Holiday favourites – Healing with Gold

Kintsukuroi – the Japanese art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken

It is a beautiful image – a broken ceramic bowl, put back together with glue of gold, so that the strands of gold weave through the bowl and it looks more beautiful than before it was broken.

In our lives, the gold we heal with is love, kindness, compassion. We sometimes come across people who seem to have a ‘beautiful soul’, who emanate kindness and strength. Usually, when we hear their story, we find out that they have been through some very difficult times in their lives. Sometimes suffering can make us bitter, cynical, disengaged from those around us. Other times, suffering can infuse our lives with qualities like love, patience, equanimity. It’s difficult to know why some people seem broken by suffering, and others are strengthened. It’s a complex interplay between our attitudes, personality, upbringing, the supports available us, the attitudes of our society to suffering, and a range of biological and neurological influences. One person might have a plethora of supports available and reject them all, while someone else might get only one brief opportunity which they grasp with both hands and use to transform their lives.

The image of the wounded healer is a person who is able to support others in their healing, because they’ve been broken and put back together themselves. When you work in the helping professions, you find that most of your colleagues have their own back story of suffering and healing. In certain shamanic cultures, the signs that someone might be called to be a shaman include – being hit by lightning, having a serious illness which nearly kills them, or having a nervous breakdown. They are broken apart and have to put themselves back together in a new, transformed way. The current shaman will support this person as they go on their healing journey, and eventually, if all goes well, that person will become the next healer of the community.

We can see the past suffering of someone as the gold which has strengthened them and made them more beautiful, rather than a shameful secret which needs to be hidden from view. It can be tempting to attempt to repair our broken lives with invisible glue, so no one will ever guess there are any cracks in us. To repair a broken bowl with gold is no doubt patient and taxing work. It’s not a matter of sticking a few pieces together and hoping for the best. Sometimes, the repair may not be successful. The bowl which has been repaired with gold does not wallow in its brokenness, but nor does it hide it. Life goes on for the bowl – it is transformed, and it has become more beautiful.

Weekly practice idea:

Put aside some quiet time and reflect on what is the gold in your life which you have used to repair the cracks in you? Think of this gold as precious and healing, rather than something which needs to be hidden. How does it feel to think about healing in this way?

Anja Tanhane

Feeling relaxed

Who in your life is very relaxed – it could be an Elder, a baby, a friend, perhaps a pet? In my life, I’d have to say that my cat seems most relaxed. It’s not that she doesn’t have any stress in her life. She and the neighbour’s cat don’t always see eye to eye. Sometimes she’s locked inside at night when she’d love to be outside instead, exploring and hunting. And as for visits to the vet…

Still, when she’s curled up on the couch, or under the bed on a rainy day, it’s hard not to feel more relaxed just looking at her.

I’ve met babies who seem to gaze into the world with serene eyes, and Elders who have learned, over the years, to live with an open perspective to life which doesn’t get them bogged down in every small little stressor. Just as stress can be infectious (we all feel it when someone’s having a bad day at the office), so can relaxation. I feel more relaxed just looking at my cat when she’s fast asleep, and I feel more at ease when I’m in the presence of someone who radiates calm and compassion.

Sometimes we might feel – ‘I don’t have time to be relaxed, there’s just so much to do.’ Yet even when life is busy, we can benefit from slowing down the pace a little; and we can also choose to build little ‘relaxation moments’ into our day. We might not be able to linger for an hour over our afternoon cup of coffee, but perhaps we can take three minutes to pause, breathe, and really savour the drink. If we notice our breath is becoming shallow and our shoulders are really tight, we can roll our shoulders back a few times, and say to ourselves in a kind voice, ‘breathe, relax.’ Perhaps a bird is singing outside, and we can pause for a moment in whatever we’re doing, and allow ourselves to feel nourished by the bird song. In our everyday life, there are countless of these small opportunities for building more relaxation into our lives. They may not seem like much, but over time they make a noticeable difference to how each day unfolds. It is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves – and it’s not only we who benefit, but those around us enjoy the contagious effect of being around a more relaxed person as well.

Weekly practice idea:

Choose one small relaxation practice (either one of the ones mentioned above, or a practice of your own choosing), and commit yourself to pause for this practice at least three times a day for the next week. What do you notice?

Anja Tanhane

A warm and friendly voice

Imagine spending a week with someone who only ever criticises you. You’ve achieved something great at work, and the best they can manage is a miserly, ‘yes, well okay, that wasn’t too bad, BUT…’ This person specialises in ‘buts’ with capital letters, finds it very difficult to be happy for you, and looks slightly anxious if you insist on being joyful for a few moments. It’s as if this person knows more about the world than you, understands that the world is really a very dangerous and unpredictable place, and so is trying his or her best to keep you on your toes, prevent you from being complacent, and ensure you will always strive a little harder than you did the day before.

If this were a person in the real world we’d probably soon tire of them, but the fact is many of us carry such a person around in our heads, constantly criticising, analysing and finding inadequate pretty much everything we do. When we learn mindfulness, we become more self-aware, and we can use this self-awareness to catch ourselves when we are caught in certain thought-patterns, such as negativity or anxiety or rumination. This increased self-awareness is valuable, but it will only really improve our lives if we can manage to talk to ourselves in a warm and friendly tone of voice. Otherwise, our self-awareness might only add extra grist to the mill of self-criticism which is perhaps already out of control.

We spend a lot of time in our own company. And most of us give some thought to how we interact with others – hopefully we are friendly, polite, and considerate to our friends and colleagues most of the time. We all know how wonderful it is to be with someone whose voice is warm, calm, and resonant. Yet what is the tone of voice we use to communicate with ourselves in our own head?

People often comment how learning mindfulness is helping them to be more kind towards themselves. There is a place for self-reflection, self-evaluation, and also self-criticism. Yet when we do find ourselves being self-critical we can ask – is the criticism constructive? Is it measured? And is it friendly?

Weekly practice idea:

Listen to the tone of voice you use towards yourself, especially in situations when you’re feeling under pressure or aren’t performing as well as you’d like. How would you describe your tone of voice then?

Anja Tanhane

Vulnerability

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen

 

Our lives can be seen as a constant balancing act between protecting ourselves, and yet remaining open enough to ‘life as it is’ for presence, kindness, intimacy.All of us are somewhere on the continuum between being completely closed off and being very open, and where we end up on the spectrum depends on many factors, including our personality, gender, family history, our culture, and life events. Many people become interested in learning mindfulness when they feel the cost of their old self-protective patterns is too high. They may experience a sense of disconnectedness, or struggle in relationships, or realise that their coping strategies seem to cause more problems than they solve. Or their health and emotional wellbeing might show the strain of constant chronic stress.

We certainly need to protect ourselves – there are plenty of people around who’d happily take advantage of us if we let them. A sense of professionalism, of not imposing on our colleagues with our own dramas day in and day out, will help us in our career. Our children rely on us to be strong, to guide them. Yet it’s all too easy to mistake common sense, professionalism and good parenting with needing to appear invulnerable, perfect, beyond reproach. The more we reach for perfection, the more vulnerable we feel underneath. We know it’s only a matter of time before someone discovers a crack in us, and, if we have a tendency towards perfectionism, the slightest visible crack might feel like the end of the world. And striving to be perfect all the time also tends to make us judgemental and unforgiving towards others.

We like stories because they show us the vulnerability of their heroes, their struggles to survive despite their fragility. Even the great warrior Achilles had his Achilles’ heel. The story of Jesus has inspired people for thousands of years, and his is not a story of invincible power but of great openness and vulnerability. When he said, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,’ he was pointing to our common humanity, to the fact we all make mistakes.

People who begin a regular meditation practice often report an increased sense of kindness towards themselves, of being more open and forgiving. Interestingly, this tends to improve relationships even with some of the more difficult people in our lives. Sometimes we are caught in a ‘life and death’ battle, and will need to ensure that even our Achilles heel is firmly protected. Yet most of the time, our relationships will become stronger, and more rewarding, if we can open some of our cracks enough to ‘let the light shine in’.

Weekly practice idea:

What are some of your ‘cracks’, and how do you feel about them? Might some of those cracks be opportunities to’ let in the light’? What would this look like for you?

Anja Tanhane

 

Suffering in silence

Walkerville 4.jpg e-mail

 

When we sit down to meditate, we naturally would like to have an experience which is peaceful, relaxing, and pleasant from beginning to end. However, as anyone who meditates regularly knows, this is not always the case. In fact, in addition to the distractions of a busy mind, what we often find in meditation is discomfort, difficult feelings, emotional pain. Usually in daily life, when faced with these ‘unwelcome visitors’, we try to either ignore them or else seek relief of some kind. In the stillness of a meditation, however, it is more difficult to turn away from our problems. Our normal distractions are not available, there is no one to share our experience with, no way of expressing what we’re feeling. We are, in fact, suffering in silence.

Silence, as Thomas Merton wrote so beautifully, has many dimensions – ‘it can be a regression and an escape, a loss of self, or it can be presence, awareness, unification, self-discovery.’ It’s important to reach out to others when we struggle, to talk to a friend or get professional help. Yet we can also reach out to ourselves, within the silence of a meditation, and bring kindness and compassion to our experience of suffering.

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Patience

Stone in creek

‘In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

  1. By the time!
  2. Surely man is in loss,
  3. Except those who believe and do good, and      exhort one another to Truth, and exhort one another to patience.’

This beautiful line, from the Quran (103, Surah Al-‘Asr), really struck a chord with me when I heard it presented by one of the Muslim ladies at an interfaith friendship meeting. To consciously encourage each other to be patient – we have become such an impatient society. Patience used to be more highly regarded – remember the saying ‘patience is a virtue’ – but now it’s often seen as being old-fashioned, an obstacle perhaps to instant and magnificent success. If we are patient, we might miss out on something! People might take advantage, and walk all over us! We might only get through 98% of our to-do list today instead of all of it plus a bit extra!

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