Listen. Can you hear it right now?

BuddhaOur culture is one which is geared in many ways to help us evade any need to face this inner, silent self. ~ Thomas Merton

Dunk, marinate, drizzle, dress.

These are the words written on the bottle of olive oil standing on our red-painted kitchen shelves. They just caught my eye as I drank some water before making my way over to my laptop.

They caught my eye, and then they caught something else in me. I sounded the words silently in my head, ‘hearing’ the consonants, the rhythm, the opening and closing of the vowels. Dunk, marinate, drizzle, dress. They have a music to them, before you even consider their meaning. The physicality of dipping in a ripped off chunk of baguette, or patterning a bowl of risotto with golden glistening strands. The green aroma. The taste.

Most of us are saturated with words and images in our daily lives. This constant arrival of adverts, conversations, photos and gossip means that we don’t allow space for individual phenomena to resonate. Various inputs bleed into each other and take up space at the surface before we briskly move onto the next thing. We don’t taste things properly. We don’t observe the slow ripples that new ideas or landscapes make in us, blossoming outwards in at least three dimensions.

Of course, as Merton says, this also helps us to avoid looking at ourselves, paying attention to the parts of us that need attention. When we hear the music, we hear the dissonance as well as the sweet harmonies. The sound can be like fingernails on a chalkboard.

But what we’re missing! Four words on an unsexy plastic oil bottle can point us towards the beauty in the universe, if we allow them to speak to us. The line of dust on my fireplace. The high-pitched splish of washing-up water kissing the floor. The way my husband’s glasses have slid to the tip of his nose as he smiles at the light coming from his tablet.

Luminous.

Pause for a moment. Listen. What can you hear? What can you see? Swish it around in your ear, your eyes, your mouth. Is it music yet?

(I sent this out as a newsletter – if you’d like to sign up you can do so here.)

A new life

Carpet 1So many things have happened since I last wrote nearly two years ago – where do I begin?

Things are always in a process of change, but this is more true of some periods of our lives than others. Running a temple, we have discovered, involves a rather steep learning curve!

Life is good here – with our growing sangha, our residents, our beautiful garden, our three cats and two rabbits. We’re learning the importance of a rest day, and I started painting. We’re involved with our organisation nationally, but we also have time to attend to all the little things that need attending to here. We welcome new people and say goodbye to some of our old friends. We practice in our shrine room, and we sit in front of the Buddha with the people who live here to start our days.

There’s lots of stories I could tell you, and maybe I will, but for now I wanted to say ‘I’m still here’ and thank you for stopping by. Thank you.

Everything is changing for us (& how it could change for you too)

Bredon HouseSoon, Kaspa & I are going to move into this beautiful place in the heart of Malvern.

We are going to run it as a Pureland Buddhist temple. There will be a shrine room & four residents & two more floors cut into the hills & a view over the Severn valley that knock your SOCKS off.

In April this year, I had a tentative conversation with Kaspa about not just getting a permanent building for our Buddhist sangha in Malvern to use, but living in this building ourselves. Making it our home – creating a sacred space and welcoming people in.

At the same time the Trustees of our little Buddhist organisation had already started discussing selling the temple we’ve had in London for many years.

We put in a proposal. It was agreed that some money would be made available to us, maybe in a year or two.

A few weeks later, this June, one of our sangha asked us if we were ‘looking at houses yet’ and we said no, it was way too early – she said that was a shame as their friends were selling their 10 bedroom B&B. We looked at the picture and imagined living there and laughed at our audacity. It looked magnificent. We guessed it would be way out of our budget, and anyway it was far too soon to sell in London.

Two weeks later the Trustees walked into the property and fell in love with the view, the elegant staircases, the tiered garden. They decided to buy it.

So what advice do I have for making your own dreams come true?

We’ve had a huge amount of luck. We’ve got plenty spare – contained in this email if you need it.

All the clichés do help. We’ve put in a lot of hard work, building up our sangha in Malvern for three years on a voluntary basis. We listened to our hearts and took what they were saying seriously. We took small actions consistently. I confess to not being very patient, but it does help if you are. We’ve weathered some difficult bits already (there will be more to come!) without giving up.

But here’s what felt most powerful, and surprised me. My dream came true faster when I got out of the way. When I stopped trying to decide exactly what form this project should take, and allowed the Universe to show me the way instead. When I stopped trying to micromanage everything and instead trusted more.

If it was down to me, we’d be in a much smaller centre out in the countryside. We definitely wouldn’t have any residents. The Universe (Buddha, God) often has much bigger plans for us than we have for ourselves. Plans we’re not entirely sure we agree with at first, until we grudgingly admit how much better things are this way.

What would happen to your dreams if you held them more lightly, and let the Universe help you?

We’re not out of the woods yet – everything can and often does go wrong with house purchases. But whether it’ll be this building or another one, the temple already exists. It will be called Amida Mandala – named by our Buddhist teacher Dharmavidya David Brazier, and without whom none of this would be happening. If you would like to be a Friend of Amida Mandala, just email satya@satyarobyn.com with ‘friend’ as the title and I’ll add you to our monthly newsletter so you can keep up with our news. Maybe one day you’ll come and see us there.

We’d love to be in by the beginning of December, for our annual Bodhi retreat… which is cutting it VERY fine. Maybe you could send us some of your luck!

Go gently. _/\_

*

If you’re reading to take some action on your dreams, try Kaspa’s self-study e-course, 31 Days of Positive Action. With the 31 daily emails and accompanying material it gently holds you by the hand and helps you move forwards – one step, then another…

You do not have to be good

Angel by Ron MueckAll week my husband has been on Buddhist business in India.

I had planned a solitary retreat day on Monday. I had it all worked out – virtuous food, no television, reading holy books, gazing wistfully into the distance as I contemplated the great mysteries of life… you know the sort of thing.

Here’s how my retreat day actually looked. Glued to email and Facebook. Far too many muffins. Trashy television (I’m ashamed to tell you what I watched). Agitated. In denial. To bed too late, fizzing with caffeine from all the chocolate I’d guzzled. 

Before I went to bed I emailed Kaspa a long confession, detailing the extent of my failure. When I woke in the morning he’d sent me a single line. 

“You don’t have to be good.”

We think we do. We think that in order to be acceptable, we need to try harder. Do more spiritual practice. Be nicer. Build up multiple passive income streams. Post more beautiful photos of our beautiful lives on Facebook. Get rid of all those snitty and mean-spirited thoughts. Work out every last psychological tangle. Improve improve improve!

We don’t have to try and be good. We just need to notice what is there, offer it up, and turn towards the light. 

We can be curious too – that helps. Oh, I’m eating another muffin. Oh, I seem unable to stop myself from checking my email. What is that about? Does this relate to the dream I had last night where there was garbage covered over with plastic? 

What process am I currently engaged in? Where is my soul heading? How can I be kind to it as it transforms? How can I be more patient, more understanding?

Oh, I’m checking email again. There’s a feeling in my stomach too. Is it loneliness?

Let me remind you – real change is slow. Deep down transformation – not the change of affirmations and stuck-on smiles. For it to happen, we need to get out of the way. It’s counter-intuitive, I know. But it’s a great relief. We can hand it all over, and get on with the job in front of us. Do the washing up. Call a friend. Write in your journal. Weed the garden. Chop wood, carry water. 

In the meantime, you do not have to be good.

True grace comes when we let go of this endless self-building project and allow the love of the universe to enter us. It’s just there – take your eyes off yourself for a minute and you’ll start to feel it.

Namo Amida Bu _/\_

*

Here is Mary Oliver reading the beautiful poem from which the title of this email is taken. Much gratitude to her, for her luminous and loving presence in the world. The image is ‘Angel’ by the amazing Ron Mueck (check his work out here). 

And here are the links if you’d like to study with us – despite adding a group back in we’re keeping the fee for essay, weekly exercises, daily emails & group membership at the self-study price of £25/$40 rather than the old price of £50/$80. Kaspa will be running Eastern Therapeutic Writing looking at getting things done & resolving difficult questions, and I’ll be exploring praise, clear-seeing, perseverance & faith with Writing & Spiritual Practice

Book sale

Small Kindnesses

BOOK SALE.

Treat yourself (or a friend) to a signed copy of your favourite novel of mine. Email me: satya@satyarobyn.com. First come first served!

All books £8 including postage, or two for £14 – to be paid by Paypal. The prices are for UK folks – if you’re in the US or elsewhere I can post for an extra £5.

2 x Small Kindnesses (about Leonard the reluctant detective)
6 x Afterwards (the new novel where April tries to run a marathon & find meaning along the way)
4 x The Letters (Violet who receives mysterious letters)
3 x Thaw (Ruth decides whether or not to carry on living)
2 x A Year of Questions: slow down & fall in love with life
2 x A Blackbird Sings (our exquisite 2nd small stones anthology)
1 each of ‘Fiona Robyn’ copies of The Most Beautiful Thing, Small Kindnesses & Thaw

You can read more about all these books by clicking above or look on Amazon for reviews. Thank you!

Cat poo & enlightenment

When slugs attackThis morning I led people in kinhin – walking meditation – v e r y slowly around our garden. 

We stepped through the dew-laden grass taking in the purple spikes of erysimum, the sugary scent of the sweet-peas and the giant red skirts of the poppies. 

If you haven’t had your breakfast yet, you might want to stop reading at this point.

Yesterday we discovered that our cats all had worms. They’ve taken their medicine now, but it had already upset their little tummies. We scooted around the garden last night, clearing up all the poorly-cat poo we could find. It was not pretty. I tried to bury it all under a bush, but it still stank.

This morning, as my unsuspecting Buddhist colleagues followed me in silence, I was on the look-out for any fresh poo. There were copious amounts. My first thought was, ‘it is my job to lead these people away from the poo’. 

And then I thought again. As a Buddhist priest, is that really my job? To pretend that our garden (and life) is all weed-free and fragrant? To protect people from the poo?

At first I wondered if I ought to be leading people towards the poo instead. But, in my experience, there is enough poo in life without having to point it out. They’ll stumble across it themselves sooner or later.

And so, what is my job?

To step gently through the garden. To notice the iridescent water-drops on the white papery sun roses, and to watch the slugs as they drag their slime train behind them. To be present. To connect with the world. To love everything.  

Sometimes we have a mini-enlightenment experience when we truly encounter the twirling birdsong sprinkled through the morning air. Sometimes enlightenment is when we step in a big steaming pile of shit.

Deep bow _/\_ 

(If life has been handing you more poo than usual, you might want to try our Writing Our Way Home self-study e-course Writing Towards Healing. Or, to point you towards enlightenment, 31 Days of Waking Up.)

What I did before breakfast

Poppy in the RainBefore breakfast, I clipped dead poppy heads.

We have a whole choir of luminous orange poppies out the front of our house. When we first moved in I found them over-bright, brash, but I’ve come to my senses now. They wave their glorious flags for a day or two before the petal tatters float to the ground, leaving stems tipped with a black cross.

New buds are emerging all the time – a hundred of them – and I like to clip the spent stems to make way for them.

Last year I attacked the stems with my secateurs, overwhelmed by the task ahead of me, holding bunches of three or four at a time and clipping off more than a few buds by mistake. As I worked I felt pressed for time and slightly grumpy.

Today, I took my time. I snipped each sturdy stem individually. I noticed that the old stems were a different colour – everso-slightly more yellow than grey-green. I was accompanied by humming bees who breakfasted on the blooms that were out. I chanted quietly as I worked, straightening up to say hello to the dog-walkers, to nod at the teenagers on their way to school.

During breakfast, I had a tinge of familiar guilt-and-panic. I’d been lazing around all morning – I should hurry up and get to work!

And then I remembered that I’d actually spent three quarters of an hour working already, doing a job that was on my list of things to do. By five past nine, I’m already most of the way through this blog post.

When we change, the part of us that behaves in the old way can kick up a lot of fuss. It wants us to stay the same. It thinks it’s helping – we probably learnt our old behaviour in order to keep ourselves safe, or alive. Entering into new territory always makes us feel vulnerable – we really don’t know if we will be okay. Imagine belonging to a tribe who’ve done a ritual every morning, going back generations, to make the sun comes up. Easier to do the ritual than risk it, isn’t it?

Is it?

The twinge this morning was from the part of me that feels like I must work hard and feel stressed in order to earn enough money and look after myself and be safe. This must-work-hard part is feeling pretty threatened by this new state of being – this relaxed and trusting way of being in the world.

I am trying to be kind to it – reassuring it, asking it to trust me, to just wait and see. It’ll continue to have panics, and sometimes it will push me back into my old behaviours. That’s okay – change takes time. And if I can get out of the way, change is marvellously inexorable.

What parts of you are ready to change? How can you stand aside and let yourself be transformed?

*

If you’d like to receive these posts in your inbox, you can sign up here.

Poppy in the Rain by John ‘K’ with gratitude

Am I going to disappear? Mushy insides & new beginnings.

beautiful morningThis year, my insides started turning to mush and rearranging themselves.

I feel less driven by money and more pulled by curiosity. Less driven by busy-work and more pulled by heart-work. Less driven by fear and more pulled by love.

Things are changing as a consequence, Kaspa & I are offering more local classes and services to our Buddhist group and to others. We’ve stopped running online courses. There is a potentially huge local project hovering on the horizon.

I find myself feeling less and less sure about what I want to say on Facebook or Twitter, and why. I never know quite who I’m talking to. I am still terribly prone to getting caught in the sticky web of faux-connection and faux-validation. I question the value of online interactions, which are so often squeezed in between a flutter of clicking and scrolling.

And so. I am going to see what it feels like to live without social media. Until September, and then we’ll see.

Of course, I’d like to have my cake and eat it. I don’t want to lose the connection I have with all the good people I’ve met online, or the old friends who occasionally post a photo of their children or their holidays, or ask me how I am.

And so what I’d like to ask is that, if you would like to stay in touch with me, let’s connect in some other way. If you have something to say or ask or share with me, drop me an email at satya@satyarobyn.com. Text me on 07900 605055. Sign up to this newsletter to hear about my books and my life, and this newsletter if you’d like to come along to something we offer locally. Visit Malvern and let’s have a cup of tea.

Will I disappear? Will you disappear from me? Maybe. Let’s see. It’s going to be an interesting experiment.

Now, I’m going to go outside. I hear there’s a whole world out there.

PS. I haven’t had much to do with my insides rearranging themselves. Something else is in charge. God, Amida Buddha, the unfolding of the Universe… whatever it is, it seems that I can trust it. My plan is to keep on stepping aside and letting it show me the way.

*

‘beautiful morning’ by Hammington Photography with thanks

“I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living…”

ThawMy most powerful novel, Thaw – available now with 75% off on kindle on Amazon UK & US.

These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides. The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I’m giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I’m Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I’m sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat — books you have to take in both hands to lift. I’ve had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I’ve still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about — princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad’s snoring was.

I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say, ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for,’ before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.

*

Thaw

Available now (with 75% off today & tomorrow) on kindle on Amazon UK & Amazon US or in paperback on Amazon UK & Amazon US.

Thirty two-year-old scientist Ruth White is looking for a reason to carry on living.

Lonely and stricken by grief, she gives herself three months to decide whether to go on beyond her thirty-third birthday and begins to record her thoughts in her daily diary.

When Ruth meets the eccentric Red, an artist who Ruth commissions to paint her portrait, she feels the faint stirrings of something that has been missing from her life for so long: love.

But can Red thaw Ruth’s frozen heart – and does he want to? While Ruth tries to rebuild relationships with friends and family, the clock is ticking. Can Red save Ruth from herself and make her believe life is worth living – before it’s too late…

Thaw is an intense and thought-provoking read that will appeal to anyone who has ever been touched by the healing power of love. Once again, the bestselling author of The Most Beautiful Thing applies her insight and shows us how, even when there appears to be none, there is always hope.

Here’s the Facebook page for Thaw.

The exquisite pleasures of surrender

Divided from herself by drpIf you think about the things we like doing, sex, drugs, art, religion; they’re all forms of surrender. ~ Brian Eno

I feel as if I’m just emerging from some kind of bizarre tunnel.

Since Christmas I haven’t felt like writing blogs at all. I’ve also been afflicted with a most curious disease – I haven’t felt the compulsion to work-too-hard. My workaholism has been taken away from me…

I’ve been seeing my psychotherapy clients and getting on with writing my new novel, but I haven’t been getting sucked into the computer for ten hour days, or losing myself in social media and pretending that it’s ‘work’. I haven’t been desperately seeking more money (we always need just a bit more) to keep us afloat.

This has been most odd. The days are suddenly full of spaces. I’ve been doing more journalling and reading novels and contemplating. On Tuesday we took a whole day off, and yesterday morning we went on a walk on the Malvern hills. In the middle of a work-day! Outrageous!

I’ve been accompanied throughout this time by a background sense of guilt, and occasional financial worry-pangs. Surely we’re going to go bankrupt any moment? Earning a living is meant to be strenuous and all-consuming, isn’t it? It feels like I’ve been in freefall. Arrghh!

As time has gone on, I’ve been trying to practise surrendering. Beginning to shed some outdated beliefs about an intrinsic lack of worth, which means that I have to work extra-hard than others just to keep up/earn enough. Noticing the feelings of guilt or panic, and allowing them to be there. Acknowledging to myself that I am doing enough. I can trust the universe to hold me.

These deep changes in ourselves are usually disconcerting and painful and they take place in their own sweet time. They won’t be hurried. We’re often not sure if we’re going forwards or backwards, or if we’ll ever move from our current stuckness at all. We can feel lost and alone. We usually react during these times by holding on tighter, by trying even harder to control things, and of course this makes it hurt even more.

Surrender. It’s like lying on my back in water. Floating, not freefall. I pass through pain, yes – dukkha is unavoidable – and out into the light. And again. And again. The sun dappling me through trees. Birdsong. Held safe.

It is an exquisite pleasure.

If you’d like a safe place to do your own explorations, join Kaspa or me during March for Eastern Therapeutic Writing or Writing Ourselves Alive. Or start right away with 31 Days.

*

Divided by herself by drp with thanks