Archive for the ‘stillness’ Category

Moonshadows

October 26, 2007

4am in the morning the rooster crowed. I woke and went outside the cabin. The grass was damp and cold. I looked up, directly over the trees, my eyes drawn to the brightest moon I have ever seen.

Full, large, and shining in the night sky. I looked around me and there were distinct shadows cast by the clothesline, maypole, trees and me. No wonder the rooster thought it was dawn.

In the chill air I was struck by the clarity and beauty of things. Little colour, but near light as day. Life seemed simple and pure.

Cat Stevens sings about Moonshadows. To me the song is about gratitude and acceptance:

I ever lose my eyes
If my colours all run dry
yes, if I ever lose my eyes
oh if …
I won’t have to cry no more.

It’s a calm and gentle acceptance of suffering and loss. It also implicitly conveys gratitude for what we do have, in a pure clear way like the shadows cast by the moon, darkness against darkness. This verse though is the one that struck me the most:

Did it take long to find me
I ask the faithful light
Ooh did it take long to find me
And are you going to stay the night

To me the faithful light is like the inner light, perhaps cooler and less distant that sunlight. Sunlight either is, or isn’t. Dark and light are more distinct during the day. The ‘faithful light’ is more tolerant, dark and light coexist, merging at the edges. That’s like suffering, gratitude and love. They’re all part of the same life.

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Rhythm

July 15, 2007

We were in Arthur’s Pass for six days. It was so cold each night the pipes froze up. The air was still and crisp in the mornings and the frost took till lunchtime to melt each day. For two days the power was out as the old black bakelite mains switch in the house gave out after 40 years or so of loyal service. I really enjoyed there being no power. There’s a small enclosed fire (like a pot-bellied stove but rectanglar) which you can cook on, and use to heat water.

Taking care of all the jobs required just to stay warm and fed gave a certain rhythm to the day. Get up, light the fire, boil water, pour hot water on the frozen pipes under the house, cho wood, cook breakfast, boil more water for the dishes, stoke the fire, do the dishes, and so on. There was still plenty of time for walks and playing cards and board games, but the day was measured and paced by the basic routine of survival.

You can’t hurry this. Everything takes as long as it takes. You can’t make the fire start faster, or rush the water to boil. It forces you to slow down, to move methodically through the day, and to go to bed early, when the light fades and the candles sputter out. There’s a sense of the eternal here. I can imagine my grandchildren and great grandchildren coming to this bach. It’ll be just the same in another 40 years. Just like these mountains, quietly measuring the seasons, sitting together in the stillness of the sky.

Where do we go from here (part one)

April 15, 2007

At the moment, up to Arthur’s Pass for a week at the bach, to catch up on sleep and spend time with the kids. And also to connect with nature and cool my spirit in the chill beauty of the mountains and beech forest. I promise normal blogging service will be returned next weekend, with thoughts about YF camp.

Just breathe

April 1, 2007

Recently we had a dinner for Young Friends and Junior Young Friends in Auckland. There were about 20 there, and many didn’t know each other so we played a name game on the back lawn. It involved throwing apples (from a tree in the garden) to each other, and saying each other’s names as we did it.

After that we took hands for silent grace before the meal. Sue explained to those who were new what silent grace was all about. She said that during the silence people could give thanks, or if they didn’t know what else to do, they could just breathe.

Being silent and just breathing is being physically still, yet not still. We are still moving subtly, continuously mingling ourselves with the universe. George Fox said:

“Be still and cool in your mind and spirit from your thoughts and you will feel the divine source of life in you.” 

Perhaps when we are still in our mind and spirit it is the same. Our spirit is still moving, subtly breathing with the tides of the universe. When we still our bodies we become more aware of the breath, the palpable flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide atoms in and out of our body. Perhaps the more still we can be in our minds, the more aware we can become of the flow of the living energy that connects us to all things.

The centre of the storm

February 9, 2007

There’s something about this week. Hannah got back from Antarctica, Dad and Margaret are leaving to go to Antarctica, Pete is climbing Mt Kilamanjaro, my kids (with both excitement and trepidation) started a new school year and I’m running a marathon tomorrow.

I recently said why I think people do these things, and the role that faith plays in them, but I haven’t said much about just what I’m doing and why. I’m going to a part of the country (Buller) I’ve never been before, where there will be hundreds of runners and thousands of supporters all trying to be doing the right thing at the right time. I’ll have to get up about 5 in the morning, drive 1.5 hours to Westport, and then find where I’m supposed to be. I think I’m less confident about getting to the start of the race than I am to the end!

Then I’m going to try to run 42 kilometres without getting injured or exhausted, without falling over or stopping. My body feels ready for it, through the training it’s gotten used to running long distances. But the training hasn’t prepared me for running with hundreds of other people in a place I’m totally unfamiliar with. There’ll be lots to distract me, the excitement of the runners and spectators, the new scenery, a different climate. Despite this I can’t afford to get caught up. I have to run my own race, at the pace that I’ve chosen. I have to put everything else aside, and just stick to the plan, amidst all the chaos.

There are lots of other reasons I’m running this race, but I think this is the main one. Because to do it successfully it’ll require me to be completely present in the moment. Because I’ll have to be aware of everything going on, but not distracted by it. Because it might just take me to that still point, where everything is clear.

Wish me luck.

Slacker

September 16, 2006

I think I’ve forgotten how to be a slacker. I was very good at it when I was a student, actually much better than most. I cruised through my degree, majoring mostly in video games and socialising.  I slept in till lunchtime most days, went to a few lectures in the afternoon and slacked around with my flatmates in the evening.

Somehow though, somewhere along the way I’ve lost the knack.  Even when I’m resting I’m doing it on purpose.  My life is so full, there is so much to do, and it’s all so interesting and exciting. This is great, but I do have a tendency to take too much on, and then get exhausted.

I’ve said before, that people in my family seem to have two settings, fast and off. Thinking about it though, this isn’t always so much about speed, as intensity. When we do something we do it fully, we throw ourselves into it with complete commitment. Maybe when I was at University, I was just throwing myself into being a slacker. Maybe now I’m just doing it again, but it’s working and being involved in Quakers that I’m throwing myself into.

In a week we’re going to Golden Bay for JYF camp. The theme is “cheerfully doing more with less”. On the one hand this is very appealing, as simplicity is something that I have much to learn about. But the doing more part? I don’t need to be doing more. So maybe for me the camp can be about cheerfully doing less with less. Then perhaps I’ll remember how to be a slacker again.

Cold hands warm heart

June 15, 2006

We had our first really good solid frost in Christchurch this week.

I love the cold, and I love frosty mornings. While these sort of tempartures might send some people scurrying back off to the North Island, they make me feel alive. I think part of this is because I'm kind of naturally over heated. My ayurvedic prakruti is very dominanetly pitta, the 'fiery' kind of body/personality type. I can't really eat spicy food or take caffeine, they respectively make me sweat and burst into flames, and become fizzy and unfocused. When I'm off balance it manifests in frustration, and inflamation type ailments. Anything that cools me down seems to help. Being in nature, around water, and any kind of cold environment brings me back on balance.

What I also love about frosty mornings is that in Christchurch it means it's going to be a beautiful sunny day. That doesn't mean it'll be warm, but it does mean it won't be drizzly and dreary.

The funny things about my 'heated' mind/body composition is that I get really cold hands in the winter, and I don't anger easily. My Dad was very slow to anger too, it's interesting that the 'fieryness' doesn't lead to a predisposition for a flaring temper. I've always considered that a real blessing, that I can take time to think things through before responding. Not such a blessing is having to wear gloves all the time in winter, although I do quite like the way my black leather gloves look with my suit, and I love my merino wool and possum fur muppety gloves.

Ayurveda has taught me a lot about how to manage the unique mental and physical makeup I (and we all) have. With that, and the guidance of friends, I reckon I'm doing OK.

Run past fast

June 4, 2006

Wahoo, I did it. I ran my first half marathon. In 1:51. I didn’t really have any idea how long it would take me, I was more concerned about just finishing the race and hoping my legs would hold out. Dad helped me make a good plan though, sticking to 5 minute kilometers, and aiming for 1:45. So I just kept a slow and steady pace. I slipped back 3 or 4 minutes, but I wasn’t too bothered, as long as I was able to finish, and ideally come in under 2 hours.

At around 18k I was starting to feel really good, fairly certain that my legs would hold out. I sped up a bit, and started passing people. By 19k I was still feeling good, so I sped up a bit more. At 20k, with just 1k to go I thought I may as well go as fast as I could. It felt fantastic to be at the end of a race, at least 8k further than I’ve ever run, and to have the energy to go as fast as I could.

Seems like Dad was right. Taking it slow and steady, sticking to your plan, ignoring the hype of the crowd around you, running your race and no one elses…

Low and slow

June 1, 2006

In "Illusions" by Richard Bach one of the characters, a man who is a retired messiah, flies a plane in to a paddock that is theoretically too small for it to land.  The protagonist of the novel, Richard, was concerned to see the plane coming in 'low and slow', an aeronautical phrase meaning just what it says, with the implication that going too slow will cause the plane to stall, and crash.

I've been thinking about pace, and speed a lot recently.   I like to run, to go fast.  I get so much out of doing this, it's thrilling, exciting, and extremely compelling. Maybe I do worry though that if I'm not constantly moving, I might miss something, or crash.  In times of difficulty motion is always what has saved me.

Over the last 3 years that I've been jogging in the morning, I've often seen a pair of women out walking.  Three years ago they were both quite overweight.  Almost imperceptably, day by day, they've both gotten leaner, fitter, and their hellos more cheerful.  When we first put our garden in six years ago, the plants were little, and fragile.  Some of them took three or four years before they even started growing in size.  Now many of them are tall, strong, and lush.  

I once heard that many people significantly overestimate what they can achieve in a year, and significantly underestimate what they can achieve in five years.

A couple of nights ago I was talking to my Dad about a half marathon I'm planning to do in the weekend.  It'll be my first half marathon, and Dad has run many, and a number of full marathons.  I pulled a calf muscle last week, so was unsure whether I was going to do it, but it's come right.  Dad suggested I plan to just take it slow, and finish the race.  The key he said, is to plan the race before hand, choose a pace, and stick to it.  In the hype and energy of the crowd at the beginning, there's a temptation to go out fast.  But if you go out 5% faster than you should, you'll finish the race 20% slower overall.  Kind of a tortoise and hare thing.

So I'm going to try to run the race slow.  It'll be hard to do, but I think there's a lesson here that I need to learn 

Blur

May 25, 2006

This morning I'm feeling in a blur.  The amount of travelling I've been doing recently I'm never quite certain when I first wake up what city I'm in. With the number and depth of conversations and spiritual/emotional journeying that come with and alongside this all, time does seem to have been compressed, like I've lived two years in five months.  I'd kind of like a rest…