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Searching for answers

Don’t go outside your house to see the flowers.
My friend,
Don’t bother with that excursion.
Inside your body,
There are flowers.
One flower has a thousand petals.
That will do for a place to sit.
Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty:
Inside the body and out of it,
Before gardens and after gardens.
Kabir, a 15th Century Indian and Sufi poet

Finding the flower within

Knowing who we are and what we want is not something that tends to dominate our conscious everyday thinking.

I was confronted by this recently when a friend said to me; “What do you want Marica?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“What kind of job do you want? Where do you want to be living? What are your dreams?… ” The questions seemed endless.

I stared at her.

I thought about my response.

Guess what came out of my mouth?

“I don’t know,” was all I could manage.

I didn’t feel very good about this. Why hadn’t I worked this out yet? After all I am 50 years old. I have lived through many life challenges, worked hard to achieve my goals, and yet here I was saying I didn’t know what I wanted in terms of my life today and what lay ahead of me.

“How on earth am I going to work this out?” I asked myself.

“I wonder if anyone knows for sure or is this all part of some kind of lifelong process? Is this a part of the learning in the lessons of life?”

I continued to ask myself questions.

I realised I needed to set myself on the pathway towards finding some responses, if not the answers.

“Haven’t I been doing this all my life?” I wondered.

“Well, yes, but what have you come up with if all you can say is I don’t know,” said a voice from within.

I couldn’t understand why I didn’t have a more viable response than “I don’t know”. I did know. Why couldn’t I voice it? I have tackled many big life questions over the years. I have become stronger, wiser, and richer as a person because of this. I did have thoughts about what I wanted but I couldn’t articulate them. The words wouldn’t come out. Maybe I have been fooling myself and I need to keep digging and delving.

I need to be able to say “I want …” with passion.

Every now and again something happens in our lives which makes us stop and think about these big questions and numerous others like them. We are either challenged by someone, we might have to make a decision which we find difficult, or some major (or even minor) life event propels these thoughts into our consciousness. We allocate some time to search for the answers but usually only for the brief period of time it takes for the particular ‘crisis’ that spurred it all on to dissipate. We then revert back to who we were, and the way we were, beforehand – either intentionally or unintentionally. Some changes may happen but all too often we fall back into the old and the familiar because it is easier.

Devoting the time to think about what we want for ourselves and our lives is never a waste of time – after all we need to take care of ourselves before we are any good to anyone else. I am always reminded of this as I travel while we are being told to put on our own oxygen masks before we tend to our child or someone else.

Searching for answers can be scary because we are required to confront the real person within. It is a time of personal truth and we don’t necessarily always like what we unearth. The great thing is we have the ability to change what we don’t like and embrace with all our hearts that which we love.

For some reason people always think that others have the answers to all their questions and that we are personally powerless in the quest to be who we want to be or to be who we were born to be.

Over the years I have come to learn that most of the answers lie within. The outside world provides information and can support us but we alone need to silence ourselves long enough to tackle that critical internal journey which will lead us to find out what we need to know. The challenge is to listen to what we learn and then to do something about it. If we take no action then we are no better than when we began.

I am constantly asking these big questions of myself but I struggle to find the answers. I naturally gravitate towards them at certain times when I stop to reflect on what has gone and what might be.

I struggle to find the answers because I don’t allow myself the necessary quiet or space for this quest. My head is always full of things and I am always rushing. Finding time to just be is something that is not easy for me. It appears as though I am not doing anything and I couldn’t possibly have that!

A friend recently directed me to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn. Then I noticed on another friend’s 43 Things page that he wanted to learn how to meditate and he had a link to the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. I was intrigued and I decided to do some exploring.

Connections always amaze me. As I searched I discovered my two friends were sending me a similar message.

Contemplative practices are methods incorporated into your daily life as a reminder to slow down, focus, and feel more connected to your self, your work, and your environment. They can help you stay calm and centered in the midst of the activity and distraction that fills everyday life.

“Yes, this is a bit of me,” I thought rather excitedly.

I read on …

Contemplative practices are practical, radical, and transformative.

The concept of contemplative practice is as old as the world’s religions. Every major religious tradition includes forms of contemplative practice, such as prayer, meditation, and silent time in nature. Many practices remain rooted in their religions, and others have grown in secular settings.

Some people find that movement practices, like yoga or tai chi, work best for them. Others find nourishment in still and silent practices, like mindfulness meditation. Some people find that practices rooted in a religious tradition … speak to their soul. Others take heart in simple rituals like taking a soothing bath or a morning walk in nature. Not all practices are done in solitude – groups and communities can engage in practices that support reflection in a group process.

We encourage you to discover for yourself how contemplative practice, in whatever form is best for you, can sustain your life and work.

I thought about blogging!

“Could I call writing in this space a contemplative practice?” I wondered.

This is my time. This is where I get lost and really connect with me and my voice. It is a creative and energising time for me as I think about what I am going to write about, research it, and then write it up. I am often surprised at the finished product – it often turns out to be nothing like I intended it to be when I began. I find words flow out of me. They surprise me.

I read what I have written and I think “Where did that come from?”

No one censors what I write. Sharing my thoughts with others also helps me. It reminds me I am not alone and that many others are trying to work all these things out for themselves as well.

Blogging is definitely one way in which I am seeking some of the answers. There are many others.

The Tree of Contemplative Practices

Activities not included on the tree (gardening, practicing a musical instrument, taking a bath) could be considered a contemplative practice when done with the intent of cultivating awareness, or developing a stronger connection with God or one’s inner wisdom.

As I looked at the branches of this tree I realised I am already engaged in a number of different forms of contemplative practice including the deep inner reflection that I don’t want to share with anyone but me.

I had to continue searching this website. I came across an interesting paper by Jon Kabat-Zinn where he outlines some of the transformative possibilities for individuals and society if engage the contempaltive mind:

The telephone, the transistor, and the home computer transformed the society by quantum leaps, driven by the extraordinary power of the enhanced connectedness made possible through the controlled channeling of electric current, and by the market forces such possibilities generated. Before that, it was the steam engine, the railroad, and the automobile, the harnessing of chemical and mechanical power.

The transformative effects on society of large numbers of people purposefully cultivating a more mindful and contemplative life are potentially as powerful, if not more so, than such technological advances in power and connectivity and the capabilities they give rise to. However, widespread adoption of contemplative “technologies” and their associated shifts in worldview will be very different, given their inner orientation and use of more subtle energies. For one thing, they offer scant opportunities for economic exploitation, which would be highly undesirable in any event. This does not mean that a widespread adoption of contemplative values and practices would not have profound economic and political benefits. I believe it certainly would.

In the past 150 years, human beings have learned to interact comfortably with machines and, in the past decade or so, with emerging information/digital technology. Many people are becoming computer literate on an operational level, and this skill is now being taught in the schools as fundamental to economic survival in the job market.

But, as a society or a culture, we have yet to come to grips with the profound and irreversible implications of such technological changes and their effects on the pace of life, the rate, amount and quality of information and images that human beings, even children, have to “process” in a day, the quality of our individual and family lives, the meaning and quality of our work lives and environments, and our greater political and cultural goals and social values to say nothing of our tremendous capacity for self and eco-destruction. All this technology, although itself potentially enhancing of connectivity and communication, is also alienating, intrusive, and isolating.

I would suggest that it is now time for society to turn attention to developing what we may call “inner technologies.” The untapped potential of the human mind for individual and collective creativity and wisdom has to be intentionally cultivated. It needs training of a certain kind (for example, as found in many contemporary consciousness disciplines) if it is to keep up with the precocious challenges of our technological advances without losing all sense of value and meaning in our individual and collective lives.

An inner “technology,” of which meditation in its most generic sense and most basic form (mindfulness) is the cardinal element, has the capacity to elevate our consciousness up to and beyond the challenges posed by our technological advances and harness them, as well as the power of the mind, for the greater good and harmony of all people and the planet. This capacity is built into a universal grammar of human psychology, I believe, just as our capacity for speech is built into our brain structure through a universal grammar/language instinct. Just as with language development, exposure and some training are needed in order to develop this capacity to its fullest extent. What is involved is basically a deep familiarity and intimacy with activity and reactivity of one’s own mind, and some competency in navigating through our mind moments and emotions with equanimity, clarity, and commitment.

A collective, continuously evolving vision of what we think we are doing and why, will serve us well as a resource of deepening clarity and motivation. Then, by paying careful attention to the details and making sure that our efforts reflect the wisdom and compassion which the topic of the contemplative mind represents, we will be building the inner counterparts of the telephone/transistor/computer. I believe that the rest will, in some profound way, take care of itself.

“So what?” you might well ask.

You have a choice – to ignore all of this, or to embrace the opportunity to ensure you allow for some form of reflection or contemplative practice into your daily routine. This has to be a deliberate choice, as it won’t happen if you don’t commit to dedicating the necessary time. There are many different ways you can do this as has been mentioned above.

Try making a daily appointment with yourself. This is your spiritual food. You will be nurturing your whole being as a result.

Search within for the answers to those questions that you may struggle with. You are a powerful resource. Don’t think everyone else knows what’s best for you or that they have all the answers. Seek advice, listen and learn, but use this information to help you decide what you really want. Take back the control and decide for yourself. You can make a difference to your own life.

Even when you think you have found the answers to your questions many people do not have the strength to do anything about them. Taking action is an important part of the process. Turning your thoughts into words is one action. Writing them down is another action. Doing something to make these thoughts and words become a reality is another action. This is when things can start to get really exciting.

By the way, remember that there is not one answer to anything. Sometimes we never find the answers to our questions. This is because we were never meant to. It is the process we go through that is far more important. This is where we learn what we truly need to know and where we discover who we really are.

The search is far more enlightening than any answer could ever be.

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