel Ladinsky writes wonderful translations of poetry by eastern and western mystics. His
book Love Poems from God is my constant companion and a great source of inspiration. This
year, Daniel sent me a calendar featuring the poems of Hafiz, a fourteenth-century Persian
mystic. On the front of this calendar, which hangs next to my refrigerator, are two lines that
always make me stop in my tracks.
        This place where you are right now
        God circled on a map for you.
    Some days, when things are going well, I can effortlessly give an internal nod to the idea
behind this quote. On other days, days when I am suffering from a migraine headache or am worried about a friend or family member, I am less pleased with the idea that This Place is where an all-seeing divine intelligence has put me or wants me to be. And when I think of the idea applying to anyone and everyone, I feel even more uncomfortable. Is the orphaned child suffering from AIDS in an African village devastated by the disease in the place God circled on a map for her? Were the Jews in the death camps in a place God had designated for each of them? Surely these and many other situations of suffering are due to human failings and are not to be dismissed as “the way things were ordained to be.” I cringe at the possibility that we could use the idea of all things being in alignment with a divine will to justify not acting to prevent or alleviate suffering.
    The mind cannot make sense of paradoxes it cannot see beyond. If all things participate in one divine presence, a sacred life force that runs through and is inseparable from everything, then on the level of the truly Big Picture they participate in what author A. H. Almaas calls Holy Perfection. This means that all situations offer opportunities for the optimum unfolding of the soul—are the place God has circled on the map for each of us. At the same time, from the perspective of our smaller human lives, there is real suffering—in ourselves and in the world—often caused by human choices, and we are called to alleviate it to the best of our ability. One truth does not negate the other simply because the mind has trouble holding them both at the same time.
    So, for am moment, focus on Hafiz’s idea that there is an underlying intelligence, a
goodness guiding us to this moment, wherever we are. Take a couple of deep breaths and let yourself truly be where you are. Then, with a genuine curiosity, ask and write in response to the question,
    Where is the place I am right now? How is it with me in this moment?
    Write about this place where you are, how it is with you physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually right now. Be specific. Add sensory details. No need for back story. What is this place where you are right now? How is it with you right now?
    Then, reread the Hafiz quote:
        This place where you are right now
        God circled on a map for you.
Write in response to the questions,

What if where you are right now—no matter how difficult or
easy, pleasant or unpleasant, eventful or empty—is the place
God (the Great Mystery, the Sacred Mother, the divine life
force, or whatever you want to call that which is both within
you and yet larger than you) has “circled on a map for
you”? Is there something here, right now, that might assist
your soul’s unfolding, enabling you to touch and live from
the deep center of who and what you are?

A Spy in Your House

A friend of mine recently went through a mission statement review at her place of employment.
She recounts how the entire staff sighed and sunk down a little deeper into their chairs when the
consultant told them they were going to start by articulating the core values that shaped their work
and the company. The staff had been through this process many times before, and they weren’t
too enthused about doing it again. They thought they knew their core values:
communication, cre-
ativity, fairness, service, teamwork, honesty . . . the usual
good stuff. But the consultant just shook her head and asked
them to forget about what they thought their values at work
should be and to focus instead on values reflected in the way
they actually worked together. Then the consultant, who
had been observing their workplace procedures for several
weeks, started naming some of what she had seen: people
looking the other way or whispering secretly about those in
positions of power demanding personal favors and padding
their expense accounts; people agreeing with collective de-
cisions at meetings and then going ahead and doing things
their own way; disapproving eyebrows raised over people
taking paid sick leave to tend children who were ill despite
the fact that company policy confirmed this as legitimate.
Now she had their attention. According to the consultant,
these and many other practices reflected the real values peo-
ple operated under when at work. Although never spoken or
printed on any piece of flip-chart paper, power, individual
autonomy, and a willingness to sacrifice family needs for the job were clearly some of the actual
values dictating behavior at work and shaping the company’s structure.

Sometimes you have to be a little sneaky to see past what you think you value to find out what values and concerns really shape your behavior. Sometimes you have to set up a situation, if only
in your imagination, so you can spy on yourself.

So try this: imagine you are walking up to two or more people who know you. Don’t put faces on
the individuals in the group; it could be friends, family, or co-workers. They don’t see you coming,
and they’re talking about you. What’s the worst thing you could imagine overhearing someone say
about you? Complete the phrase:

The worst thing someone could say about me is

I’ve done this exercise periodically over the years, and I’ve finished the phrase differently each
time. And each time I’ve learned something about myself, what I value, and my soft spots the
places where I am unconscious, not as enlightened or as wise as I want to be. Recently when I did
this I wrote, The worst thing someone could say about me is that I am self-indulgent. Makes me
cringe to write it even now.

Them and Us

Many years ago I was part of a social justice group that worked to challenge and change economic and political systems that cause inequality and suffering. It was good work. But it was difficult for me to do this work without seeing my fellow human beings as either us or them. Those who disagreed with the position or work of the group I was with, those who sometimes actively opposed the changes we thought were desirable or created and perpetuated situations we saw as the causes of injustice, became, in my mind, them, people separate from us.

Separating ourselves from others we see as wrong in some way seems to be a common human tendency. They don’t think women are equal. They allow their desire for profit to fuel wars and violence in the world. They don’t clean up after themselves. They don’t care about others but simply want their families to be safe and comfortable. They are fanatics that hate our way of life and want to destroy it.

Whether we are talking about individual disagreements, differing political parties, or those who have taken actions we find abhorrent, the temptation to see some others as fundamentally different from ourselves cannot help but make finding solutions to common problems in a shared world more difficult (even as it makes us feel morally superior).

So, here’s the challenge: think of someone who irritates you or some group of individuals with whom you disagree. Start small. Think of the neighbor who puts pesticide on his or her lawn every spring, causing your cat to have seizures. Think of the co-worker who gets attention by talking about people behind their backs and stirring up drama in the workplace. Now, write a couple of sentences about them. For example:

They just want to find the easiest way to have a perfect lawn and don’t care about animals or the
environment or others.

They get attention and stir up drama by talking behind people’s backs.

Move on to bigger issues. For example:

They don’t believe in democracy and freedom. They just want to feel secure and have things stay the

Write as many statements as you can in ten minutes about those you disagree with. Don’t hedge. Let the pen fly.

Now, rewrite the statements and substitute the word they with the phrase some of us. You may want to make the sentences less specific, aiming for the essence of what you have seen as offensive. For example:

Some of us just want to find the easiest way to have a perfect lawn and don’t care about animals or the environment or others may become:

Some of us just want to find the easiest way to do things according to the standards we feel are right and don’t care how it affects others.

Notice how you feel as you change the statements and create less distance between yourself and the other. Now go a step further. Replace the phrase some of us with and preface the statement with somepart of me of the time.

Some of the time, part of me just wants to find the easiest way to do things according to the standards I feel are right, and I don’t care how it affects others.

Some of the time, part of me gets attention and creates drama by talking about other people.

Some of the time, part of me doesn’t believe in democracy and freedom and just wants to feel secure and keep things the same.

Some of the time, part of me does not want to clean up after myself.

Is there any truth in these statements? Chances are that part of us
behaves and/or feels the same way they do, although it may be in
different circumstances than the ones we originally found offensive.
When and where do you feel political ideals are not worth the
trouble, are not as important as feeling secure and keeping things
unchanging? How does it feel to acknowledge this aspect of
yourself? Write about what you know is happening when part of
you feels or acts in a way you find offensive in others.

Three Breaths

Sometimes we just need to take a breath to bring ourselves fully into the present moment. Lately,
when I have completed my daily practice of meditation and contemplative prayer, I take three breaths,
each with a different focus. After each breath I take up my pen and write. Sometimes what comes out
on the page surprises me in ways that delight or disturb. Always, the breath and the writing bring me
more fully into my life in this moment.

Sit in a comfortable position with writing materials at hand. Take several deep breaths and let yourself
just be where you are. Then, when you are ready, take a full slow breath, and for the full length of the
inhale and the exhale focus on the world outside of yourself- the sounds, sights, smells, and feeling
of the world around you. See what you can notice in one breath and then write it down in sensory
detail. This is not a test to see if you can notice and write down everything there is to sense about
the world at this moment. If you noticed one thing, write about this one thing. If you noticed several,
write about them all. Allow what comes during the one breath to be enough.

Then, sit back and take another conscious breath. For the full length of one complete inhale and one
complete exhale, notice all that you can, within yourself. Let your attention leave the world outside
you for a moment and focus within. There may be sensations, feelings, thoughts. Then write what
you noticed about your inner world during the course of this one breath. Again, you are not trying to
catalogue everything that is going on inside of yourself. You are simply describing/discovering what
you noticed during that one full breath.

Finally, sit back and take a final conscious breath, focusing as
completely as possible on the breath itself. Feel the air come into
your body and leave your body. Now write what you noticed
about this one breath. What was the quality of the breath? Was
there a pause at any point? Did you notice the temperature
or smell of the air, the sound from within? There are truly an
infinite number of things to be noticed about a single breath.
Just write what came to your attention today as you focused on
this one breath.

The more I do this writing practice the more I find I am able
during the course of my day- when things get busy or when
I am waiting for the traffic light to change- to simply bring
myself fully into the present moment by consciously taking
three breaths in a row, focusing first on the world around me,
then on the what is happening within me, and finally simply on
the breath itself.

What We Love

Last spring, at the end of a talk I had given in Kelowna, BC, I asked for questions from the
audience. Someone asked, What do you love most?

I answered without thinking, God.

Sometimes jet lag and tiredness let the truth just slip out past the usual defenses and second-
guessing. Later I wondered if I should have used the over-burdened G-word. I wished I had
explained that for me God isn’t a male or female being but the sacred presence that flows
through every moment. I wondered if I should have described my experience of this divine
presence as a loving heart that holds me, that holds the whole ball of wax together excluding
nothing and making sense of it all even when I cannot see that sense. Later I worried that I
should have pointed out that I do, of course, love my sons
and my husband and my friends and the world. But when I
sat down to answer the question in writing, as I described all
the particular places, people, activities, moments, sensations
etc. that I love, I realized that my answer had been accurate.
I love God in the way I love particular people, places and
moments but, for me, love of the sacred, the Beloved, is at
the center of who I am.

    So, pick up your pen and write in answer to the question,
“What do you love most?” Whatever comes, let your passion
fuel your words. Let it be one thing or many. Describe with
the eyes of the Lover what you love, why you love and how
you love.

Gratefulness and Thankfulness

Since the previous writing exercise (February) delved into expectations and disappointment, I have been exploring the antidote to disappointment: gratitude. Seems simple enough: if I don’t want to let my disappointments rob me of happiness I need to look around and appreciate the good that is in my life right now. This is a practice I highly endorse. One of the things I regularly do is write notes to my husband, Jeff, with statements that begin “I appreciate. . .” letting him know that my complaints about dirty socks on the floor and a scummy bathtub don't blind me to the wonderful gifts he brings into my life by being who he is.

As I started to explore gratitude I came across the website, It contains, amongst many other things, some writing by Brother David Steindl-Rast. In one of his articles Brother David explores the difference between gratefulness and thankfulness. To read the full article go but in the meantime, let me tell you what I got from reading it.

Steindl-Rast begins by talking about the kind of experience we have gazing at the night stars or watching the sunrise. He quotes Eugene O’Neil describing such an experience when he wrote:

For a moment I lost myself – actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the...high dim-
starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within
something greater than my own Life itself! To God, if you want to put it that way.”

This, Brother David explains, is gratefulness, “…the full appreciation of something altogether unearned….” Gratefulness is the mystical experience of belonging to a oneness that excludes nothing. Thankfulness, on the other hand, he describes as the thoughtful appreciation that breaks that oneness down into giver and receiver.

Clearly thankfulness and gratefulness are both things that enrich our lives. When I express my appreciation for Jeff I am expressing my thankfulness. But, if I let this thankfulness, be fueled by an on-going awareness of gratefulness- an experience of my belonging to something larger than myself- I will be able to appreciate it all: the neglected tub and the thoughtful gesture; the dirty socks and the quiet moment together in front of the fire; the disappointed expectations and the delightful surprises. Gratefulness, because it opens us to the mystical experience of the unity of being, helps us hold it all with appreciation.

Write a story about a moment of gratefulness in your life, a moment when beauty took your breath away and reminded you of a mystery beyond our small knowing. This is a tough one because in these moments we generally have no words. Know that your words can only point to what that experience is like, but write them anyway. How did it feel in your body? How was it different from the moments that came before and after? What was in front of you, around your, within you?

When you have finished, reread the story and sit with it. Does
it convey the feeling at of the center of that experience? If
not, find the words that do. Go deeper. Remember. Taste the
experience again and write it on the page.

Reread it again and then think of the people in your life who
touch and effect you. Now write about your thankfulness.
Thinking of things you are thankful for with each person
repeatedly complete the phrases, I am thankful for. . . . or I
appreciate. . . . .

Oriah Mountain Dreamer © 2005

Based on her book "What we Ache For".

Selected extracts above from

You can also read some of her beautiful poetry, which I shared in an earlier blog:

Silence (Pablo Neruda / Octavio Paz)

The following translation juxtaposes the poems on silence (both titled "Silencio") by two South-American poets, the Chilean Pablo Neruda and the Mexican Octavio Paz. The painting is "Florimel" by British painter Henry Ryland (1856-1924). Merry Christmas & Blessings for 2013!

 (Pablo Neruda / Octavio Paz)


I, who grew up inside a tree,
I had a lot to tell the world,
But surrounded by silence I learnt,
That I had a lot to keep quiet.
And this one gets to know by growing
Without other joy but to grow
Without more passion than substance
Without more action than innocence.

And when from the depths of song
A note vibrates, grows and wanes
Until in other harmonies
It melds into the depths of silence,
Hark! there comes another silence
Atop a steeple, sharp as a sword
That soars and lifts, suspending us
And as it soars, it lets go
Memories and hopes, lies big and small.
And though we want to cry
In our throat, dies the scream:
We flow into the sea of silence,
Wherein all silences are mute.

And inside us, time becomes golden
Called upon from a great height
To ripen into orange.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Self-Discipline & Sophrology

These are notes I took several years ago. I learnt some things, but over time they mostly faded away. Re-visiting them, I decided to type up, share, and so remind myself of some of the good ideas, ideally even put them into practice! The notes are based on “Self-Discipline” by Theodore Bryant & “La Sophrologie” by Jean-Yves Pecollo, together with personal experience.

Coincidentally, I just came across the following blog post from only three days ago which re-caps some of the things here


1.    Introduction

Lack of self-discipline is caused by inner conflict, the creative, fun-loving, anti-authoritarian or child self within running amok instead of supporting overall progress of the self. Understanding how this happens, we can overcome it.

Negative Influences:
1)    Cynicism
2)    Negativism
3)    Defeatism
4)    Escapism
5)    Delayism

1)    Have faith in your ability to improve.
2)    Positive Attitude and good spirit are key to success. Positive body language and posture also; karma: “what goes around comes around”, you make it every instant.
3)    Perceiving shortcomings in yourself, have the confidence that you can override them, that nothing will stop you on your quest.
4)    To accomplish something rewarding often requires passing through difficult or uncomfortable moments. Do not give up too easy!
5)    Address the question of whether delay is constructive. Self-discipline means enjoying doing things on time.

Antidotes are applied by means of action-oriented self-talk, consciously talking to yourself. Self-talk messages must be (i) Positive, (ii) Specific, (iii) Present Tense. Your behavior is influenced by thoughts and feelings, but these messages are often subconscious and later give rise to a surprised reaction, “Why did I do that?” or “What just happened to the last hour?”. Self-talk is an incredibly powerful channel into the subconscious, programming you to support you in your goals.

Example: “I am now working on my essay”. All thoughts turn then to this. Other thoughts may arise, and negative influences also, but you are aware of it now and you repeat your affirmation over and over until it wins the argument and is enacted. Repetition is key. You are positive and in control, not “I have to” or “I should”, but “I choose to”. Finally, it is yet more powerful if spoken and thus heard aloud. More advanced still is self-hypnosis by creating and using times when the mind is particularly receptive, such as after meditation. Use images as well as words, vivid mental visualizations of yourself in action.

What is Self-Discipline? Decisiveness, Time Management, Motivation, Rules & Goals? These are the consequences of self-discipline.

Self-Discipline is a skill to be learnt, not a force of will-power, but one of awareness & co-ordination like a conductor of an orchestra of your desires, emotions, needs, fears, thoughts, memories, and dreams. The secret of success lies in your ability to recognize and deal with the part of you that offers resistance. This part takes over when external forces of authority are removed in whose presence self-discipline grows weak through lack of exercise. Practice and develop, and self-discipline grows stronger. The main obstacle is fear, often subconscious that must be recognized and accepted so as to minimize its immobilizing effect. We must explore the often deep-seated roots of our fear.

2.    Exploring our Fears

1)    Fear of Failure
To not face a task we wish to accomplish or to not devote ourselves fully to it because we fear to fail is inexcusable, yet it is the single most likely cause of eventual failure. We shall try and try again and try with all our heart till we are rewarded with success. How would any great person succeed without the commitment and perseverance necessary to achieve anything significant? It is a problem of the ego that links failure with self-esteem. Fear is a stepping stone to success; we must learn not fear it, remember what went wrong, reflect of what we can change, and also, after the passage of time, look back and review the lessons we have drawn.

Difficulty: Faced with difficult questions in an exam or in research, we might skip from one to the other and never satisfactorily get to the bottom of any. The key is to relax, play around, delve for insight, and write up our discoveries. Over-ambitious, we do not get anywhere, so tackle things one at a time. Under-ambitious, and we are subconsciously satisfied once the fear of failure has passed, and we do not fulfill our true potential. Thus, when the rains come down, the wise taxi-drivers do not stop when they have reached their daily target, but work over-time to ferry those in need.

Love: Disappointments and disappointing others, both can put one off from taking risk. There is nothing more risky than love. Your heart is on the line. Surprise, embarrassment, sweaty hands are all to be expected. Love thyself, know thyself, and nothing can harm you.

Finances: Money shields us from the fear of security being taken away, of losing independence, from all our time, energy and effort being wasted. There is great need for wisdom in the way we manage our money. Choose wisely to lessen risk and make success more sure.

Death: A deer in the headlights should be motivated to cross all the faster. But on the contrary it suffers a moment of indecision and paralysis. You must go beyond the fear of death.

2)    Fear of Success
Unfulfilled expectations of family and friends, or transgressions, real or imagined, may make us feel unworthy of guilty of the happiness and satisfaction that come from personal accomplishments. Whether the cause is past or current behaviours, thoughts or actions, we must remember that we are fundamentally good, whatever others may say or think. We must do good, be true to ourselves, our mind at peace. We are worthy of success, and grateful.

Artists especially are sometimes anxious of the attention, pressure and expectation that comes with success, and so are people in general. It is the fear of not living up to our image.

Then there is fear that success will make others jealous or resentful of us, or that we will upset those close to us. But those who really love us will rejoice in our success, and why should we care what others think?

For all the above, remember, “Go your own way, and let the people talk!” Life will be just as free and fun and spontaneous with each success if we have a good attitude, don’t get carried away and maintain the self-discipline that brought success. Stay true to yourself, and if others can’t handle it, then that’s their problem. Learn to enjoy the adulation, attention and the people that you meet as a result. As Federer warns, know yourself, so that criticism doesn’t mess with your mind. Finally, in life there is no need to choose between things we desire. It is possible to attain multiple goals if we dare to have it all, and imagine how we want things to be. Maintain concentration. Like Henry, finger over the lips, “Shhh…”. “He who dares wins”.

3)    Fear of Rejection:
Think for yourself, take control, be self-assertive and put your own interests first. Thus, do what is good and what is right, not necessarily what will satisfy others or give us a reputation of being a “nice person”. It is the ego that makes us feel that a rejection of our words or actions or work is a rejection of our “self”. As Willow says, “rejection I can handle, I’ve had plenty of experience”.

4)    Fear of Mediocrity:
This is the flip-side of the desire for perfectionism. Let us instead follow our creative impulses, reaping joy from the mission itself and not judging its outcome from comparisons with others or being overly self-critical. Set yourself high expectations, but we are only human, so do not fear to not live up to them. We can but do our best, and we strive to do so.
5)    Fear of Risk:
Replace “Better safe than sorry” with “Look before you leap”. Change often. Self-confidence and self-discipline go hand-in-hand. “I can do it!” attitude. 
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. 
“Fired up and ready to go!”
You are now in a better position to recognize fears before they sabotage your present plans, so it is important to think them through consciously.

Preparation & Opportunity —> Luck
“The harder I work, the luckier I get!”

3.    Tools for the Subconscious
1)    Self-Talk & Vivid Visualization

2)    Affirmations, written in the first, second and third person. Think deeply about the words as you write them, and note separately any resistances, doubts or other emotions that might arise. These will help identify roadblocks which can be countered using what we have learnt. Also note down any motivational quote or something that inspires you. Change as often as necessary, and review your affirmations each day.

3)    Private Praise & Rewards, especially for the easy but most important initial stages.

4)    Relaxation. Inner conflict —> Stress —> Loss of motivation, avoidance and relief of escapism. To interrupt this process, use meditation techniques to relax and pinpoint obstacles, asking “why?” to get to the root of the conflict, then maintaining this relaxed state when you go into action. In the case of addictive behavior, use something to replace the void left by the addiction.

5)    Mission, Motivation & Steps to lead you there. Think through clearly the risks and rewards, so that you know for sure that this is something you wish to pursue and achieve, and overcome subconscious fears.

Clarity —> Structure —> Intensity
Decision —> Preparation —> ACTION!
     —> Completion & Maintenance

6)    Arrangements for Today
7)    Maintain Concentration right through to the finish!

4. Sophrology 
  Savoir... Aimer... Être  —  Know... Love... Be

1. Good Company, Good Spirit & Good Discipline:
The three keys to education in Arthurian legend, and necessities for any journey on which we wish to embark. Sophrology, deriving from the Greek "sos" = harmony, "phren" = spirit, consciousness, "logos" = study, seeks to describe a path towards harmony, serenity & happiness, and the awakening of states of higher consciousness, and to understand this scientifically. It was coined in Spain in 1960 by the Columbian Alfonso Caycedo. The initial motivation is to eliminate suffering. Our target then is to attack the cause of suffering. Broadly speaking, there are three common reactions to suffering: (i) Agir: to act on people or things around us to conform them to our desires, (ii) Fuir: to escape, isolating oneself from potential troubles, and (iii) Change: pleasure is neither lasting nor stable, so we change circumstances often to renew and refresh. But the most important thing is to recognize that the cause of our suffering and the source of our joy are at least to some degree within ourselves. If the face is dirty, then cleaning the mirror will make no difference. Only once this first step is taken, this fundamental realization properly understood, can we take stock with the state of things with gentle honesty, and without either indulgence or severity. It is time to assess where "enough is enough", to pause and to draw the line.

2. Good Goals:
Accept the difference which exists between where we would like to be and where we are at, and make of this difference an area of conquest, a basis for work & giving us direction. A good goal is one which is realistic so that we do not lose heart in its pursuit, yet also grand and worthwhile enough to motivate us. It should stretch us: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for?" (Robert Browning) "A successful individual typically sets his next goal somewhat but not too much above his last achievement. In this way, he steadily raises his level of aspiration." (Kurt Lewin) To set one's goal too high is a form of pride, of which the Tibetans classify seven forms (condescension, arrogance, infatuation, pretention, conceit etc.) Most likely it is pretention, and it shows a lack of humility. Even those who are proven, established, highly regarded and confident in their own abilities must be wary of over-reaching, and in any case a more indirect approach via lesser goals might be more profitable and more likely to succeed.

3. Good Signs:
Encouraging signs & landmarks are witnesses of our progress. They increase our motivation... motivation to make further progress. "One should have a noble and grand objective, but there is no end to arrive at." We will never have the illusion of having "made it", and so we keep advancing, like on a bicycle — the most important thing is to keep pedalling — balancing is easy, maintaining awareness that the path is right for us, that we are going in the right direction, thanks to the signs

4. Good Path:
Whichever way, whichever path we choose, we must follow with awareness, courage, enthusiasm and discipline. Awareness that the path is good, good signs that we are heading in the direction of our goals, and courage, enthusiasm & discipline to keep going on that path.
Sophrology consists of dynamic relaxation, a state of relaxed alertness, the sophroliminal state.

Four Levels of Practice:
1) Body Awareness [sensations, facts]
2) Mind Awareness [emotions, impressions]
3) Universality [prayer, meditation, unity of consciousness]
4) Individuality [re-awakening to the everyday in a higher state]

"Je ne sais pas ce qui ce passait dans mon esprit et je ne pourrais le dire. C'était un de ces moments ineffables où l'on sent en soi quelque chose qui s'endort et quelque chose qui s'éveille."

Translation: "I do not know what came to pass in my soul and I would not be able to explain it. It was one of those ineffable moments when one feels in oneself something which sleeps and something which comes awake."
Victor Hugo

The Letting Go
Like a tennis player in the zone, a letting go to the subconscious, following a usual routine and following auto-pilot with amazing results. Two things are necessary:

1) Knowledge of what to do,
through practice & concentration

2) Confidence in oneself,
through overcoming fear (especially of failure & judgment).