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Showing posts from May, 2012

Nature, celebration and the value of community

Community woodlands are being planted – living legacies to future generations – and soon jubilee celebrations will begin. In a society where competition has been the religion for so long, it is reassuring to see that we can still celebrate our capacity for co-operation and community.

In one of my son’s favourite stories, Stone Soup by Jon Muth, three monks come across a town where people have become distrustful, selfish, frightened and divorced from the world. The monks start to make stone soup, and the townsfolk become curious. When the trio suggest adding carrots, a woman fetches some. Then one by one each person contributes something different, and soon they are all enjoying a feast with music, dance and storytelling. By honouring one another's unique gifts and learning to share and co-operate, the people rediscover their sense of community.

“Community” is precious on so many levels: families, friends (Facebook and face-to-face) and neighbours, co-workers and customers, shop sta…

Our brains are so much bigger than we think

Our brains are possibly the most baffling, mysterious, amazing, incredible, impossible organs ever to have evolved – and they are far bigger than we think.
Let me start by inviting you to imagine yourself standing in a beautiful, sunny garden caressed by a gentle breeze. The whisper of wind on your face has kissed millions of cheeks before; it is born of gases that have swirled around the world since before humans walked the earth. The warm touch of sunlight has travelled across space about 93 million miles (slightly fewer in January and more in July); we absorb it through our skin and, via food, through our digestive system. In the lilac’s scent is the blossoming, so far, of evolution – of the flower, of our ability to smell it, and of the many species that have appeared and transformed or disappeared as nature explores alternative forms of life. And in each lung full of sky, we breathe in harmony with the earth – the oxygen (about 20pc of what we inhale and 16pc of what we exhale) a …

The mind is a garden

I am the garden
I am the scented rose, the bumblebees' hum; I am the spider weaving her delicate song;
I am the breath of air, the wind in the trees; I am the soft mushrooms pushing through leaves;
I am the grass between toes, the embrace of the Earth; I am the sun soaking through the skin of rebirth.
I am the garden I roam, this nemeton, this moment, right here, I breathe with my soul and am never alone.

By Andrew Smith, 2011

I was sitting the other day, just sitting, and letting thoughts wander in and out of my mind like visitors to an art gallery, when a robin landed on a fence post.
The wind was combing his feathers up towards his chin like a rippling ruff, his head flicked from side to side; then he darted off into the breeze, lifted by natural forces invisible to the naked eye. He flitted around the garden, from lawn, to post, to clothes line, to wind-ruffled tree. It was a joy to watch.
The mind, I find, is often like this robin, flitting from one distraction to another. In fact, the mind is…

Clear out the drain - unclog the mind

I was clearing out the drain again the other day. It’s not the most pleasant of tasks but it’s necessary and only gets blocked from time to time.
As I was scooping out the rotting leaves, vegetable matter and other smelly detritus, it struck me how very similar this task is to the task of developing our spiritual (or psychological, if you prefer a word with fewer religious connotations) potential as fully awake human beings.
One feature of the evolving human brain which seems to set it apart from other animals is that it has developed self-awareness: animals can think but humans can think about themselves thinking. In short, we can consciously examine our lives. The Greek philosopher Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”
It is perhaps when life goes unexamined that all the detritus of our day-to-day annoyances, disappointments, frustrations, past hurts, resentments, etc get backed up and block the natural flow of our minds. Left to build up, our anger…

Religion is knowing which shoe you took off first

After many years of study of religious texts and long nights of revision, a young monk felt ready for his final examination. He approached his teacher’s room with confidence, took off his shoes as was the custom, entered and sat down. “I am ready,” said the student eager to impress. “I know our holy writings off by heart, chapter and verse, and can recite any passage for you. Ask me any question.” The teacher pondered for a moment and then asked: “Which shoe did you take off first?” The young monk was baffled.
Having been a student very similar to this one, I can’t help smiling whenever I think of this story. He had a head full of other people’s words but little awareness of his own experience of the world.
There is no doubt that books, including religious ones, have brought great benefits to humanity, but it is a great tragedy when people cling blindly and without question to a particular book or set of beliefs, then try to impose them on themselves and/or on others.
“Idealism is a…

Celebrating the seasons of our lives

Spring is in full song, the pulse of life is quickening – the land, leaning towards and kissed by the youthful sun, is blooming to his soft caress: summer is not far away.
May Day – also known as Beltane – is regarded by many as the climax of spring and the turning of the wheel of the year into summer. Of course, as I’ve written before, nature has her own calendar and I shall be looking for the hawthorn to blossom before I feel that summer is truly under way. This time of year is traditionally an opportunity to celebrate and make merry because the hard work of preparing the ground and sowing the crops has mostly been done, and the growing tide has begun – when our attention turns more to tending and nurturing what has been planted.
It can also be seen as representing the turning of the wheel of life from spring childhood into the adolescence and young adulthood of early summer – that first awkward awareness of our emerging sexuality and its development into full flowering. Being on …