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Showing posts from April, 2012

Turn life's struggles into compost for the soul

“Let’s face it, sometimes life sucks.”
Unless you’ve lived a charmed life in which nothing has ever gone wrong, which is unlikely, I think we all recognize this observation by Zen teacher Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara (in one of her gently insightful talks on the Tricycle.com website). 
She adds: “One Zen master was asked about his experience of life and he said, ‘It’s not without joy; it’s like sweeping shit into a pile, then plucking out a precious jewel from within’.”
I was turning this thought over in my mind while turning the compost to make sure it rotted down well. It’s inspiring to watch how nature transforms those old apple cores, vegetable peelings, grass cuttings and leaves back into food for the vegetables we shall later eat. If you want to see the magic of science unfolding, just look deep into your compost bin, beneath the surface, and watch the worms at work – nature’s wriggly alchemists, turning base materials into gardener’s gold.
Our lives, like the seasons, are made up of …

Feeding others is only natural

This is a tale of two rooms. In each is a long table laid out with fabulous foods. In one room, a happy group of well-fed people sits around a table laughing and enjoying the food and one another’s company. In the other room, around a table piled equally high with delicious delicacies, sits a group of thin, hungry, grim-faced people.

There is just one rule in both rooms: each diner must eat with a spoon which is too long to feed him or herself. In the first room, everyone is sharing the meal and helping one another to eat. In the second room, the people are too greedy, mean, selfish, fearful or distrustful to feed their neighbour, and so they are all starving.

I heard this tale many years ago at a Christian youth group meeting: the person telling the story was using it to describe heaven and hell. It made a lasting impression – and you don’t need to be a Christian to appreciate its meaning.

Similarly, my mother once recalled her mother telling her the Garden of Eden was right here, no…

In search of two blades of grass the same

I love mowing the lawn. My job involves a lot of thinking, and the measured monotony of marching up and down the garden gives my mind a rest. It’s almost meditative.
Then there is the scent of cut grass bearing the promise of summer to come, the caress of a soft lawn on bare feet, and the satisfaction of a job well done. Having said that, I do like to leave part of our garden semi-wild – I think we all need a little wild beauty in our lives!
In fact, mowing the lawn recently reminded me of a different relationship with monotony in a story I read years ago – I can’t remember where, but in essence it went something like this:
Mary felt depressed. The fog of sadness had left the world seeming grey and dull. Apathy and boredom had drained life of its colour. She went to a counsellor, poured out her heart and the counsellor listened attentively. When her session came to an end, he said: “I have some homework for you.” “Oh?” gasped Mary, who had not had homework to do since her children left …

Helping the world a mouthful at a time

“I just don’t want to eat an animal that’s standing there inviting me to,” said Arthur, “it’s heartless.” “Better than eating an animal that doesn’t want to be eaten,” said Zaphod.
This scene – from Douglas Adams’ The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – sowed the seed, about 30 years ago, that led to my first step on a bumpy journey into the often ignored world of the conscience. It’s an unsettling world we perhaps spot out of the corner of our eye but pretend not to see, or an inconvenient world we may rail against rather than sit with the discomfort of being able to help, but unwilling to do so.
We are not saints, and we don’t have to be. But I believe it does serve us well to consider, at least now and again, the potential consequences of our beliefs and actions.
The conscience is not an overbearing morality with which to beat ourselves or others, but a way of discovering the extent of our ever-evolving compassion, to be awake to the moral challenges as they present themselves. Each…