Thursday, April 30, 2015

What weeds are teaching me. A gardener's tale

Dandelion season is upon us. The first flush of dandelions appearing in fields and on verges is a cheerful sight ... but on my allotment they are a pernicious weed.
Difficult to get rid of too. If you try to mow them down, the cut flowers will still produce seeds ...

So today I spent 2 hours picking hundreds, no thousands, of dandelion heads. Painstakingly. Tedious, tedious work. And it got me thinking.

I am someone who easily lets negative thoughts run away with her. Somehow "being prepared for the worst" turns into ruminating about every possible thing that could possibly go wrong at every possible moment.

So picking dandelion heads became a metaphor for dealing with negative thoughts.
Rather than worry about the many hundred dandelions which were still there, I tried to remind myself that every single dandelion I had picked was one which would not go to seed and produce more dandelions.

Now, for dandelion read negative thought.
Every negative thought which I manage to nip in the bud and stop from growing bigger and stronger is one less negative thought I will ruminate over and allow to occupy my thinking.
It requires constant vigilance and awareness - recognising the emerging thought and putting a stop to it.
By distracting yourself from it; by thinking about something positive; by finding constructive solutions ... whatever it is that works best.

By the time I had finished, the plot looked like this. Not a cheery yellow in sight!
Now, I know fine well that next week, or even tomorrow, some dandelions will be back.
But there will be fewer of them!
And over time the first flush of them will ease and their emergence will reduce.

In the same way, negative thoughts will lessen, if you keep on top of them.
Don't get me wrong, there will be times and seasons when you will be more susceptible to negative thinking. Because of your frame of mind at the time or because of circumstances or because of other factors.
Negative thoughts will sneak up on you, and sometimes you will find it easier to deal with them than others.

Don't beat yourself up about it. Keep plucking.
The more you weed, the more you can grow the pretty things.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day!

So it is Earth Day today.
Like all special days it leaves me thinking that one day per year really doesn't get us anywhere.

Let us learn to appreciate this beautiful world we live in, learn about its amazing diversity and interconnectedness.

Let us understand that we are not detached from this planet, but a part of it.

And that it is our duty to care for it.

Let us tread lightly! Every day.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Non-dualism and social media

Once in a while I love to take time out from the daily grind to make time to go within myself, ponder, search and see what I can find. For me, Lent, Ramadan and Advent offer convenient opportunities to do just that.

This year I took Holy Week off. I had some annual leave remaining, which needed to be taken before the end of March, and the last week before Easter seemed a good time for some soul-searching.
And while I was in the mood, I decided to take some time off from social media too - one of my greatest distractions.

It so happened that during this week I met two men who had quite an influence on me, and who might just turn out to nudge me into a new direction.

The first one was Judas Ischariot.
I had agreed to take part in a reflective church service on Monday evening, one in which each of us read/played the part of one of the six characters from Stephen Cottrell's book 'The Nail' - Peter, the Centurion, Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas and Mary Magdalen.

As soon as I read the parts, I knew Judas was for me. I loved Cottrell's Judas. He was a man of conviction, a man with political hopes and dreams. He wanted the best for his people - freedom from the Roman occupation and from oppressive religious leaders. He wanted political change and his frustration grew when Jesus, the man he believed had what it took to bring that political change, did not live up to his expectations.
Judas, who was so sure that his way was the right one that he took drastic action in the desire to make it happen.

"It is not more love this world needs, but change, leadership, action!" is what he said.

Judas reminded me of some zealous political activists I have met over the last year or so, some who are convinced that the end justifies the means - no matter how drastic.
Judas also reminded me of myself, when I am blinkered and unable to see the other side, take the wider view or stand in the shoes of the other.
I loved Judas. So human, so misguided, so unable to see beyond his own small mind. So much like all of us!
Playing Judas made me cry, and it made others cry too.

Life is complicated and I think it is in our human nature to try and simplify it by taking a black-and-white approach. Much easier to see things as black or white; right or wrong; good or bad - definitely much easier than delving into the intricacies and complications of the finer details and underlying factors.
I'm not usually a very black-and-white kind of person. My world tends to be in shades of grey (perhaps even more than 50) ... although I sometimes secretly envy the black-and-white types, because I think their lives must be easier and less complicated.

But I am reminded that when I step away from the right-or-wrong thinking, I almost inevitably learn new things and gain new insights.
For example, any hardened views I might have had about issues like sexuality, abortion or assisted suicide were impossible to sustain and either crumbled completely or at least softened, when I allowed myself to see the other side, hear the stories, walk in the footsteps of another.

And I like it that way!
Easy answers are often, well, just too easy. Too simplistic!
I prefer the answer being "There is no definite answer".

Cue to introduce Richard Rohr, the other man I met this week. Richard is a Franciscan monk from the US, who describes his Christian stance as "being on the edge of the inside". That's a good place to be.
From Richard I learned a name for the thing I have been feeling for a long time - non-dualism.

Social media in particular is full of dualistic thinking. And it's so easy to fall into it ourselves. So easy to share that simplistic meme, because it is pithy and witty - without querying or challenging its validity and truth.
So easy to join the crowds which declare that...
... atheists are immoral.
... Muslims are terrorists.
... theists are stupid and incapable of rational thought.
... Tories are heartless selfish toffs.
... liberals are lefty pinko communists.
... men are sexist.
... feminists are lesbians.
... gays want to convert us all to homosexuality.
... Catholic priests are pedophiles.
... etc, etc...

Even as I write this list, it becomes easier and easier to go down that road of outrageous, unreasonable and spiteful statements.

Non-dualism - as I understand it so far - encourages us to take a situation, an event, a moment as it is; to consciously try to not give it a label and make a judgement - at least not straight away.
We love to compartmentalise. Are you right or wrong; good or bad; a friend or an enemy? Are you on my side or against me?
What if it is a whole lot more complicated than that?
What if you can even love Judas? Understand his motivations and desires? And empathise?

Where does all that leave me with my involvement in social media? I honestly don't know.
I know that I am tired of being exposed to angry and often hateful tweets and memes.
I know that having taken some time out has been refreshing, almost healing.
I may have to change how I use social media.
I may have to lose a whole bunch of friends and followers.

Perhaps I should be non-dualistic about this and give myself some time to consider it.

For those of you wanting to hear about Richard Rohr and have two hours spare, can listen to his interview here.