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Mindful Walking

“I know the Earth is my mother; a great living being.  I vow to protect the Earth, and the Earth protects me.”
This invitation by Thay to infuse our walking with loving mindfulness is perfect as the weeks of rain clear and we may be walking more than we have recently.  As we walk and remember our interbeing with all that we see, and notice the changes since our last walk, we can feel deep gratitude for the protection our great Mother Earth offers us, and strengthen our resolve to do what we can to preserve this precious planet.  
Thay also invites us to walk with full awareness of our love for the Earth:
 
“Each step can express your love for the Earth.  As you walk, you can say 
‘I love the Earth.  I am in love with the Earth.’”
“With both body and mind present as we take each step, when we are fully present, every step, placed gently, and mindfully on Mother Earth can bring us a lot of healing and happiness…
…We’re not stepping on something inanimate… in every speck of dust or grain of sand there are countless bodhisattvas… …we can be in contact through our feet with the Great Bodhisattva Mother Earth.  
     ‘With each step, I come home to the Earth.
With each step, I return to my source.
With each step, I take refuge in Mother Earth.’ “
This morning, I held 2 gazaneas, 3 buttercups, my child’s hat, her umbrella that she has become accustomed to bringing, the dog lead, and a small Koala.  I was so grateful that she had decided against also bringing her A2 sized laminated alphabet chart in the walk as she’d contemplated, as I did what I could to incorporate the essence of this beautiful practice into my daily life.  
 How do you enjoy the kissing our Mother Earth with imprints of reverence  and gratitude as you walk?
These quotations are from “Love Letter to The Earth” but I can’t check the date of publication as darling Miss Two is ‘reading’ it right now in this wonderful moment.

The illness and some cures

I’m sick of people referring to their kids as little terrors or monsters. Of expecting their 6 month old babies to self soothe. Of asking for advice on how to be able to get their kids used to less human connection.

I’m sick of seeing babies in prams with screens in front of them. I’m sick of hearing parents use power-over and fear tactics with their children. I’m sick of crappy gender stereotyping through clothes and toys.

I’m sick of parents asking on parenting groups about what “stuff” to buy for their kids.

I’m sick of the chilling impact on the early years of human life that capitalism and ecological terrorism is having. I’m sick of the pressure that keeping on top of basic living costs is putting on parents.

I want to see a world where parenting is regarded as THE most important job. Where the people doing it are supported financially and by community to do it to their best ability. Where everything we know about secure attachment, neuropsychology, and our deepest needs for love and belonging, informs the core motivation of how we raise our children.

I want to see extreme overhauls of our education systems so that teachers are upheld to support the biologically wired, natural and beautiful blossoming of innately intelligent, good, active humans.

I want to see a medical system that supports families to have great nutrition, sleep, and spiritual support before labels and prescriptions.

I want to see a world where we understand the value of unstructured time together. The value of parents having time to breathe, alone with themselves. The value of free play.

I want to live in a world where we know that we’re all in this together.

Not a big ask. And I know I’m not alone in this wish.

New tricks

Things feel pretty glum.

My old dog is getting wobbly in the hips, but today was another new day for him.

He showed the same optimism for a morning walk that he does every day, intuiting before any of us could tell, that the rainy grey morning was but a light cleanse of yesterday’s dusts before the blood-warming heat crept in.

He sniffed and pissed his way along the High St as if it was any other day; particularly pernickety about some zones in a way that we could never sense the importance of.

He patiently let the toddler proffer a freshly picked dandelion intrusively close to his veteran snout, and behaved with grace when a neighbourhood cat came slinking out onto the path for the “dendle” petting she knows is guaranteed when our trio passes by.

Glad, with so many birthdays behind him, for a short walk; home once more, he allowed his muscles a break from holding him in shape , as he sighed his large nobility into a pile on his indoor bed, trusting that things were in order, and a feed would come soon.

Despite more than twelve years passing since his rescue, his breakfast meets his gut like iron filings to a magnet, over almost as it began. But these are sweet days, and the toddlers rejected egg scraps will likely follow soon as seconds.

They do. Today is good.

Watching him, he spends his day in a similar way to how my grandfather used to self-admonishingly describe his own idle days on the other side of ninety. And I am glad for him, that he can feel the changes in the breeze, hear the conferences of the magpies, sense the light shifting as clouds move across his patch of vast sky.

Witnessing with calm the bubbling babbling bauble of golden curls and rapid synapses; an anchor of cool self-authority, the dog just is.

All day.

As he was yesterday.

Accepting.

Present.

Inhaling.

Exhaling.

How many pats today? A lovely brushing in the sun? The child incorporating his water bowl into her play? What is his agency in any of this? Could I manage life with the same serene dignity as he does, with so much beyond my control?

Do I?

If only.

Instead, I am stirred up, fragile in my tiredness, and vulnerable in the wake of decades of perceived misuse. Crashing after building hope that intelligent change was within reach. Needing just that little bit more resource to be able to stay in the lane of everything actually being ok. Perhaps even frightened, for what it represents, that the majority of our population have used our chance to choose, to hand the power to racist river-killing bigots.

I’m glad the dog doesn’t know. He feels my sad. And he soothes me in it by showing me that today is another day.

And tomorrow will be too.

Onward dear heart.

On striving

“Good better best, never let it rest, until your good is better, and your better best”.

Urgh. I wasn’t in scouts or whatever place this ditty comes from. But I was in a dysfunctional family with a judgy single mum who used to say this, and busted her nut to put me through dance training.

Ballet brain.

That conditioning instilled from early childhood that there is always more trying to be done.

So I’m 40. I’m raising a teen and a toddler. The teen is home schooling.

I’ve been admired, adored, adulated, and very bloody good in every job I’ve ever worked.

And yet, amongst all the life work I’m already doing, I’m trying to complete a Masters degree.

Why?

It’s hard work. It’s indoor, screen based work, on days where I put the little one into care, when the days outside beckon me into them, with garden chores, bird conferences, and subtle shifts in the breeze, all waiting to shower me with the joy of being alive.

But here I sit, generating feelings of inadequacy, panic, fatigue…

for what?

I am already great. I believe this.

I am already contributing.

I am already employable.

I am already tired.

I am already tired.

I have worked hard enough for long enough.

This one does not spark joy today.

Ode to Lady Grey

Oh subtle maiden, so light and ephemeral… are you even real?

Who was your namesake, that you are such a simple pleasure, in your blue Twinings paper gown, with an arousal so light that you tempt me a second time?

Today’s early start and less than well child take their toll as the afternoon wears on.

I urgently scrape the wet side of the last piece of Turkish delight through the icing sugar, hanging out for a hit of false zest.

Water, some nuts, perhaps a meedjool date – I know what I ought to do. And I do these things earnestly, I do. And in addition I crave my fragrant mistress, who seems to promise that she’ll never tell.

Please don’t, my afternoon darling. Don’t tell those neural pathways of the night that we have trysted so late in the day. Our romance depends on your discretion.

For you serve me not well as a morning friend. Not even your husband The Earl will do as a prelude to that exotic dark beaned stud who visits just once a day.

No. Your place in my heart is discrete as it is discreet. My 3:00-5:00 pm liaison. And in that window, I adore and revere you.

But ’tis on days such as these that I may seek your pleasure double.

And if I dare, and I know you won’t dissuade me; how can I know that you will let my True Love, Sleep, wrap her most sincere arms around me when I seek my nightly rest?

How can I trust you not to jostle with her, taking me in rapidly changing directions through diary entries past and future, through refrigerator contents, choreography ancient and yet unknown, through band names, song lyrics, childhood wounds, current concerns… oh light touch you may have; but I know your secret depth.

As I know what you give me in this moment; as the stretch in front of me gapes wide, alluding to another walk, (this time with teapot, unicorn, and boots on the wrong feet), more trampoline bouncing, some kind of cobbled together evening meal and the epic bath book etc end of things… of course I need your sweet whisper of courage.

The bergamot on your breath urging me to recall my optimism at sunrise; your warmth in my mouth softening my every cell to continue my gracious surrender to every moment’s gifts.

Your soft lips brushing mine, with a lightness even more delicate than that of your notoriously gentle husband. Oh my treasured friend, you know I favour you above herbal remedies, or excess sugar, or the sensible option of a protein snack.

So please, as we repeat our most adult dalliance within minutes of the last sip, I beseech you, as the kettle steams in anticipation of our second kiss of the afternoon; betray me not, as I lay me down tonight.

Let me find slumber deep and sweet, and your place in the front of the drawer you shall keep.

The Dawn Chorus

“Mummy! Where are my toes? Where’s Garden Bunny? Where’s my orange blanket? Where are Mummy’s toes?”

We are going through a phase of 4:00 am existentialism.

It’s ok. I quite enjoy the window it gives me into the workings of Little One’s blossoming mind… although, I am glad that my strategy of hugging her quietly through her musings seems to shorten her wakefulness, rather than turning it into a full blown discussion by responding to her queries.

Such a relief really, when she drifts back off to a peaceful sleep and I kiss her soft curls and listen in wonder to her easy breath…

And then: here come the thoughts.

And then: here come some more.

And now: here come the thoughts about how I’m having thoughts and therefore must be awake… and could be asleep… and would be better off asleep…

And there ends any chance of me getting back to sleep.

I have a bag of tricks to dip into at such times – yogic breathing, body scan, counting backwards, ‘lying down meditation’ (you know how when you’re in sitting meditation you sometimes drift towards zzz – trying here to transfer this phenomenon to horizontal plane)… anyway, there’s something about that time of day, when the trees are still still, and you know that even at the coast the first glimmer of light hasn’t yet hit; but if the brain is awake, it goes into alert. None of the tricks seem to work.

I can still relax and allow my body to rest; but am I really getting the true level of replenishment I need to keep up with my daytime self?

Today, I’d wondered this for long enough that I had begun to tune in to the very beautiful sounds of the day awakening.

I could hear the trees starting to breathe more deeply as the birds began to rustle themselves awake and whisper to each other that the light was changing.

I could hear morning dew twinkling.

I could hear the low clouds that had blanketed the night thin themselves out and release a gentle morning rinse upon the earth (and my clothesline of nappies).

I could hear twigs and leaves drop to the ground as the birds got more active.

And then the singing.

So much singing. With such jubilance and clarity. I was inspired to get up and see if I could magic up a cup of tea to enjoy while it was still hot.

Oh the light!

I’ve long considered my sixty year old Rose bush at dusk to be my absolute favourite play of light. But today was pretty freakin special.

All my lying down meditation had me well primed to really soak in the wonder of how every single day the sun comes up.

I watched, from my corner lounge in the corner windows as the golden glow rose up from the east, easily visualising the glimmer it would now be casting over the ocean.

I breathed deeply, integrating into all my cells the gratitude at having this delicious solitude; just me and the dawning day.

What a sublime treat.

Inside the house, my old hound snores, all is quiet from the children’s bedrooms. Incense smoke unfurls, and my tea cup is warm in my hands. This is it.

The very here and now.

“Mummy where’s Garden Bunny?”

Little footsteps carry a little voice down the hall towards me, and the moment I am in is richer even than the one before, as I scoop up a bundle of pyjamas and golden curls and we snuggle into the bliss together.

Lucky lucky me!

(Written in thirty second spurts throughout the morning, long after the sun and Little One had risen).

Happiness

Happiness
Is here and now
I have dropped my worries 
Nowhere to go, nothing to do 
I don’t need to hurry

Happiness 
Is here and now
I have dropped my worries
Somewhere to go, something to do
No longer in a hurry

How wonderful! That by the time we come to the end of the second verse in this simple song, it is such a real possibility!

We live in a time in the world where the footprints of hurry are causing pain to the earth, and to our collective consciousness. Hurry is such a contagious energy; and whilst there is a gentle movement growing to decline the invitation to be ever busy and in a hurry, it can still feel like it takes more discipline to do less than to say yes to all the opportunities that come to us.

When this song was new to me, I distinctly recall thinking “nowhere to go, nothing to do!!?! – what an absurd luxury!”. But really, what is absurd is that such a concept should seem like a luxury, not to mention an absurd one!

I love the Plum Village practice of having a “lazy day” each week; a day where we have a chance to catch up with ourselves in our bodies. At first unspiralling from the habit of having a very full diary was difficult, even uncomfortable for me. Life is so full of so many exciting opportunities to do, learn, see, talk, listen, meet, play… so many verbs, such limited time! 

But what is the quality of our experience when we are so preoccupied with cleverly slotting it all into the schedule, planning our route to the next thing whilst we are at the current thing? How available are we for the people we are with, for ourselves, when we are busily trying to manipulate time? Are we fully present at our appointment with life? Are we able to see that here, now, in the present moment, is the very pureland we are conditioned to be chasing?

I am really seeing a difference, thanks to this song, and the permission I needed to consider a lazy day as a valid thing to schedule; in how I parent a toddler with my youngest child now, compared to her older sister, 13 years ago. What a radical thing, to allow enough space in our day, that we can walk a block at toddler pace, enjoying instead of feeling frustrated and anxious about looking at tiny leaves, patterns in the pavement, shapes in the clouds. There is even enough time to be aware that my tea is there! 

How long does it take a toddler to walk a block? As long as possible!

Right now, my parenting is my teacher, my toddler is my bell of mindfulness. And I feel so grateful that her natural way of doing life waters the seeds of mindfulness that are planted in me from times when I could study the dharma more fully.

I remember standing in a very long queue in a busy Paris train station the day after a delicious week in Plum Village, and humming this song to myself as the queue slowly moved. For me, the songs of practice can act as short cuts to some of the essence of the teachings, and I really appreciate this!

I wonder how it is for you?