White orchid

Japanese watercolour,
She towers above the cacti;
A delicate, white geisha
In the soft shadows
Of bashful buds.
Graceful and rare,
Full of life unfolding,
The mystery
Of every second,
In every frond unfurling.

Shady leaves,
Cool and broad,
Green waves paused.

Slender green stems
Climb to the light,
That tall is nothing to hold onto.

Pure white petals,
Pink with pollen powder-paint,
Sprinkled by the perfect artist.

Thirsty little dragon mouths open
Sucking sunfire.

And in her beauty
Is her death:
A whitewash of wilting petals,
Drooping like wet skirts;
See-through crispy curls
Limping out of the limelight,
Graciously bowing out to the
New small stars.

Lady-like, in flower form,
Kuan Yin,
Consort of compassion,
Sings of the beloved.

She is a slip of a kiss
By a rain-soaked window pane;
A jasmine goddess,
An elegant saint;
In fragile purity,
So certain in her choice.

Lyndi Smith, January 2012

I wrote this poem about a beautiful white orchid in Jan and Maria’s house in Copenhagen. The character of the orchid reminded me of another dear friend Verity Pabla.

The day I didn’t meditate

Today I didn’t meditate.

I didn’t intend this. I intended to wake up early, do some yoga, thirty minutes mediation then off to work at school.

However, I slept through my alarm and woke up fifteen minutes before I needed to leave the house.

I was disappointed, but happy I still had time to make it to work. I threw some clothes on and after making time for breakfast, left ten minutes later than I would have ideally wanted.

This left me an hour’s journey to complete in fifty minutes.

I worried. I started to panic. And then I saw my own mind.

“Does it matter?” I asked myself, “That I might be late? If the teachers think badly of me, will their thoughts hurt me? Is it possible I could drive there quickly, but still stay calm, stay with myself, as if I had just meditated?”

It might just work.

On the drive, I prayed that I would have an easy journey and arrive in time. I started to play Pema Chodron’s Bodhisattva Mind, and started absorbing her wonderful teachings.

Then I got a text.

The text was from a friend, in trouble. She was heartbroken at a relationship meltdown and wanted somewhere to stay at short notice. She sounded really in need in the message.

I turned off Pema Chodron and as I drove, I practised for my friend. I imagined breathing in her distress, sending that energy down into the earth, and breathing out peace, to her.

I sang mantras and sent compassion to her, and a few other friends having a difficult time right now. I decided to ask my landlady’s permission to offer my friend the bottom bunk below me at my lodging.

As I drove, I noticed that I also made good choices. I drove swiftly and deftly, without causing hazard but at full speed.

When I arrived, I was fifteen minutes later than agreed with staff, but twenty minutes before I would work with the children. I thanked the forces that be for answering my prayers.

I still had plenty of time to set up. In fact, I had time to set up, make a drink and text my friend the offer of a bunk.

I felt incredibly peaceful. I had not meditated or done yoga, but felt like I had practised for hours.

During this day, I had such wonderful clarity. I saw efficient solutions to problems, collaborated well with staff and saw beauty in so much of the children’s work.

I found myself able to have time to complete my work successfully and able to have a text dialogue with my distressed friend.

I felt thankful all day to the teachings and yoga and meditation training that have allowed me this great peace of mind.

Later on that day, I reflected. Why was it that I felt so peaceful, even though I had missed my meditation?

It remembered the Buddhist tradition honoured three paths to enlightenment: meditation, compassion and wisdom.

Perhaps during my drive, the mantras and practice I had performed were compassionate. And Pema Chodron’s audiobook is full of wisdom. They must have helped.

I also reflected that there is something more important than meditation.

And that is the great peace, the true nature of ourselves that we may find through meditation. The goal, if you like, is not to meditate, but to find our true self. To find our peace.

In Donna Farhi’s fantastic Bringing Yoga To Life, she says we must remember that anything that we should never tether ourselves to anything that can be lost in our practice. If our security lies in our ability to perform an incredible posture, what happens when we suffer injury, or get old? Do we lose our security?

Donna Farhi suggests we tether ourselves instead to the “unchanging core of our being”, for it is only with the infinite that we can truly realise our security.

I want to thank Donna Farhi, my teachers and guides and my friends in need for the great lesson I learned today.

I learned that the rituals of meditation and yoga are just signposts to my real nature, the infinite truth.

I’m not about to throw my practice book out of the window. Meditation and yoga are my training ground. But that is all. What they are training me for is that amazing, infinite, all-encompassing light of peace.

And that peace lies within me, within all of us; in our deeper, true nature.

All the time.

The love experiment

Over the last week I have been running a Love Experiment. The experiment was inspired by this quote, from my good friend Verity Pabla.

When all the people in the world love one another, then the strong will not overpower the weak, the many will not oppress the few, the rich will not mock the poor, the honored will not disdain the humble, and the cunning will not deceive the simple. And it is all due to universal love that calamities, strife, complaints, and hatred are prevented from arising.

(Mo Tzu, Chinese Philosopher)

Verity texted me this quote while I was asleep, after a Skype conversation about love and making a difference in the world. I woke up and read the quote she had sent and was immediately inspired. I wondered, is it possible to love everyone? Could I love everything that I did?

So I set out to run an experiment. My research questions were:

  • Is it possible to put love in every single waking moment and action?
  • What would be the effect of cultivating inner compassion and placing that compassion into everything I do?

Recently I had observed that when I felt carefree and at ease, the way I combed my hair changed dramatically. When I put love into brushing my hair, it softened my actions and my hair felt and looked nicer. I wondered if there had been an energy transaction here. Had brushing my hair in a kind and loving way given my hair some positive energy? Had this energy allowed it naturally to fall in the way I preferred? Could an energy begot from love yield a happier life?

And so over the last week, I have cultivated feelings of love and tried to be with them in all of my interactions. I have not tried to force feelings of love, but have noted when it became more difficult or more easy.

Sometimes I feel like my life becomes a to-do list, as activities are ticked off or ‘achieved’. I wanted through this experiment to pay greater attention to the means rather than the end.

And so, one week on, how did it go?

Well, I have found feelings of love easier to maintain when alone, with plenty of time. To wash up and really put my heart and soul into that one bowl I am washing is beautiful. It is like a meditation.

I have enjoyed the softness I have experienced when typing tenderly, loving each key rather than making it my slave, and bashing it to death. I have found a femininity in loving every action, and this feels new and vulnerable and rich.

I have appreciated the people I work with even more; been even kinder to children and been even more grateful for every mouthful of food I have eaten. All this has come from living with love.

I have felt happier and more at ease; more relaxed. Being more loving has given me a better quality of life. I have found it easier to get along with people and easier to forgive.

Creatively, I have felt more drawn to poetry. I found myself listening to lots of Rumi this week, particularly Podiobook’s free audio downloads of The Masnavi, read by Jawid Mojaddedi. I was inspired by The Masnavi so much that I composed my own verses in my van. I would like to dedicate a future blog entry to this.

I have found the Love Experiment more challenging the more people I have to deal with, when deadlines loom, when I feel rushed or stressed or have a lot to accomplish in a short space of time. Sometimes during a faster-paced period, that loving feeling has become more urgent, and felt more passionate. Sometimes, in the words of the Righteous Brothers, I lost that loving feeling.

However, the experiment in itself has enhanced my awareness. It has brought greater awareness into how I act in life. Many times I noticed when I lost that feeling of love, and was sometimes able to shift into feeling loving again.

I also became acutely aware of when love arose naturally. When with good friends, during yoga and meditation or singing in my van it seemed to spring forth! When working with children, love is very present.

This experiment has helped indicate when I am in great natural flow, and might be a good indicator of my true role in life.

Eckhardt Tolle discovered a similar ease, although rather than run a love experiment, he awoke unexpectedly with such a feeling and it lasted for over two years. In that time he felt deep bliss and inner peace. His mind was uncontrived and undisturbed. He was able to be in the moment at every single moment, and writes about it at length in The Power Of Now. This book is particularly useful as a toolkit of exercises for keeping you calm and aware and present.

I have experienced a time in my life when I felt something similar.

It was in Tenerife. Over the summer, I had spent three weeks on a working retreat at Casa Saraswati, the retreat centre of sacred clown and spiritual teacher Didier Danthois. Our schedule there was morning meditation, followed by an organic breakfast; work, then an organic lunch and rest time; then more work, yoga practise, organic dinner, relaxation time and finally bed. This schedule suited my body, my emotions, my soul perfectly. Didier helps people find their own sacred clown; a fool, full of childlike awareness, who has no concept of time and space and savours every new experience. His workshop method transferred to the running of his farm on working retreat, which was similarly easy-going and all about quality of experience. The banner photo on this blog is a picture of sunset at Casa Saraswati, by the way.

Without even forming a concept or conducting an experiment, I was living in the moment, and putting love naturally into my actions. A retreat space is perfect for this as there are fewer responsibilities and deadlines than in daily working life.

Sogyal Rinpoche is an esteemed Buddhist teacher and the author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. He talks about an old Tibetan phrase:

Water, when not stirred, will become clear;
The mind, when unaltered, will find peace.

In my experiment, the times I felt love were also very peaceful for me. Peaceful and simple. I only had to do one thing: love. Love everything.

I feel that modern life is hectic. I feel that the education system places higher emphasis on passing exams than how to life our lives as successful people. I feel that love is not something that comes from outside you, but from inside you. I would love to see greater teachings on love in the school system, in the workplace, in the home. We spend a long time chasing a love outside ourselves, when we can find it in an instant in our hearts.

I believe that it is possible for me to try and live with even greater love in my heart, and give love more freely, more openly, with less limitations.

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.

(The Buddha)

This does not mean we have to say yes to everything. It means that we can choose to find love, and give love. It means we can notice when we feel love naturally, or when it becomes a struggle. We can spend our time on the things we love. We can improve the quality of our lives and those around us by putting love into the tiniest action.

Have you ever eaten a homemade meal, cooked with love? You would choose to eat such a meal over a microwave dinner any day, right?

I guess that’s my point : )

Can compassion be learned?

Is compassion something you are born with, or can you learn to become more compassionate?

New research suggests that compassion can be both taught, and learned. Richard Davidson and associate scientist Antoine Lutz studied the brain scans of 16 monks and 16 control subjects. All were asked to practise a special compassion meditation whilst undergoing an fMRI scan. The scientists found that areas of the brain used for empathy were stimulated during the meditation practice.

Davidson and Lutz believe that this research could be useful in treating people with depression. The theory is that if people suffering with depression could be taught a compassionate meditation practice, they could relate to the suffering of others more easily. “Thinking about other people’s suffering and not just your own helps to put everything in perspective,” Lutz says.

This is a subject that science is taking very seriously. The Dalai Lama is speaking at the CCARE Conference on Scientific Explorations of Compassion and Altruism on Friday, October 15, 2010 at Stanford University. You can watch a live webcast of the conference here.

From personal experience, I can say that compassionate practise has helped me deal with family problems more usefully. Over the summer, I learned a compassionate meditation practise during my three weeks on working retreat at Casa Saraswati. This is based on the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and involves visualising a being or situation that gave you love, feeling the love grow in your heart, and then transferring this same love to others. Often we would sing the Avalokiteswara mantra after meditating, which also encourages compassion. I practised for three weeks, and noticeably became a much kinder, more generous and giving person in my daily life.

When I returned from my retreat, I found that my mother had become mentally ill again. Up until now, I have been notoriously unkind to her during her bouts of illness. As a child and younger adult I felt angry at my mother for not taking her medication, and bringing such suffering to everyone around her, not just herself.

This time, things were different. I was much more understanding of my mum. I felt more tolerance towards her. It wasn’t always easy: sometimes the old anger would arise while I was sitting with my mother, so I would sing the Avalokiteswara mantra over and over in my head until I softened. This would always work, and allow me much greater empathy for my mum. As a result, I was much more able to help and support her through this difficult time, and she managed to come out of hospital much sooner and with much less stress than in the past.

I am extremely grateful to the Buddhist tradition and my teacher Didier Danthois for this incredible gift. I also had the support of a very loving and compassionate partner, Caroline, who is a care-worker. She has already achieved a very high level of compassion towards others, without any mediation.

Imagine if we could teach compassion practices like these to children who were bullies, or to prisoners?

Imagine how greater compassion could better your relationships with your family and work colleagues?

Imagine how we could all care for the environment and put an end to war if we all learned to develop greater emotional understanding of all living beings around us?