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The Carefree Heart

A metaphor that is often used by meditation teachers is of thoughts being like clouds in the sky.  It can be easy to hear this and forget to feel what it is suggesting. When I was a teen I heard the lyrics “into each life some rain must fall but too much has fallen in mine” I started singing it to myself as it resonated with my melancholy mood as a teen. And at times in my life it does feel as if I’ve been standing under a huge rain cloud and that life just seemed wet and miserable!

I was lucky to meet teachers who had had their own experience of this and who had recognised how to liberate their hearts. Knowing such people and feeling the sense of carefree joy that they exuded was always an inspiration. They could feel difficult emotions.  I know that from talking to them.  But they did not become a person lost in those emotions.

There’s a teaching that one can feel sad without being sad. If sadness (or any other difficult emotion) is here then it’s what is knocking at the door of awareness, asking to be let in to the heart. It can be welcomed. Held. Seen. Allowed. Whilst not merging with it as an identity. Not getting lost in that script. Taking one’s role in the familiar drama of oneself. Instead a feeling comes. It makes itself at home for a while. And it passes. It brings its own learning and healing if it is honoured and not made wrong.

Whilst there may be a state of being where one might be dispassionate through not clinging to the idea of self, for the rest of us to try to artificially create that state by denying what one is feeling most likely will only lead to it finding some other way to make itself know: for as Yung says, “What we resit persists, what we fight we get more of”.

A more workable model of dispassion may be finding that middle place where we neither get lost in the emotion nor are we pushing it away. Allowing this moment to be perfect. Whether it be an experience of joy. Sadness. Fear. Or whatever.

This brings us back to the clouds in the sky.  My teacher Ajahn Sumedho would always remind us that that which is Aware of something is not the thing of which it is aware. The sky holds the clouds as Awareness holds whatever thoughts and feelings are arising and taking birth in this moment. But the sky is never the cloud. The sky can only be the space in which the clouds take birth and dissolve.   Even when the clouds are thick and no hint of blue is there, they can only exist because of the space of the sky. And that space of open, free and non-attached clarity is still there even when filled with the clouds of worry, regret, fear, etc.. The clouds are temporary appearances in the vastness of the sky. But we can so easily get absorbed in the clouds and forget there ever was a sky.

In Buddhism it is taught that our true nature is like the sky. It is unborn and uncreated and never touched by all of the travails of the ego mind. Like the screen of a cinema it allows whatever drama there is to be projected onto it, seeming to be the drama but in fact never touched by it. And when the drama stops, there is simply the clear screen still as immaculate as it was before the drama spread across it.

As I reflect more on this it gives me a sense of softening.  The struggle to be free is part of the drama of the mind caught in the belief in linear time: “one day I will be free, but I’m not free right now”. This is like a cloud thinking one day I will find the sky!

The thought “I have all these problems that have to be solved” is just one of the many clouds scurrying across the sky. But when I truly stop. Breathe. Rest into the moment and into my heart. Then there is a peace. A peace that was so close that it was overlooked in all the looking for peace somewhere else than right here. In this moment. The funny thing is we spend so long trying to find peace. To get the answer to being happy. But the search in the end only leads back to this moment. To seeing that we were never not the sky, but just identified with being the clouds. And when this is felt, there is a moment of the heart being carefree and at peace.  Then the drama of the cloud like mind takes over again. Or takes hold of the experience and tries to own it as an ego experience “the time I had an insight”

I was on a retreat this week end where there was an opening to this sense of peace.  And since the weekend there has continued to be a feeling of a peace that is vibrant yet still. So lovely. Things have started to occur to cloud over this open sky and I can see how my thinking mind wants to get back in the driving seat again – worrying about a concern, desiring that body in the gym changing room, feeling angry with my neighbour…..but it’s a choice: I can let it go, dissolving back into that infinite blue sky of loving awareness that held me….that was me….during the retreat……or I can go into it and experience the mind’s creation – which feels narrower, more ego focused and driven by desire to get or push away rather than rest in the moment.

A daily mindfulness practice is an invitation to drop into this peace that just is, which does not need to be created or found. This moment of allowing and “being the knowing” as a Thai forest monk described it. The ‘knowing’ is calm: the knowing of sadness is not sad, the knowing of anger is not angry – it feels it, senses it, is intricately connected to it, but is also dispassionate, knowing that this movement of the mind is not what it is. It’s like waves rushing across the surface of the ocean, however much they get wiped up into a storm, they never touch the still depth of the ocean. Meditation is like this: knowing the waves for what they are, being fully present to them when choppy or calm, but also resting into the deeper depths of being, the stillness at the heart of the ocean.

Picking more daisies

If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances,
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles but fewer imaginary ones.
you see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
hour after hour,
day after day.

Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else- just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.
I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had to live my life over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.

 

When asked “How would you have lived your life differently if you had a chance?” Nadine Stair, an 85-year-old woman, from Louisville, Kentucky, provided these poetic words as her response. It can be so easy to be caught up in the busyness of our lives that we loose that quality we all had as children of being able to stop and be fascinated by the world around us.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been exploring opening more to this playful attitude since I’ve met someone who is very open to playing and its encouraging me to enjoy this as part of the friendship.  We met first to have coffee and dinner on the SouthBank and we had been chatting about bringing in the playfulness from childhood into our adult lives. But after dinner it was time to experience it rather than talk about it. We started by playing hide and seek and then tag – running after each other on the terrace under the Royal Festival Hall.  It was such a release to be able to play again. At one point we were passing an interactive sculpture that was one of a number along the South Bank – it was shaped like a slide but without steps. I saw it as a slide so climbed up and slid down.  Then my friend did as well.  Then a young woman saw us and ran over to join in and her friends helped her get up. A man who was with her looked over and laughed but said “she’s not related” – she shook her head and said “yes we are, he’s my brother”. And in that little interaction there was so much.  The critical inner voice that tells us to stop expressing our spontaneity. The denial of the playful self, in order to conform and fit in. And also how when one person plays or is more free it encourages that freedom of heart in others.

It also made me realise how important it is to connect out to others who encourage whatever it is in us that feels alive and vibrant. To have that flame fanned by the fire in another heart.

A few days latter I was on the South Bank again but in the day, and as I watched the sculpture again all of the children who went past it got their parent to lift them up so they could slide down, but none of the adults did!

One of the things I’m starting to learn is that I’m an extrovert whose coming out of hiding after I spent a lot of my life thinking I was introverted! So I enjoy doing these things and don’t worry about being seen. For true introverts running around on the South Bank will not be your idea of play and fun! But however we express it – whether at home or in public, it’s a fascinating experience to let go and allow a more carefree expression of that energy.

.Rather than waiting until the end of our lives to look aback an wish we had not cared so much about what others think, how could you start now “picking more daisies”?

Remembering to play!

We all did it at one time, and for many of us it is something we have grown out of. This week I’ve been chatting with a friend about play and he’s been talking about how he still likes to play hide and seek if he can find anyone who will play with him! It made me think of how much I miss that easy playfulness of childhood. As a gay man with no young relatives I hadn’t been able to explore play as an adult but over the last year I’ve volunteered with Beanstalk as a reading assistant in a school, meeting with three children twice a week for half an hour each. At the end of each session we would play a game, this was part of the Beanstalk approach, to make reading associated with fun. It has been great to experience that playful energy again. In one session we played tag and the fun of running around the playground and trying to avoid getting tagged was so refreshing! What was so lovely was to see how ready the children were to drop  into play mode.  As soon as I said reading was over and it was time for a game they would jump up and be asking what we would play.

I found it so easy to withdraw into seriousness and into myself as a teenager. Games suddenly meant playing football which terrified me or having to engage with the other boys which felt a threat. Even aged 10 and under I preferred to join the girls at break and play skipping rope games. I even took a doll in once but soon discovered that was a mistake!

One boyfriend of mine used to like to play at hiding when I came in and jumping out to surprise me.  It was such a lovely spontaneous and joyful way of being together, and as adults we perhaps need to have the trust of a close relationship to once again feel permission to play.

When did you stop playing? Or do you still feel able to connect with this child like playfulness? Where can you go to let yourself play? When I googled ‘adults playful’ mostly what came up was references to tantric sex! It’s telling that for many the notion of playfulness as adults is only linked to sex. And as fun as that can be what about that playfulness we felt as children that was about exploring, letting go into the moment and feeling joy?

 

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As part of the theme of falling in love with yourself, how about considering how you used to like to play and how you might reconnect with this energy now as an adult? My play used to be solitary – as an only child I had to entertain myself.  It was using playing cards to make huge card towers and temple complexes on the sitting room floor, or running around the house with a lego hand held communicator imagining that I was the commander of a space ship that was under attack. When my cousins visited we would play out scenes from Dr Who until Paul refused anymore as he was always the monster and his sister Nicola was always the beautiful assistant to my Dr Who! So there was a mix of quiet, focused and still play in the building of card temples, and energy and vitality in chasing monsters! I can see these different energies as I look at these photos of myself as a child. As well as an early tendency to enjoy getting dressed up in hats!

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I remember when play started to change, aged 10.  A friend came over and I had my lego town laid out ready to play a game. He looked at it and said it was for children and so I ended up playing alone as he sulked. I still wanted to be able to enjoy my lego town, but this made me think for the first time that perhaps it was time to stop playing with it and started a process of loosing touch with this type of childhood play, where my own imagination created the game.

As an adult how do I still connect with this? The stillness and focus is there in my meditation. But I’ve tended to neglect the more boisterous play and I don’t do anything the is about creating an imaginative senario. Five Rhythms dance on a Friday night is giving me a way back to feeling the vitality and energy of play, and as it is interactive there is a chance to connect out to others in the dance in ways that are playful and boisterous.

I also like to bring some of this into my friendships but there is space for more!

How do you connect with your playfulness? Where does it show up in your life and where could you make more space for it?

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