ninja steps

Photo by Andrew Coelho on Unsplash

Dr Rangan Chatterjee says in his book Feel Better in 5 that one of the ways (there are many) to feel better is to immerse yourself in nature every day. We weren’t meant to sit indoors all day or walk in concrete jungles.

It is an idea that appeals to me. But in a busy life (or if you’re still locked down), even just 5 minutes outdoors may present more of a challenge or overwhelm than you’d feel ready for.

And that is why I appreciated so much reading that there are more ways to achieve this than the obvious. He suggested to one patient to start out by just watching a nature video first thing in the morning instead of scanning emails and social media. (The patient did this and quickly and naturally progressed to spending time outdoors – plus bonus: his insomnia went away.)

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my life, it is that I am a goal ninja instead of a barn stormer. I need tiny, incremental steps towards a goal, sneaking up on it, so to speak. So this awesome advice was a perfect fit for me, especially given how sluggish and averse to going outside in the mornings I’ve become. There are amazing nature videos on YouTube, and having them on in the background while I breathe and meditate has already – in a very short time – contributed greatly to starting the day in a peaceful, centred frame of mind. It even means that I’m finding my way back into Scripture, something I’ve been struggling with the last while.

It has made me realise how mentally noisy my mornings are when I dive straight into my notifications. And how much I like it to have that noise removed for a while and rather drift down into silence.

The world needs more of that.

it breathes you

Glow worms in the Waitomo Caves – by Tomáš Malík on Unsplash

There is always a spark to be found in the dark.

You might argue that the dark assists the finding; it is much easier to see a pinprick of light when there is so little available to the eye. The two are always locked in a tango: dark and light, dancing, playing, balancing each other.

And since you wouldn’t enjoy watching a tango as much with only one dance partner, then you also have to admit – albeit perhaps begrudgingly – that the dance of dark and light needs both partners as well. It is part of the universal dance: day and night, exhaustion and rest, euphoria and desperation, high tide and low tide. There is never an arrival, never a point you can say: ‘Now I have figured it out and I am always going to live in the light.’

There is only the dance, the continual movement. It breathes you, this constant flux between doing and undoing.

Both are holy. You need the in-breath as much as the out-breath. Even when the out-breath may sometimes feel like suffocating, you need that emptying out before you can draw in the next breath. You need the dark so you may move slower, more deliberately … pause … rest … recover … reshape.

So, what would happen if instead of fighting it, you welcomed it with acceptance and curiosity? If you said, ‘Yes, this is the time of darkness now. Let us be still and come back to ourself. Let us listen in this quiet to hear what we’ve been ignoring, what we’ve been distracted from.’

Breathe out. The in-breath will come by itself.

easter: fresh start

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

This is a first for me: Resurrection Sunday feeling like New Year’s Day.

You would think that would have been the case every year, but somehow the significance of Easter being a fresh start has never struck me quite as clearly as today.

A new beginning.

The old is dead. The new has already begun. Even before dawn crept over the horizon this morning, everything had already been renewed. Perhaps it is because this is the first Resurrection Sunday I’ve ever experienced that coincides with the change from Daylight Saving Time. The clocks fell back for autumn this morning … new life springs forward. The grace of an extra hour of sleep … the grace of starting over, refreshed, renewed, the slate wiped clean. There is something beautiful in starting afresh with an extra hour of rest.

Of course, my body woke me this morning at the usual time, and my first thought was the panicked realisation that my alarm hadn’t gone off – only to realise there was another hour left before my phone would trigger the usual routine of the day. But I was awake. The flesh is slow to accept the fresh start the spirit senses.

Sometimes I think that the relationship between spirit and flesh is that of parent and child, coaxing it, teaching it, leading it, reminding it there is more to this life than just the obvious. There are hidden things!

Like a fresh New Year hidden in April.

this very moment between one breath and the next

In a sense, nothing has changed.

I am still figuring out how to be human, how to be me. I am older, stiffer, hopefully wiser and more compassionate, but I still need lessons in BEing. I thought I had conquered food issues addiction (let’s just call it what it is) but here I am, back in the same faculty, even if it is perhaps a more advanced class. I thought I had found a successful formula for keeping that black dog at bay, but depression sometimes still strikes, taking me by indignant (and usually undignified) surprise. I still battle all the old demons and doubts.

We don’t ever reach the point of ‘arriving’. We keep on having to keep on figuring things out. It is part of what makes life so unpredictable and delicious. Just when you think you’ve finally pinned it down, it snaps away, yelling ‘plot twist!’

So you start over and see what this next round will teach you. Because curiosity is always a happier and more helpful approach to suffering.

And here is what I am learning: No matter how deep the darkness, when you pause and examine this moment, this very moment between one breath and the next, where you are neither bound to the past and its regrets, nor to the future and its uncertainties, just this moment, then you realise that it is utterly beautiful and perfect all by itself.

You notice the late afternoon sunlight on your face, the gentle sway of leaves in the breeze, the dipping of the swallows against the clouds, the soft touch of your shirt against your skin, and it is all so achingly beautiful that it is simply … perfect.

In that very moment there is no suffering; there is only contentment.

In that very moment, everything is whole.

It is like discovering an actual superpower. Because every time you anchor yourself in this very moment, between one breath and the next, then the mindfulness it brings – and the spark of joy! – helps to tip the scales towards the light.

And in the end, that changes everything!

04Lovely

knocking off rust

Well, this is quite an unexpected turn of events, to find myself back on The Porch again after such a long hiatus.

The word always keeps calling, always flows and trickles, finding a way in … and eventually finding a way out.

Even though the blogging world has changed in the last years, flattening out into a much more impersonal place, it doesn’t change the original reason I started writing here: to give my thoughts coherence and space.

We all need time to reflect, to find the pattern and the meaning … and for me that means to sit on The Porch at the end of the day and let the word flow through the patterns.

what zombies have to do with self-growth

I am not a fan of the horror genre. Except for zombies. When my son became intrigued by zombies, I explored all the movies – from the very first – with him. And the more I think about zombies, the more I realize we can learn from the genre.

Recently, I came across this older article exploring why exactly our society has developed this fascination with zombies. In a nutshell, its premise is that the zombie craze “mirrors a level of cultural dissatisfaction and economic upheaval”. According to the researcher that is quoted, Sarah Lauro, “We feel like, in one way, we are dead”. This article quotes her as saying, “We are more interested in the zombie at times when we as a culture feel disempowered.”

I don’t quite agree.

Yes, zombie stories intrigue us when we face challenges of our own, but not because we feel dead. And I’m not sure that it has to do with global disempowerment, either. Rather, I believe it is more personal. The greater attraction of the zombie genre is this: survival.

These stories show us that it is possible to survive against horrific odds. They show us people who keep fighting even when we might have wanted to give up because there just doesn’t seem to be a way out. They make us believe that yes, we are able to keep going even when nothing makes sense, to be resourceful when options are limited, to be creative when everything we used to know changes, and to remain essentially human even when surrounded by monsters. They help us remember that sometimes the only power we have and actually need is that of perseverance, because it will get us through the hopelessness. That is uplifting and encouraging! Especially when life becomes challenging or the future seems bleak.

For me, it has little to do with cultural dissatisfaction or economic upheaval. It has everything to do with fighting my personal monsters. I believe this is the attraction of all successful dystopian stories: the implicit truth that even at life’s worst, we keep fighting.

However fictional they may be, they contain true empowerment because they remind us we are indomitable. We are heroes, purely for not giving up.

And that is amazing.

From the AMC show, The Walking Dead

From the AMC show, The Walking Dead

teacupping : oceaning

I found myself teacupping again the other day. You may not have ever heard this term – I made it up – but I know you will understand it immediately.

Teacupping: When you become so small that almost every experience causes a storm inside you.

You slosh over the edges. You rant and rave inside (or if it gets really wild: outwardly as well) over the little things that should not even cause a ripple on your surface.

  • The way your neighbours put out the wrong trash on the wrong day of the cycle
  • The way someone eats a doughnut – when you can see they need to eat healthier
  • The way someone at the office left sugar scattered over the entire kitchen counter
  • The way someone whines about their rich people problem
  • The inanities people post in social media or publish in the news
  • The way someone chews too loudly

Admit it, unless you are remarkably phlegmatic, you know how this is! And I am sure you can add many more examples here. All instances of storms in a teacup.

Why does this happen? And more importantly, how does one solve this problem? Because if you have ever teacupped before, you will also know that it is exhausting. There is nothing that can burn up your energy as quickly as this over-excitability in the world. Not to mention the strain on interpersonal relationships this can cause.

I have written before about the need to expand your container, and it is exactly for this reason. The larger the container of your spirit, the less disruptive your experiences. A drop of poison that falls into a teacup can be deadly. But into the ocean? It would not even be noticed. And quite frankly, I want to be the ocean.

Terry Pratchett wrote: “The big sea does not care which way the little fishes swim.”

I find that to be a profoundly powerful statement. If your container is as big as the ocean, the little fishes don’t bother you at all. They can swim in whichever direction they want to, they can jump out of the water (they will just fall back in) and they can even devour each other – it is not going to affect you.

So how do you change from teacupping to oceaning? How do you expand your container so that the little fishes don’t bother you anymore?

  • Meditate – For me, this is the easiest and best way to do it, because when you become mindful you find peace again. You enlarge from within. There are many guided meditations to help you achieve this. Compassion meditation works especially well, as does mindful breathing.
  • Walk – Or do something physical. Once you get your blood flowing, your mind is able to settle much easier, and your perspective is corrected.
  • Spend time in nature – We need big spaces to remind us that we are big, too, and that all is well. There is something mindful and rejuvenating about being outside; it can’t be duplicated by man-made spaces.
  • Pray – First for yourself. Then for whomever or whatever tips your cup.
  • Listen to music – It might be that you need loud, passionate music, or slow, gentle music. Find out what works for you to expand your consciousness again to a point where you are bigger than your challenges.
  • Get out among people – Especially if you are introverted or melancholy by nature, you might need that gentle reminder to place yourself among other human beings from time to time. Exposure to other people helps remind you that your challenging experience with one person is not all there is.
  • Practice gratitude – Remember the good things that fill your life.

There are more ways in which to ocean, to expand your container. Some of them may be unique to you, to what works for you. That’s the point: find out what clicks for you, what keeps your container as wide and expansive as the ocean, and as freely and abundantly giving, without any concern for which way the little fishes swim.

Art by the amazing Pascal Campion

Art by the amazing Pascal Campion