While the UK and Europe are battling over the Brexit process, it is easy to find yourself drawn into this like a moth to the bulb, spending hours thinking about pros and cons, and who said what. Then there is a perpetual source of amusement coming from the USA, which generates reams of journalistic coverage and hours of entertainment. It is easy to lose yourself in these things everyday. But one day I took a look at my terrarium- and realised that there were small events happening daily in my own room that I ignored. Things that gave me joy and courage. And hope and happiness.
A life was emerging and there were more signs of life to be found in my living room that I hadn’t acknowledged, like this Peace Lily from a pot that hasn’t bloomed for years.
Then I realised there were big things also happening that could affect our life on the planet at the time when politicians appear to have taken centre stage. Climate change threatens our entire existence and no one really seems to be paying any attention, despite the student protests on Fridays. In December 2018, a meteorite came close to causing catastrophic damage to all forms of life when a force close to ten Hiroshima bombs was unleashed. Except, thankfully this meteorite exploded over a water body and no one was hurt. So I realise that when the immediate seems to capture and hold your attention, then try looking up into the heavens or inside your home. There are things happening there which are far more meaning to your life and others.
Couple of weeks ago, I posted about learning from the incense that I use on my Buddhist altar and this one is about learning from the candles on it.
Each day after finishing my prayers, I blow out the candles. The one on the left is blown out earlier than the one on the right. Towards end, you can see that despite there being less than one second difference in blowing out the the candles, they are two different lengths. One is slightly longer than the other.
It is the same with our lives- small actions done daily whether negative or positive, have a cumulative effect on us. At the end of our lives, these small actions add up even if no one notices. Daily efforts like revising for exams, showing kindness to others, cleaning small areas in our homes each day- multitude of small deeds- are important. Our lives are lived in small moments of decision making in which we can use time wisely . As Nichiren, the Buddhist monk says, ‘Little streams come together to form the great ocean, and tiny particles of dust accumulate to form Mount Sumeru.’
There are so many blogs, vlogs, books and other guidance on minimalism, money saving, and living simply these days, that it can be hard to distinguish between them and use the different techniques effectively. Does this thing spark joy? Should I put things in different boxes and if I haven’t used them in six months, then throw them? How should I go about getting a minimalist wardrobe (if I haven’t got a stylist!)? And how should I prioritise my day? How can I save money when I want to buy organic goods?
The title of this post comes from an ancient Japanese saying, used by many Buddhist philosophers, ‘When the skies are clear, the ground is illuminated’. It has become a key part of how I try to deal with everyday life, including clutter. First, the concept is about clearing your mind, so that you can take care of the mundane- the things ‘on the ground’. When your mind is free of worries and in an expansive state like that of the sky, then you can ‘look down’ and see what the priorities are. These include in order- treasures of the store house, the body, and of the mind. As Nichiren, the Buddhist monk, says,
‘More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all’.
What he is saying is that the most valuable things are what is in our heart- our intention, followed by our health and matters of our body and lastly, come the accumulation of stuff. When our heads are clear, we can see instantly which work enables us to accumulate the ‘treasures of the heart’, then tend to our body, and then perhaps to material things. If we follow this advice, then clearly accumulating stuff is the last thing we ought to do.
So, for instance, for last couple of days, I decided to see some friends and listened to what was going on in their lives. Although they didn’t reciprocate and ask me what was going on in my life, curiously I wasn’t bothered as normally I would have been. I was accumulating treasures of the heart which mattered more to me.
Another simple thing I’ve been doing over the years for decluttering is the ‘non replacement’ technique. If something breaks down, then I don’t replace it. Usually I find I can manage quite fine without it. So when my food processor broke down several years ago, I found this piece of stone which was going to be thrown away from an exhibition stand on stone products, and a traditional Indian pestle which my mother had given me. The pestle had precious childhood memories for me. I now use this to grind wet spices and herbs- remembering this rhythmical action from my childhood, the sound of the stone against stone, my mother’s hands where my hands are now. I’ve not bought anything thus saving money (first by not replacing and secondly, by not using electricity); and also the hand pestle is a good way of exercising my arms and getting rid of tension (perhaps like kneading bread). Quite simply, as my experience with the pestle and the piece of stone proves, if you can associate something with the three ‘treasures’, then it is a keeper.
And what of the food processor? I recycled the electrical part but kept all the other bits as they are quite useful for storing liquids and dry stuff. One of the parts has become a an unusual plant holder for me. As the food processor was given to me by my son, again this is part of my three treasures concept- each time, I look at the plant, I remember my son.
Every day I burn incense sticks while praying and have began to notice something about them. If they are together, they burn for longer while single sticks burn more quickly. As a money saver, this appealed to me and so I have always burned at least three sticks together. But there is a bigger lesson here too. This is about unity, friendships and working together. There are phrases such as ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ in different forms in different faiths. There is also the famous story attributed to Aesop, about the father, who on his deathbed, invited his sons to break a bundle of sticks which they couldn’t. When the sticks were separated, they broke easily.
With unity and a common passion to make life better for humanity, we can become stronger and last longer. People who work alone without regard for others become lonely and less creative. Business away days, brain storming, networking, collaborative working, hot-desking – working together has many names these days. But it essentially means when working for the common good, you achieve a lot more together than going for it alone. In Buddhism, this is called ‘Itai Doshin’ or many in body (which acknowledges our diversity) and one in mind (which acknowledges the singularity of our purpose). Buddhism says that our interdependence can be compared to the threads of a woven fabric- the vertical warps and the horizontal woof. If one string is pulled, all strings in the fabric will react.
In a letter written at a time when society was broken into small communities and persecuted by feudal lords, the Buddhist teacher, Nichiren wrote, ‘If the spirit of many in body but one in mind prevails among the people they will achieve all their goals, whereas if one in body but different in mind, they can achieve nothing remarkable.’ Today when society appears to be broken by wealth, religion, wars, and cultures, and we face a common catastrophic end to the planet we live on, it might be useful to remember that unity is better than disunity if we are to reach our common goals of a healthy, happy and peaceful planet.
It is rude to ask someone their age, how much they earn and other personal stuff like religion and sexuality (unless they talk about it themselves) but I found there are times when it might be advantageous to reveal your age. This is when you work in an industry where age or experience matters and you look younger than you are. I look younger than I am and I work in a very male dominated industry where I’ve been dismissed by both men, and surprisingly by women too (I suppose these women follow the males). I was being also ignored for promotions and my suggestions or advice not being listened to. One colleague even calls me ‘kiddo’. Friends told me to stop worrying about it, saying, ‘You know that people actually reduce their age on social media?’ or ‘You are so lucky!’ People have different problems and I had this strange one. I wondered what I should do as it seemed a ‘non-problem’ to some, and even ironical to complain about it.
I spoke to a female mentor and she said I shouldn’t worry about this and should use this to my advantage. But what advantage was it giving me? None, I decided. Then I noticed a female colleague who had set out her date of birth in her C.V., unlike me. She is the same age as me but actually looks older. But instead of dismissing her, I noticed the men saying we should all support this ‘young woman’ and the women giving her respect too. So obviously being careful with online scams and ‘cat fishing’, I’ve decided to reveal my age (but not the day and month) on my social media profile on sites like Linkedin and my CV. I noticed that this also stops me from getting unwanted chatty emails from men saying things like, ‘I love your smile, shall we meet up when I am next in London?’
Have you had any experience of this? What actions did you take?
I’ve got an autoimmune condition which causes blood clots for many years. I’ve had a stroke and several miscarriages. Since then, I’ve been either on self injected medication or on tablets. I need to have a blood test every week or so, depending upon the result to make sure my blood is at required level of ‘thinness’ or INR. I also go for other medical tests every six months as well as eye tests. Now all this takes up an awful lot of my time and attention- I’ve only forgotten one appointment in almost ten years (for which I apologised profusely). I’m also fed up of having so many medications, of not being able to travel as much as I’d like to, unable to do some kinds of sports, and of constantly watching my diet because I’m not allowed certain foods. Although I’ve made the most of it, it is a very restrictive life. Last year, I had a setback when some medication I was given with another issue reacted with the warfarin and I was back on an increased dosage. There have been two occasions when certain medications reacted so badly that I was back in the A&E on various drips with a BP of 35. And another thing- the warfarin also leaches bones so I’ve developed osteoporosis in my spine which gives me terrible pain but I’m not allowed painkillers due to reaction with the warfarin. It is an endless cycle of medication against medication!
This year, I made a New Year resolution of being medication free by the end of the year. As it has been said time and time again, ‘Let food be your medicine’, I am trying a new diet which I have called my #cleancurecooking. The idea is to use organic foods in season, cook using the least amount of oils, spices and salt, and thereby save money and time. I’ve watched many food programmes and read a lot of research on using food. There are many spices and herbs which are reputed to thin the blood- turmeric, garlic, ginger, etc. But one of the reasons that warfarin is used instead of traditional herbs or foods to thin the blood is because the dose can be controlled and managed. As I’m being tested each week and every six months anyway, I wondered if I can use food to reduce and ultimately get rid of my medication. The risk is minimal and if there are problems, the warfarin can be topped up. I also eat more starchy carbohydrates than really needed and consequently feel hungry while putting on weight (although I’m small 5’4”, I am tending towards overweight on the BMI chart). I’m not a huge meat eater but if I don’t eat meat at all, I will need to have some more medications to increase iron and Vitamin B12. So the recipes and ideas I’ve devised are not vegetarian or vegan.
Another thing I’ve done to reduce portion sizes is to serve food on plates with dividers. I found that I’m not conscious of how much I’m eating if eating on a plain plate. I’ve stopped having sugar, instead I’ve fruits in season. I have two cups of black, unseated tea with some cloves which gives it some sweetness (think mulled tea!) Apart from cranberry juice mixed with some apple and pear juice, I don’t have any fruit juice or carbonated drinks. My treat is dark chocolate which again is supposed to help with thinning blood. I generally don’t drink although this Christmas I’ve had a few glasses of wine. A few tricks from reading up and experimenting-
Having lemon juice with protein increases absorption of iron and allows you decrease amount of salt without losing taste
Keeping your room slightly colder than usual, helps to lose weight as well as be eco-friendly (from Science Magazine)
Lentils help with gut biome which help with losing weight- they are also a good source of protein, especially combined with meat. Lentils with meat dishes are good because you can reduce the amount of meat used.
Many spices such as cinnamon, turmeric and red chillies help with blood thinning as well as the immune system. Think how the warming and spicy mulled wine is used in the winter. I like the taste and smell of fresh turmeric which although is expensive, is a luxury worth having. If you can’t find any, powdered will do.
Herbs and foods such as corianders, onions, fresh chillies, and garlic are also good for boosting the immune system, so I often use chopped up coriander, spring onions and chillies to garnish my foods. These foods also bring up saliva which is good for digestion.
Drinking water is often good- sometimes when you are thirsty, you think you are hungry, so try the water first.
Use distraction as a way of warding off snacks. I often make calls or do some engaging work and I find I’m thinking less about food!
Chew your food more, that way you will feel satiated with less.
Foods in season taste better and cost less. For example, I’ve now given up buying expensive tomatoes in winter- they taste like boiled potatoes. In summer, I buy less of lemons and oranges but use tamarind to provide sour taste.
Use foods to provide sweet or salty taste instead of adding actual salt or sugar- so for example, raisins can make food taste sweeter and celery can make it salty. Using more herbs can make the food more tasty than adding more salt.
Dry frying onions and adding oil once the onions have turned translucent uses much less oil than normal frying.
Here is one dinner-
Next I tried this one which seems to have worked better as it the portions of protein and carbohydrate appear to be better.
I’m due for a blood test on Tuesday, so I will see if this diet is working or not!
This year we have lost many wonderful amazing human beings who made this planet a better place- my father being one of those. He was a maths teacher and lived his life the way he wanted to, despite threats and ridicule, helping the poor and disadvantaged. There are many like him, who have died unknown. Their legacy lies in themselves, while the luckier ones also achieved fame (see the quote from Stan Lee below). Regardless of whether you achieve fame or not in the end, I think the greatest achievement is to live your life in your own way, using your talents to help others.
Here I have selected some quotes from more famous people to reflect on, and to provide inspiration for the year ahead. These humans weren’t perfect because no one can be and you may not like them but what they say is an enduring testimony to the power of inspiration. Some quotes will make you even think about fame in a different way. Let me know if any of these appeal to you or if you have other inspiring quotes from people who passed away this year.
“However ordinary each of us may seem, we are all in some way special, and can do things that are extraordinary, perhaps until then… even thought impossible.”
– Sir Roger Bannister (UK athlete and neurologist, who broke the human speed record)
“Every guy in the world would love to be Mr Macho, but I am camp and you cannot lie to the public. If you’re yourself, they’ll either love you or they won’t.”
– Dale Winton (UK TV presenter)
“Because you run against each other, that doesn’t mean you’re enemies. Politics doesn’t have to be uncivil and nasty.”
– George HW Bush (past US president)
“Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.”
– John McCain (US senator)
“Every time I go to a comic book convention, at least one fan will ask me: ‘What is the greatest superpower of all?’ I always say that luck is the greatest superpower, because if you have good luck then everything goes your way.”
– Stan Lee (US creator of many superhero comic characters)
“Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.”
– Aretha Franklin (US singer)
And finally these great words-
“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”
– Professor Stephen Hawking (UK scientist)