The heart wisdom of the plum tree

Life here at Casa Saraswati is full of plums. About two hundred kilos of them.

The Plum Research Team have been busy making plum crumble, plum jam, plum compote and getting drunk on the nectar that is pure plum juice.

While plums can be deliciously fun in the kitchen, there is also much wisdom to be learned from the old plum tree.

Last week, I went to the big plum tree in front of Casa Saraswati with my fruit net and my baskets and my ladders and learned many lessons from that gnarled, wise tree.

Here´s what I learned.

When picking plums, a good technique is to look for the most golden ones and tug on each fruit gently to see if it wants to come away.

Lesson #1: The ripest plums won’t fight the plum-picker.

Ripe plums will readily come away in your hand. Sometimes, we want plums but they are not quite ready for us yet. Pick an unripe plum and bite into it and you will find your action both strenuous and dissatisfying. The unripe plum requires much more energy to pick. And it tastes awful.

When we want something, a conversation begins between us and what we want. Let us say we want a hug from our partner. If we don’t get the timing right, if our partner is not willing to or ready to hug us, we waste our own energy and create bad feeling between us. When two people come together to hug, there are two different energies wanting to unite. This is very important. Two energies – not one, not just our own energy. If we want to hug, we must open our arms and wait for our partner. We must be clear that we want a hug and then wait, to see if they want to hug us back. This is caring. If we grab onto them, like grabbing onto an unripe plum, and tug at them hard when they are not ready, we will not receive the hug we want. The hug will be shoved away, or won’t feel right. There will be no loving exchange of energy. If our partner cannot or will not hug us right now, we must accept this. We must accept and simply hug ourselves, and wait for our another time for our hug.

Not all of life’s plums want to leave the tree when we want to pick them. Listening and accepting is the key. To benefit everybody and get the juiciest plums, make offers gently and with good humour, and good timing, and not by forcing your way. Otherwise that plum won´t come, or it will leave a bitter taste.

One morning, after two hours work, I thought I had collected all the plums from the tree. My basket was full. I sighed and had a sense that my work was done. I was pleased, as I was thirsty and wanted a cup of tea. When I turned around, I saw that there were still more plums in the tree branches behind me.

Lesson #2: You can’t see all the plums on the tree from any one direction.

Looking in one direction only reveals some of the fruit. You can easily miss many ripe plums in this way. Better to view the tree from several different angles before deciding whether you’ve found all the plums. In a similar way, Leonardo da Vinci would always view his subjects from three different perspectives before drawing, or before making any important decisions in other areas of his life. This approach of having many standpoints can reveal a situation in its entirety and help us solve problems. This is useful for finding empathy with others, or overcoming obstacles.

I discovered too that plums appearing ripe from underneath do not always turn out to be good through-and-through. I saw many fat, honey-coloured plums that whet my appetite, only to pick them and discover that they were rotten. Seeing the plum from both sides is important before you bite into it and discover it is full of maggots.

Like a bold, bikini-clad explorer, in the shining morning sunshine, I set forth with plum net on my shoulder, plum-basket strapped to my waist, and pick my way through jungles of succulents and nests of wasps in search of golden, fruity treasure. I climbed the plum tree, wasps inches from my face, in order to select its juiciest plums.

Lesson #3: Climb the tree and face the wasps and a bounty of plums await.

Before this, I was quite wary of wasps. I would shoo them, or shriek and run away from them. But the plum treasure was too tempting. And as I ventured forth, I discovered that wasps aren´t all that scary. Yes, they want plums – don´t we all – but they are just as scared as we are. They can be annoying, but they don´t put up much of a fight.

In life, we face many wasps. I wonder how many annoyances I have avoided in life, and how many treasures therefore I have forsaken?

If our motivation is strong, if we really see the value – see the treasure – it is worth navigating all manner of wasps and prickly branches in order to fulfil our destiny.

The wasps returned after the plums were picked. Many wasps would sip from slightly-split plums as they sat in their basket, waiting to be taken to the kitchen. When the basket was full, two or three wasps would be buzzing around inside, getting drunk on delicious plum nectar. I tried lifting the basket with the wasps still inside. As they buzzed more loudly, I felt myself growing tense. I didn’t want to be stung!

I removed one ripe plum that a wasp sat on, and threw it away, far into the corner. The wasp happily buzzed along with its yummy plum. The wasp is happy to face the giant human plum-pickers, and have its plum flung far, to get what it truly wants. Are we this committed?

I saw a wasp so intent on getting to one certain plum that it became trapped in between plums in the basket. It buzzed very loudly when this happened, frustrated in its plummy prison. I did not wish to hurt the wasp, so I moved aside the plums to set it free. The same wasp then buzzed angrily around me. “What a cheek!” I thought, dancing away in case I got stung.

Lesson #4: A wasp set free still stings the same.

Sometimes we help a person and expect that in return, they behave in a certain way. This is not generosity. This is dangerous. If we place an expectation on our giving, it ceases to be truly given from the heart. Sometimes we give our help and we are very clear that we expect something back, and the person we are helping agrees fully to our terms and conditions. This is not generosity. This is a contract. Can you make a contract with a wasp?

While picking plums, I have felt the quiet wisdom of the tree. The life of a plum tree seems full of lessons for the life of humanity, too. In quiet moments under its branches, I have been able to gather its generous insights, as well as its succulent, organic plums.

Here I share some of those insights with you, and if you come to visit us at Casa Saraswati, we might share some of our delicious plum jam with you, too.

Reflecting on 2010

It’s December, it’s winter and the year is ending. A good time to reflect on 2010, what’s happened and what I hope for 2011.

I’m being aided by Reverb10, a worldwide network of people currently reflecting on 2010. The website is live for December only, and provides prompts for you to reflect upon. So thanks Reverb10, you’re inspired.

The word for 2010 for me was Change. Everything changed. My relationship, my home, my wishes for the future. I started to think more about community and how I could contribute to others, and not just what I could get for myself.

I have found myself within new communities, making new artistic friends and new spiritual friends. Both of these have enriched my life greatly, and nourished my soul. I am deeply grateful for all the people I have met or grown closer to in 2010. They have played a huge part in influencing my evolution. I even have to thank the online Twitter community… it is so wonderful to follow the word journeys of my heroes, or laugh at retweeted pithy comments, or see the world through my friends’ eyes.

Some of the changes in my life this year have been gradual. Some of the changes have been instant! The book Power Versus Force by Dr. David Hawkins caused my consciousness to lift itself overnight! Since reading his book, I am much more aware of vibrations in consciousness and able to make choices that appeal to my higher nature. An amazing book, and timely for me.

In 2010, I have gained more clarity on what I can commit to. I have given a lot of thought to the principles in my life: what I stand for, what I won’t compromise on, who I want to spend time around, what I want my influences to be… and these have helped me live a happier, more positive, more vibrant life. What would I like the word to be in 2011? Hmm… good question… can I come back to that after reflecting?

The moments I felt most alive in 2010 were by the sea. The first was getting flattened by the Atlantic ocean in Tenerife. Those waves will pound you to the ground like you ain’t nothing! Okay, so that day the red flag was flying, but I’m a fish and a rebel, okay? I screamed like a girl, standing waist deep in the salty waves, while three-metre-high waves crashed down on my head. If I was lucky, I would dive through the waves and end up unscathed ready for the next onslaught. If I timed it wrongly, the waves would pick me up, throw me down, drag me under, fill my mouth and ears with saltwater, swirl me around, hold me under for three or four seconds before releasing me. Wow, that was a thrill! I enjoyed the release of letting go, letting the sea do as it wished. My pulse was racing and my adrenaline pumped. I felt high!

The sea in Ibiza was more soothing for me, the Mediterranean being a lot more calm and forgiving than the Atlantic. I enjoyed swimming out about thirty metres and just relaxing on the waves, lying full-stretched on my back, gazing at the sky and allowing the sea to rock me. The control freak in me didn’t always enjoy it. I could hear her nagging, “But what if you get dragged onto the rocks?” . I allowed her voice to continue, but she got quieter and quieter until I looked forward to the sea just holding me, supporting me, comforting me. Letting go is bliss.

I have been asked what makes me beautifully different? What do I do that lights people up? Well, I guess I laugh a lot. People always compliment me on my laugh. It’s a great big giggle and rather childish. I’m told it’s infectious. And I laugh easily. Don’t ever test the quality of your jokes on me; I laugh anyway! I love to laugh; I love to be silly in order that I might laugh. It’s probably why I love to work with children. They’re hilarious!

I’m also blessed with an open heart. I love people and thanks to all the love and care I’ve received in my life, I find it easy to love others. Love is the most beautiful transaction, and like His Holiness the Dalai Lama said:

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

Where there is darkness, let me bring light.

The wisest choices I made this year were about getting rid of the unnecessary. Getting rid of relationships that weren’t working, getting rid of stuff, and getting rid of the fear and attachment that went with each of those.

The more I have gotten rid of, the more clearly I can see what I do have. And these treasured gifts are not really possessions, they are the gifts of conscientiousness, love, friendship, spirit and generosity. In these I am rich beyond my wildest dreams, and in these I invest my future. One action I would like to take in 2010 is to start a charity. This charity will be called The Magic If Foundation because asking ‘What if..?” can be the single most important and life-changing question we ever ask. What we can imagine, we can create. I want to help others imagine more, dream more wildly, give expression to their thoughts and feelings, and make ideas come to life.

One way I could do this practically is in running free improvisation and story-telling workshops with children. I have to thank the children I tutor for bringing my great love of the imagination and the idea of a charity to the surface.

I watched an amazing documentary on Palestine recently called “Arna’s Children”. Two Israeli volunteers help children put on performances and plays. You see a young child acting their heart out in a play, and then the film-crew return five years later to find many of the young male actors have become ‘martyrs’, and killed themselves on suicide missions against Israel. This saddened and inspired me. I am so grateful I had a happy childhood, and that I didn’t hear bombs at night, or suffer constant nightmares, or see my family’s home destroyed, or consider throwing stones at people my favourite game.

I believe we can help children like this imagine a future different from blowing themselves up.

The lesson that has been the most valuable to me this year is that compassionate thoughts and kind actions can change your reality. My mum suffers with mental illness and in the past, I have not always been kind to her when she is suffering. This time, thanks to learning the practises of compassion meditation, and mindful awareness of my thoughts, I have been able to help my mother much more usefully, and with much more generosity of spirit than ever before. I will be eternally grateful to Didier Danthois and Sogyal Rinpoche for these techniques.

This process was not only good for my mum, it was good for me. I have found it extremely healing. I’m not so angry as I used to be. It feels good to let some of that anger go.

What did I avoid this year? Ooh, that’s a tough question. That requires me to be totally honest. Well, I have avoided marketing my book Free Degrees. I think it’s laziness. I have letters ready to print and send to schools, but didn’t make the time to do that. I hope in 2011 that creating The Magic If Foundation will inspire me on my journey to promote using the imagination as a life-changing force. I want to let more students know, especially now that the government have put tuition fees up, that they can raise £25,000 for university and not get into debt. I just need to take action.

I have also managed to avoid letting strong feelings run my thoughts, actions (and my mouth!) this year. Giving up drink has helped. I was horrified to realise this year that every one of my major relationships had started on nights when I had been drinking. Now I want to build a relationship on a solid foundation, to take my time getting to know someone, and not give my heart and body away so easily. Next time it has to be a soul thing.

My advice to myself for 2011 is to not look back, to dream as big as possible, to slow down and love each moment, to relish the abundance of life, to take time out to achieve clarity and to consult the heart and soul when making decisions.

People I would like to thank:

  • My mum, for her love and generosity, and for helping me heal through compassion
  • Didier Danthois, for being a loving, inspirational and life-changing spiritual teacher
  • Verity Pabla, for bringing purity, dreams and music back into my life, for being a great friend and for introducing me to ICE and so many cool people
  • Caroline, for her lessons in care, love and attention to the needs of others
  • Janice, for her inspiring and romantic wedding day, and for being as generous and fun a friend as anyone could wish for
  • Fay, my yoga teacher, for flexibility and for being a great person
  • The author Geshe Michael Roach, for the inspiration and wisdom of The Diamond Cutter
  • Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa for spiritual growth and nourishment
  • The children I work with, for being a vibrant source of energy and joy
  • And all my friends, family and colleagues for their love, dedication and fun times!

So I guess I should return to that question: what is of my word for 2011?

It’s Heart.

In 2011, let me above all else, follow my longing, and follow my heart, and let love flow in and freely between my heart and the hearts of the others in my world.

Wishing you all love, laughter, abundance and peace this Christmas and New Year.

Make information active and develop yourself with Do Notes

Do you spend time reading new information?  Do you regularly take in new stimuli? Do you allow yourself time to absorb your influences?

This question was raised by Todd Henry in an Accidental Creative podcast recently. It got me thinking: I love research, I love new stimuli, but do I really take it all in? Do I give myself time to integrate the new information I am gathering?

I work creatively with children in schools and notice that children’s attention spans lessen every year.  It is the world we live in.  We want everything to be instant.  The internet has turned us into a ‘click and scan’ generation.  No longer do we spend time really living information, or absorbing it.  But it is by going deeper into something that we make new links and create meaning for our own lives.

Modern life prefers us to skate the surface, skim-reading until we find the morsel we want, and blaming Google if we can’t find it within a minute or two.

Information has become disposable.

However, research shows that the most successful people both read and integrate new ideas.  They do take time to explore its hidden depths.  Successful people take the time to cogitate, to think, to philosophise.  And most importantly, this leads them to new ideas and innovation.

So how do we make sure we absorb and integrate new stimuli?

Engagement and participation are key to long-term retention of learning.  The more active you are in your learning, the more you learn.

So is there a tool we can use when surfing, or reading to help us become more active?  Is there a tool we can use that take our learning forwards?

I got to thinking about this and came up with the Do Note:

The Do Note will help you turn words into actions.


The Do Note is designed to help you turn words into actions.  When you read new information, it asks you to think about it.  It asks you to plan what you want to do with your learning.  How will you move it forwards?  These become your Action bullet points.  In this way, you absorb stimulus better and keep its momentum rolling forwards.  

Let’s say you use a Do Note on this blog, right now.

The title is Do Note. The date is the 1st of June.  The summary is ways to make learning permanent. The action points are:

  • turn scrap paper into Do Notes
  • listen to podcast with Do Note
  • collect Do Notes every week and order relevant books from Amazon

In this way, you have created a list of actions you want to take, following the information you have just learned.

Your brain is no longer passive, but active in creating the next step.

Want your own Do Note?  Simply save this image and print it out, use the template above to create an iPhone Note, or even better, recycle your scrap paper and make your own Do Notes.

I keep Do Note handy as I surf the web and read blogs.  Whenever I get hooked on some new information, I fill in a Do Note.  I have found them particularly useful when listening to podcasts.  There are often questions raised in podcasts I’d like to explore more, and using Do Notes now helps my learning move forwards.

In this way, my new influences are becoming active and are starting to have a faster, stronger impact on my life.

The four phases of learning

The four phases of learning

There are four distinct phases of learning, related to consciousness and competence.

In this phase you do not know that you do not know something! Somebody or something else makes you realise. This phase may happen for a long period of time. This is a process of discovery.

In this phase you become aware that you do not know. You admit you do not know and prepare to find the knowledge. This realisation may happen very quickly.  In this phase you learn.

In this phase you are learning with the awareness that you are learning something. This phase may take a long time, as it is purely practise.

In this phase, your learning has become embedded. You can now perform that activity unconsciously. Your learning has gone very deep into your body and memory. This is the phase of experience.

What are you learning now? Can you remember a moment of realisation, when you suddenly became aware of something you did not know?

What has become part of your unconscious competence?