Thursday, 23 December 2010

You Cannot Be Serious

"Dullness is the coming of age of seriousness." Oscar Wilde.

Today was a funny day. It’s almost Christmas, a time for this, a time for that. In fact, almost everyone seems to have something to say about what Christmas should be a time for. A time for reflection, a time for religion, a time for many serious things. 

Well for some strange reason, today I just didn’t feel serious. I found myself laughing at many silly little things, seeing the humour in things that weren’t even really funny, everything seemed to amuse me. 

I sat down to write a very serious post on how we are all just guests in this world, but no matter how hard I tried, today I just didn’t have space for seriousness. Maybe that post will appear sometime later.

I think much of the time we are way too serious and often it doesn't help matters. We’re in a unique position as humans, we all know our fate, there’s no big surprise. So really there’s no need to be so serious as if everything really mattered so much. 

We brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it, but it would be good to leave behind the echoes of our laughter. Many of the ‘serious’ problems we have in the world are just that, problems from being too serious.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Look Both Ways

"Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us." Hal Borland.

A rabbit’s vision is something quite amazing. Apparently the size and position of its eyes mean that it has a field of vision which spans almost 360 degrees. That makes it one of the few creatures that can look forward and back at the same time.

In general I tend to write a lot about living in the present so just for a change I thought I’d write something about looking forward and back, or looking both ways.

It’s traditional in December to start thinking about the old year that’s passed and the new one that’s soon to arrive. 

For some it can be a time of celebration and for others a time of dejection. Like most people I’ve experienced both but with the benefit of hindsight, I do think that wherever we are right now, we can use this time in a positive way. 

So I’d like to share a very simple exercise we can use for looking back at the old year and forward to the new one.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Courageous Seed (multimedia version)

For some time I've wanted to represent the 'courage of the seed' visually and the other day I came across the perfect footage, shot in time-lapse by Neil Bromhall. So here it is. You can read the original post on which it's based here.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Stand by Me

"No matter who you are, no matter where you go in your life, at some point you're going to need somebody to stand by you." Roger Ridley - Musician.  

An amazing video put together Playing for Change - an organization that brings people together from all over the world through their music.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Walking on Ice

“We all live amid surfaces, and the true art is to skate well on them.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

During the last ten days or so, England has been in the grip of a severe cold snap. Temperatures have hit -18 degrees and stayed well below zero even during the day. 

We’ve had more snow than I’ve ever seen here in my lifetime. It’s almost as if someone just cast a sparkling white blanket over the entire world. All that snow and freezing weather has caused quite a few problems.

Within a couple of days, the pavements turned into thick sheets of ice, compacted and polished by thousands of marching feet. That turned the normally routine act of walking into something of a mission. I hit the ground on more than one occasion!

As I was walking I started to notice how different people deal with icy pavements. I noticed four different types of walkers.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


“Life is very short, and there's no time for fussing and fighting my friends.” John Lennon

Some of my favourite quotes from the great man.

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

"Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted."

"There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.”

"Reality leaves a lot to the imagination."

 “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life."

“I can't wake you up. You can wake you up. I can't cure you. You can cure you."

“Once a thing's been done it's been done, so why this nostalgia - I mean for the '60s and '70s, you know, looking backwards for inspiration, copying the past - how's that rock 'n' roll? Do something of your own. Start something new, you know? Live your lives now. Know what I mean?"

John Lennon 9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980

Image uploaded by Affendaddy

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

One Thing at a Time

The Student asked, 'What is Zen?' the Zen Master replied, 'Zen is doing one thing at a time.' Unknown

Today, as I walked along the snowy pavements for my usual 30 minute trek to work, I got a lot of things done.

In my head, I composed 5 e-mails, considered various responses and their likelihood and composed a further 15 replies depending on the nature of the response. 

At the same time, the sun, golden and smoldering was furtively edging above the horizon, casting a dancing beam of sunlight through the snow laden trees. I didn’t see it.

In my head, I talked with 3 people to get some important information, I made 2 phone calls and replied to 4 text messages. 

At the same time, I passed through the park and a plump red robin sung its merry tune with all its might, every warble an invitation to seek him out, to cast my eyes on this bundle of joy and feathers. I didn’t hear him.

In my head, I tidied my desk, I organized the files on my computer, I bought my lunch and had afternoon coffee. 

At the same time, my feet crunched on the soft snow, powder white, like sand on a paradise beach. With every step, I molded, squeezed and pressed new tracks on a virgin white landscape. My steps, I didn’t feel them.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Memory Maker or Moment Maker?

"Enjoy your memories...but don’t forget that memory is like salt, the right amount brings out the flavour in food, too much ruins it." Paulo Coelho

Several years ago I was visiting Paris for the first time and since no visit to Paris is complete without a visit to the spectacular Louvre, on my first morning I headed straight there.

I have to say I wasn’t disappointed, as I entered the courtyard of the Louvre Palace, with its magnificent architecture and sparkling glass pyramid, I knew this was a special place.

Once inside I headed straight for one of the main attractions, the original painting of the Mona Lisa. I went into a large room and saw a surprisingly tiny painting at one end housed in a glass cabinet and protected by a security guard.

In front of me was a melee of several hundred people with cameras and mobile phones held aloft as everyone tried to grab that precious snapshot, that precious memory. I dived in, camera first and flashed away until I was satisfied with my own tiny burred image, my own special memory, and then I moved on.

Later, that experience and a number of others made me realize something surprising:

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Throw out the New Year's Resolution - Make an Old Year's Resolution

“I'm going to stop putting things off, starting tomorrow!” Sam Levenson 

January the 1st, the first day of the New Year, and in my opinion probably the worst day of the year to start a new resolution. 

I know plenty of people completely disagree with me. In fact, so many people disagree with me that a whole tradition exists of starting a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ on exactly January 1st every single year. So I had better explain my slightly obscure reasoning.

When we’re trying to start something new or give up something old, it’s usually not easy. That’s why we haven’t managed it up until now and so we decide to throw our most powerful weapon at it, ‘The New Year’s Resolution’. How could anything possibly stand in its way? 

Friday, 3 December 2010

Just Dance

"All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.” Molière - French playwright and Actor

I think this is an inspirational clip. If you're not one of the 33 million who have apparently watched it, check it out. It's a great reminder that we are all unique, and yet, underneath we are all really very similar.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Art of Navigation

“Happiness is a direction, not a place.” Sydney J. Harris

I remember a friend of mine telling me that many years ago when he served in the Special Forces they used a special navigation technique.

When they were traveling through unfamiliar terrain at night, it was impossible to always know their exact position. So instead of plotting an exact route before setting out, they would study the map and look for two landmarks which marked the direction they wanted to travel.

The landmarks could be a railway track on one side and a river on the other for example. Then all they had to do to get to their destination was keep moving forward and keep within the railway track and the river.

Along the way they were free to explore anything of importance, safe in the knowledge that they were still on course.  

Thursday, 25 November 2010

"Worst day of life but best orange I ever had"

I wanted to share with you this excellent clip from the surrealist film 'Zen Noir' on the nature of change, impermanence and the interconnectedness of life. You will never look at an orange in the same way again!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness

"If you continue this simple practice everyday, you will attain some wonderful power. Before you attain it, it is something wonderful but after you attain it, it is nothing special." Shunryu Suzuki 

When I think of mindfulness, or perhaps the lack of it, I think of an excitable young sheepdog let loose in a field of sheep.

Chasing in every direction and driving the sheep into frenzy, the young sheepdog frantically searches out sheep, rabbits, people, sticks, and runs after every scent it catches on the wind. It knows it should be doing something it’s just a little confused as to exactly what.

Then there is the older and wiser sheepdog. It will simply sit quietly sniffing the air, catching the scent of everything that’s going on. Head to one side, ears up, observing, listening. Then, at the right moment, with thrilling speed and accuracy it will circle the flock and take them to their destination. 

For me, that’s the difference between a lack of mindfulness and mindfulness.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

How to be Different – realise we are all the same

"So I never look at human beings as the President or King or Prime Minister or beggar... in my eyes all are the same." 
His Holiness the Dalai Lama – Interview with Barkha Dutt

Individualism – it’s quite an interesting concept isn’t it? 
How we long to be different, to stand out from the crowd, to defend our individuality!

It’s always quite ironic when someone famous stats a new trend. Remember the David Beckham Mohawk haircut? At the time it was completely unexpected for a ‘clean-cut’ footballer to have such a hair style, completely individual. 

How ironic that before long, in our rush to be different, we were queuing at the hair dressers in our throngs asking for a Beckham Mohawk. A haircut is generally something quite harmless but I think it’s an example of something more serious, a vein which runs deeply within many of our modern cultures.

Our desire to be different and protect our individualism can lead to so many problems. It can make us suspicious of others, unable to form close relationships, defensive, unkind, uncaring, aggressive, ultimately it can even lead to all out war. And all it takes to avoid all those negative consequences is a slight shift of thinking.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Zen in the Mountains

“The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there” Robert M. Pirsig

A woman is leaving the city to live in the mountains. Enough is enough. Too many queues, too much rushing, too many distractions. Too many emails, too much traffic, too much noise. Not a moment’s peace. How can anyone be happy living like that? She is going to the mountains to meditate, to live off the land, to live with nature. When she gets there, then she’ll be happy!

A woman is leaving the mountains to live in the city. Enough is enough. Too much fetching water and firewood, too much work to feed her family, too much worry about getting sick. Too much loneliness, too much isolation, too much quiet. Not a moment’s pleasure. How can anyone be happy living like that? She is going to the city to work in a suit, to get food off the shelf, to live in house. When she gets there, then she’ll be happy!

Image courtesy of: Eljoja

Monday, 8 November 2010

Luck is Like the Tour de France

“Luck is like the Tour de France. You wait, and it flashes by you. You have to catch it while you can.”

Monsieur Dufayel in Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain

The Tour de France is a grand spectacle – the famous annual cycling race held in France, covers thousands of kilometers and lasts several weeks.

As a spectator, you wait and wait with great expectation and suddenly the pack of riders steams past in blaze of colour, whirling pedals and perspiration. If you get distracted at the wrong moment you miss it. All that's left of your moment of excitement is a few stragglers at the back of the pack.

Luck is a lot like that. I can think of too many lucky breaks that appeared on the horizon and just a moment’s hesitation was enough to see them already speeding off into the distance. You have to catch it while you can!

It seems most of us get our measure of luck but we need to seize it when it appears. When we see that first glimpse of colour through the bend in the road, we need to take hold of it with both hands.

Monday, 1 November 2010

"Only when we are so old, we are aware of the beauty of life"

This post is a little bit different but I wanted to share with you a short clip about the life of an extraordinary woman called Alice. Alice is about to celebrate her 107th birthday and her attitude to life is inspirational. 

No one can say it better then lady herself so I will leave you to enjoy - Alice you are an inspiration to us all! 

Editors note: Sadly the original 12 minute video has been removed from YouTube and replaced with a much shorter one which doesn't really do the story justice. You can read more about Alice's story here.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Three Ways to Make the Most of Our Freedom

"Hold your own, know your name, go your own way." Jason Mraz - Details in the Fabric.

Freedom! I sometimes think that’s a strange concept. Something that has been prized by humans for millennia, something to die for, to kill for, to sacrifice everything for – apparently! 

Many of us actually have more freedom than ever before. Freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom to vote on reality TV...etc.

Sometimes I think we’ve forgotten what that freedom actually means and why we even wanted it in the first place. 

It’s easy to become apathetic, to take it for granted and just drift through life without really ever standing for anything, without ever really exercising our freedom in a constructive way. Maybe we don’t even really think about our freedom and how precious it is until something threatens it. 

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Courageous Seed

Maple Seedlings "One isn't necessarily born with courage but one is born with potential." Maya Angelo

It’s perhaps an unlikely symbol of courage, the humble seed. Who would have thought that a simple seed is an almost perfect metaphor of courage?

Think about it for a moment. As it lies in the soil, encased in its hard shell, it could comfortably lie there forever. Packed into its tiny casing though, is a huge potential. Everything needed for it to break out and grow into a mighty tree, a tree that could give birth to thousands more seeds, a tree that could provide food and homes for the creatures of the forest. Right now though, it’s just a tiny seed.

When that seed feels the first drops of water filtering down through the soil and wetting its shell it has a choice; to stay in the safety and security of its hard shell, to stay in the world it knows, or to break out into the unknown in search of its true potential.