Lovingkindness, the French Open and the Voice

Just a quick update on what I’ve been up to. There are two competitions at the moment that I am keeping a keen interest in. I grew up watching sport, so now the French Open is on I have been interested in seeing how the Australians progress. Sam Stosur was especially impressive today in a straight sets win over Kimiko Date Krumm. The score was 6-0 6-2 but both girls had their moments. Lleyton Hewitt turned back the clock for two sets in posting a 6-1 6-3 4-6 1-6 5-7 loss to Gilles Simon of France. Hewitt ran out of steam towards the end but was vintage in the beginning. The last set he was 5-0 down before taking five straight games. It’s good to see that he has lost none of his fight. Date Krumm deserves props just for still being there. Perhaps Japan’s finest ever player, the now 41 year old was retired for a number of years. Last I saw, Tomic was down 5-7 6-6, with rain interrupting play. I hope he can find something special so as to overcome his veteran Rumanian counterpart, Victor Hanescu.

I have also been busy watching the Voice. (Is that being busy?) While the show borders on self parody at times, as the judges trip over themselves to announce that all of the contestants are simply amazing, wonderful, and whatever else, it’s still a pleasant diversion. There is a pretty cool Aussie Japanese girl who is one of my favourite contestants, although her name escapes me for the moment.

I am also reading the Compassionate mind by Paul Gilbert and a few books on Yoga. I am especially interesting in Pranayama. The yoga book that looks most promising to me is called Yoga- Moving into Stillness, I think. It has an tinteresting meditation technique that I have been trying as a way to center the mind. I set my alarm for about 7 minutes, and count 50 on the exhale, 49 on the inhale, 48 on the exhale, 47 on the inhale, all the way down to 20. At 20, one simply counts the outbreath. Exhale, 20, inhale, exhale, 19, inhale, down to 1. The last couple of minutes are there just to allow myself to rest within a still center.

I am trying all of these little techn iques, so that when I am ready, I have quick ways to chill out when I finally take the big step of quitting smoking.

I also thought I would dive a bit deeper into mindfulness meditation and am rereading an old book called Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratne. I especially like the way he has metta as his set up exercise. His metta phrases are fuller than that in most books. They are like this:

May I be well, peaceful and happy. May no problems come to me. May no difficulties come to me. May I always meet with success. May I have the patience, courage, determinateion and understanding to overcome the inevitable difficulties, problems and failures in life.
One then moves on to repeat these phrases
May my parents…
May my teachers..
May my relatives…
May my friends…
May all who are strangers to me…
May my enemies…
May all living beings…

What I have been experimenting with here is praying these at night. I do three rounds for myself, three rounds for my parents, three rounds for my relatives, three rounds for my friends, three rounds for strangers, three rounds for my enemies, three rounds for living beings. Following these generic phrases I go back again and do one more round. I also add a few Christian prayers in there. For example, within the Orthodox tradition, we pray like this: May me enemies not perish through me a sinner. I pray this. I also pray, Lord have mercy upon (name). I add these phrases towards the end. Although this is traditionally used as a set up exercise, I find that I can attain a fair amount of stability of attention anyways and am using this as a complete meditation in itself. The practice is helping me support myself as I struggle to find the necessary self-confidence to get the job I want in Australia. It also helps me get rid of some of my defilements (we all have defilements, sorry). The mind can be coarse at times and we can burn with anger towards the wrongs done to us. I find that the commitment to forgive other people is a necessary part of healing. Anger is aversive, and love is attractive. By filling the mind with a little more compassion, understanding and forgiveness, we position ourselves to befriend ourselves so that we can offer ourselves the internal support we need.

On the job front, I am looking to do some training as a teacher of Numeracy and Literacy to help me become a teacher aide. I enjoyed working as an AET and also teaching English to people from other cultures. I might do Aged Care work if I don’t. It’s hard sometimes to be at choice points. There are branches in life for us to travel down and sometimes we don’t know which path to take. All we can really do is guess. Perhaps, in the meantime we can look clearly at some other choices (should I smoke, or should I begin an exercise plan) and try to choose the more skilful option.

Recent Reading

Tomorrow, I am going to my DBT therapy group. I am looking forward to it. One of the people I want to make friends with has dropped out of the program because they are moving city. I am looking forward to seeing everyone else. It will be great to reflet back on the week that was. Over the last few weeks I have been reading the Mindful Way through Compassion by Jon Kabat Zinn, Zindel Siegal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale. It’s a pretty dry book I many ways but I think its a worthy addition to the self help literature on depression. I think when people a re doing mindfulness they don’t always know what the point of it is. This can be especially true of people who have been exposed to Cognitive Behavior Therapy through such seminal books as Feeling Good by David Burns. I want to address that right now. In case anyone, stumbles upon my blog and is curious to know. The main reason for CBT in the first place is that it gives greater empowerment to the suffering individual and gives that person skills work that they can accomplish on their own. This has led to marked effectiveness in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, CBT requires a lot of work, and for many people it feels like work. I think (and I don’t know this) that mindfulness seems less like work to people and helps them enjoy life more immediately. Both are good books. I think CBT is an incredibly useful practice because it helps the depressed person to reframe their thinking patterns. Through it, people can quickly become less prone to some of the heavy thought patterns that feed depression.

I have also been reading a few novels bu tnothing spectacular. The last book I completed was by a woman called Catherine O’Flynn. It was her second novel and, while enjoyable, it was by no means as wonderful as Jonathan Coe says on the cover. If you wo want to read a wonderful novel please read the House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe. I was also reading Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman. I read two thirds and decided that it wasn’t for me.

An Insomniacs guide to life

The time as I write this is 12:48 AM in Australian Eastern Standard Time. The place that I write is a far too large house on a small street in the suburb of Woodend, near Brisbane, Queensland. Perhaps you can find me on Google maps. Pick the right day and I will stand outside and wave a small flag. But it won’t be white. The white flag signifies resignation, and this is the one thing I have not permitted myself to do again since I was at the young age of 21. I am a survivor.

What kind of a survivor am I? When I was a young and troubled kid, I stepped in front of a moving vehicle in a panicked attempt to end my life. I was attempting to show myself one or two things. The main one was that I had a form of courage. That courage was misguided.

The attempt to end my life came at a time when all seemed lost to me. I felt down, disappointed, hopeless, alone. Pick an adjective to describe a feeling you never want and I probably had it.

Aimee Mann, one of my heroes, sings a song that says there must be a word for this, maybe I’ll look it up in the dictionary so I know what the word is and I’ll know to avoid it. That’s what I felt.

I am writing a part of a book now. The part I am writing is called Slow Recovery. Before I left Japan earlier this year I started a couple of things. At the time I had no space I my life so I tried to fill all of that dead time with as much life as possible. You can read some of that writing on my blog garantseraph.blogspot.co.jp or you can track back through the archives of this blog to find how much of my time I truly wasted. Or you can skip over to my excellent idea for a charity, uniqreefrelief.wordpress.com

(IMHO- I am allowed to think highly of what I believe is one of the most unique, creative, inclusive charities on the web- I am allowed to think less than humbly of myself- I am allowed to do lots of things. You don’t have to agree, but if you don’t like my idea for a charity, or my idea for a book, or my idea for a blog, I can just say, well, where’s yours. A not so small secret I will let you in on is that I think there have been plenty of people out there doing a lot more than me with their life, who have accomplished so much more than I- “Hello? Anyone heard of Oxfam, or World Vision, or Amnesty International, or Greenpeace?”, I can hear my imaginary reader think to him or herself. Those guys are pretty good. But I ask you a question, have you ever heard of Dave Andrews? or a Place to Belong? or Communify? or the Footpath Library? or the Big Issue? (okay, maybe, you have heard of the last one) or one of a hundred other small initiatives that started with a small vision.

I want to give you a small maxim here… the aspirational is inspirational… and a story. Class, put your hand up if you have heard of the archer who didn’t. In a small book by someone or other, I read a story once. I believe it’s taken from the book Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugene Herigal- maybe it is , and maybe it isn’t. In the story, a zen archer is waiting at the range. The crowd looks on. A little boy is there that day. His aspiration is to be an archer like Robin Hood. Perhaps these Zennists know something about how to hit the target. The archer draws back the bow, and at the last second shoots the arrow into the sky. The crowd gasps collectively. Ah, so it’s not whether you can achieve your goals, it’s only the process that matters, think the wise ones. The little boy wonders and will never know how good the archer is, and the Olympian in the crowd thinks the technique is all wrong. I made a lot of that story up, but I think from that one vent there are multiple perspectives, as is true of much of life. But the one that will help me the most is simply to remember this. The important thing is not how close I get to the bullseye but how much I try, and to remember to relax, and breathe through the process.

I know I have come along way from what I originally began writing about in this post, as in much of my writing. I just wanted to let the reader know a little bit more about the person writing this blog, because I like being confessional and I like sharing. There is not enough of it in my opinion. (Don’t need to be humble with that one, just real.)

So as I said at the beginning, when I was young and troubled I stepped in front of a car. I planned that after I had dropped out of my Arts degree a year and a half earlier. After an abortive attempt at doing a liberal arts degree containing failed attempts to study Journalism, and French, and a little more success with Literature, History and Psychology, I began teaching training. While I succeeded in my course work, I had very little confidence when it came to the Practical subjects. My teacher, Ms Box, was an iron lady who had the full control of her class, and I seemed more or less cannon fodder. Outside of that course, I was shy and withdrawn. I felt different and others thought me different, too. I was going to a Pentecostal church that left me feeling like almost everyone on Earth was going to hell (that’s a given if you follow those premises through to their natural conclusion) and I was, too. There was too much “secret sin” in my life. It made me feel ashamed. I stepped back, looked long and hard at my life, and thought, you know what, I don’t want it. It will be the train for me, thanks. In class, I teared up as I thought these thoughts, or these thoughts thought me; I made up my mind, or my mind made me up; and I remembered that it was mother’s day, and I could not do that to my mother.

I believe that was the only thing that saved me, although I have always been somewhat agnostic on whether or not there were other things at play. I decided to leave that decision for another day. I planned that act again the very next day and the next and a full two weeks. Sometimes, I spent the day mosing around, trying to find stuff to do, simple things like having a Subway sandwhich, before making the leap. Eventually, I cursed myself out, called myself a few names, and then stepped in front of the car. In hospital, I recovered somewhat- time is the great healer- and after leaving the hospital I started branching out away from the church and into other religions. I bought a little book called the Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh. Later on I would buy books called A path with Heart by Jack Kornfield and Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg. I have been reading them ever since. And praying, sometimes, going to church sometimes, and deepening my knowledge of Christianity by looking into other traditions, and exploring Sufism and Tibetan Buddhism. Those things have kept me alive.

A quote from Sharon Salzberg in Lovingkindness, a memory and a paraphrase. I could go the whole world and not find another human being worth my love more than myself. The Buddha. As someone brought up in the Christian Church, I really needed those words and I think there a lot of other people who do, too. It doesn’t mean I am more worthy of my love, for that would be self-cherishing (hey, I do that, too. this is natural. Jesus said as much throughout his text. but who can help it). No, it doesn’t mean that but what it does mean is that I am as worthy of love and compassion as anyone else. Jesus said that, too.

In my book, I want to show people how I recovered. That’s why I can write a book.

My book is not filled with some rags to riches story. I haven’t triumphed over adversity. My life situation from a Western perspective seems pretty adverse still but I’m still here, and in my still being I have honoured life. But sometimes I can’t sleep!

Parental leave in Australia

For those of you who don’t know the Federal government has recently decided to mess around with family payments, again.  This isn’t something I know a lot about.  At one time, I would have, but recently I have been steering away from political issues, because I don’t really know what to do about them.  In this post, what I want to do is to write something very rough that I may or may not update later.  I would appreciate and welcome any further comments on this contentious issue as I don’t know enough myself. 

The Federal election is set for September as I understand it and I have already decided. quite reluctantly, where my vote is going.  I say reluctantly because I think both parties have, again, more or less the same policies in important key areas.  One of the most contentious plans they seem to have is to reduce the baby bonus for stay at home mothers from $5000 to $2000.  At the same time, there appears to be little desire to reduce maternity leave packages from the current rate.  Moreover, it is being bandied around that we should introduce paid paternity leave.  I think fathers are going to be able to take up to 6 months leave off while receiving 75% of their normal salary.

Most of this makes little sense to me, but I am not surprised.  It does beg a couple of important questions, though.  Within society, the market has decided that people within our particular society are worth different amounts of money based upon the value of their work. Fair enough, but it’s probably not a good idea to value yourself on your salary.  What message does it send when we arbitrarily decide that people are worth X-amount of money regardless of present employment?  I have a somewhat vested interest in this topic as my younger sister graduated from University with a degree in teaching, did some supply work after having her first child, but never entered the full-time workforce.  So she is now more or less a full time mother.  Our society seemingly no longer values this role.  As for high income males who want entitlement to large proportions of their incomes so they can be stay-at-home dads.  I am not sure they can do quite as much as my sister.  I don’t know- I think our elites have over valued themselves.  Just this once.

The voice I need to hear

I have believed in a God of some sort most of my life. That is just me and that is the way I was brought up. I have tried to respect that part of my family’s history. I rarely go to church, because I prefer to think that this world is sacred. Every time, I step on green grass I try to think that that is some kind of miracle. Life itself and the very act of being is some great unfathomable mystery. We can try to answer questions like why are we here and why is there something rather than nothing scientifically. We can do that but I am not sure that there is an explanation for why it has to be me. Why am I here? And I don’t know. I just am, I guess.

In many ways, I am a kind of agnostic, but one who prefers to pray in all sorts of different ways. It just makes my lonely life more bearable I guess.

When I was much younger, I went to this Pentecostal church for about 3 years. At first, it was enlightening. That was where I began to read the gospels for the first time and one thing that struck me was that if there was someone like that in my life it would be so much easier. I felt a lot like Zacheus, I guess, or Mary Magdalene. Some people could claim that it was growing up in a Protestant family that made me feel like that, and I think that’s sometimes true. People live religion badly sometimes as they sometimes live life badly.

One of my favourite writers is a Buddhist teacher called Jack Kornfield. For many years now, I have owned a set of his teaching instructions. In one of his early talks he tells the following story. A man sits atop a mountain, a guru, and the people flock to him everyday to hear his wisdom on life. They go back down the mountain and take his wisdom back to their families and villages. One day, a woman comes to him from afar, a pilgrim from America, and he says to her, Woman, what have you to say to me. And she says, Felix, I was just wondering when you will be coming home.

Which to me just goes to show that we all get it a little bit wrong sometimes. Who knows? Maybe I have this teaching wrong myself, but I don’t believe so. I am very often tempted in my own life to become that man sitting atop the mountain. Sometimes I just wish I could fly far, far away from the messiness and the cacophony of modern life. It would be so much easier and simpler than what I think I have to do, which is to prepare a place at the table in this far off land of Australia for my wife so she can come over from Japan.

Anyway, back when I was going to the Pentecostal church, which I quickly became disillusioned with, someone gave me a message in a bottle that said the fear of god is the beginning of wisdom. At the time, I wished for a very different message, on that is readily understood. I have been trying to interpret it ever since. The best I can come up with is the wonder of life is the beginning of wisdom, and that is something I would like to reflect upon in my writings.

But, for me, I stick with the god-word, regardless of whether or not it makes any sense to anyone else. So this is an expansion of the voice I need to hear…

god doesn’t just like me, he loves me because he is love, to me anyway. whenever I see love I say god made that, because god is that. it is through understanding love that I can know god. I know love through my dog, Seraph, and my wife Satoko, and my imperfect parental units and my best friend, Mike, who listens to me when I need to find an ear. So this is my story. It was going to be called Linked In: Taking Concrete Steps to try to change oneself and one’s world. Then it was going to be called Halfway Home. Now, I might as well call it Being Love, because I want to write a personal story about my own unique pilgrimage, and bring it back home to some place where I learn a little bit about what it means to love. It’s just an idea…

Having said that, I notice that there are a lot of books already on this topic. Oh well, I guess, I will write for an audience of One, for myself, in the hope that I can learn a thing or two as well.

Last post continued

In this post, I would like to pick up where I last left off. So, where was I… That’s right, I had begun a book in the wee hours of the night about what it means to be good. I began the book after a sleepless night and a late night/ early morning argument with my father on earth.

I woke up that night about three o’clock in the morning. Ironically, I had fallen asleep trying to read a decidedly average comic novel about an insomniac called Time for Bed. At least, I decided that it was average, but plenty of others might disagree.

Any home housing two insomniacs is going to be one fraught with slight latent tension. My father, also, due to his sleep apnea, also finds it hard to sleep. It’s a terrible affliction, as the sufferer sometimes finds it hard to distinguish between their lack of oxygen and shortened breath and life-threatening attacks of various kinds. I feel sorry for my father, and tend to sneak around late at night if I am awake to avoid waking him, too.

My father, awakened, asked me gruffly to go back to bed and suggested that I was in some way responsible for my poor sleep. There may be some truth in this but I told him brusquely that I had been suffering form insomnia for the best part of two years.

Stewing on my balcony, huddled over, dragging fiercely on the cigarettes I have yet to let go of, a quiet voice comes to me; You can’t sleep, mate. It’s a very still voice that is part of me. I think it’s largely how I have trained myself to talk to myself when I am not at my best. It’s the voice I need to hear that sometimes I am incapable of. If I ever write my book, I would like to teach this very special skill, if only so that in writing about it I can reteach myself.

So, what I am going to do here is to attempt to reread the notes I scrawled that night, in the hope that there is something in them of value for others.

This is the voice I need to hear. If you don’t believe in God or don’t need to believe in God, I reiterate that that is perfectly fine with me. Just consider these musings a window into someone else’s soul. We are all stranded on the same small blue dot circling around the same yellow sun. We do not choose our companions and I prefer to believe there is room enough for most of us. We all count…

UNIQ Manifesto: Being Good

I am trying to write a book at the moment. These are some notes I scrawled out last night in a book called The Practice of Godliness by a man called Jerry Bridges. It’s a good book but I want to write something much more universal because the author and I think differently about what it means to be a good person. I think he thinks it’s not enough; I think it’s all I know that is real. He writes for a purely Christian audience and I am trying to write something that anyone can agree with. Strangely enough, the author of that book , Mr Bridges, probably would disagree with me on many things. He does come across as a humble man, even though he believes that believing in Jesus is the only way to heaven. I suspect, non-Christians will have a pretty tough time getting through the author’s narrow gate. My gate is pretty wide. I believe in universalism. I don’t believe my faith in God is necessarily true, but I do think it helps me through my own particular life. For the reader: I am sorry for any God-bothering you find me guilty of. I write to make sense of my own life and spirituality is a part of me.

I have given up on trying to be perfect. I no longer want to be a perfect person because I never will be. I just want to be a good Christian because I like good people and I like God and I think God likes me. I think that God is good and human beings have the capacity to be good, too.

Being good is about being love; manifesting a way of love within the world. There are three foundational steps
1) the wonder of life
2) the love of life
3) the desire to live.

I see the these steps as sequential. Without a true sense of the wonder of life, it’s difficult to love life, and it can even be difficult to desire life. Such has been my experience. When we feel most alive, we are full of wonder at the miracle of life, and we fall in love with living which leads naturally to a fierce desire to live. In my life, I know all three could use a big boost, and so in my upcoming book, I aim to introduce the reader to ways in which to heighten our capacity to feel truly alive.

Being good emanates from our desire to live a life that matters, a life where we love and, hence, we become good.

We often try to be good to please God or to please our parents or our partner or our friends or even ourselves. We want so much for others to be happy with us because we are in pain. We have wounds that have not healed. One of my favourite spiritual writers is a Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen. One of Nouwen’s greatest books is called The Inner Voice of Love. Some passages of this book speak to me the truth about myself as deeply as any writing I have ever read. It’s an exquisitely vulnerable book. As Father Nouwen tells us about letting go of your need to please others, one can feel him crying out for love. I believe we all live in that tension- the tension between independence and dependence, solitude and belonging. It’s getting the balance right that makes life such a challenge.

Here is a passage that spoke to me

Stop Being a Pleaser

You have to let your father and father figures go. You must stop seeing yourself through their eyes and trying to make them proud of you.
For as long as you can remember, you have been a pleaser, depending on others to give you an identity. You need not look at that only in a negative way. You wanted to give your heart to others and you did so quickly and easily. But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that god is enough for you. You must stop being a pleaser and reclaim your identity as a free self.

This is an exacting process: to come off the cross. Sometimes, we suffer all of these terrible internal agonies and pains as a result of our longing for acceptance and love. The mystics tell us that our hungry looking for love is like being a fish in the ocean and wondering what water is. We are told that we are surrounded by it when so often our heart tells us something completely different. When you read some of those things the tendency is not to believe it because I suspect a lot of us for too long have been stranded on the shore. Some great wave has cast us out of the sea and upon the hot and sandy shore. This book (if I ever write it) will suggest ways of getting back in the ocean, learning not to drown and maybe even go a little deeper. Don’t you love overworked metaphors and clichés. I do. They make sense to me, but a better writer would edit them out. Maybe I am not that writer and I have to be okay with that as with many things in life. I don’t aim to be perfect; I just want to be good enough for me.

Sometimes a lot of my suffering seems self-created. I would like to write some things that reflect my desire to stop suffering in the wrong way; I want to write something for the person who wants to give something back to themselves because they are exhausted from all of the giving out to others. That’s how I felt about two months ago, and largely, I am still a little bit like that.