Living lightly- part I



I  am writing here after a long time- an eye operation, family upheavals and bereavement, illness and other things took up time.  But I did write elsewhere as a commitment to write everyday, although it is not as enjoyable as writing here.  For here, I write as myself and on whatever takes my fancy.  I am my own captain here.

I meant to write this post in the new year as I sorted out my stuff and seriously took up organising my life.  As I was getting rid of my stuff, mostly books- giving to charity, or people, recycling or selling, I came across this scene at my local library.  Not to let any moment go without buying books, this was so tempting for me.  So tempting until I learnt the story behind this pile of books.  They belonged to a dead man and were being sold to raise money for the library.  These books- new or second hand- were those he had bought, and never read- price labels intact.  Hundreds of boxes underneath the tables!  There were more apparently but the library ran out of space to take this generous gift.

I thought of how much this man had loved reading like I do and yet never found time to read them like I do.  I also have a big collection of books, but not as much as this.  Now that my eyes do not like the strain with the onset of glaucoma, I have started to read as little as possible.  I thought of a time, when I might have to do this or heaven forbid, my children might have to do this when I am gone.  No, no, no!  I felt the sadness of a possession that is never used.  Some people use things as a means of declaring their worth to the world.  Some use books to hide their nervousness of facing the reality.  I realised I read many books on organising and clutter and yet was afraid of actually tackling it.  I hung on to my self improvement books in the hope that I may improve just by reading them or reminding myself of their titles.  But life is lived in the reality, in the existence, in the mess of the world by learning, failing and trying again.  By holding on to a book, not only did I not have to take the action in the real world, I thought its existence on my shelf meant I possessed its qualities too.

So by releasing my ‘crutches’ of books, I found opportunities to engage with people and learn so much more than a solitary instruction of a book.  My life has become richer and my speaking and language have improved.  I feel more confident.  I have an important speech due in ten days.  Normally I would have felt nervous, but now I feel happy to welcome a new way of revealing my thoughts and communicating with people.  Life is experience, life is conversation!  In the moment.

PS- I did buy two books from that table but that is another post!


Making decisions

All our lives, we make decisions. Yesterday, I was so tired and yet I was trying to push myself to go to another social outing in the evening.  In the end, my brain and body both refused and fortunately I decided to listen to them.  Although I still feel tired from the week’s work and I slept for 11 hours, I shudder to think what would have happened if I had gone out last night.  I had been saved from my own stupidity!  Social outings apart, we still need to make many big or small decisions every day.  So here are my tips-

1. Listen to yourself – Some one mentioned ‘instinctive intelligence’ to me the other day and it instantly triggered something in me. So many times, we ignore the voices in our body (and I don’t mean the voices in our head) that are telling us that something is wrong and that we should do something.  So yesterday’s not going out was a form of ‘instinctive intelligence’.

2. Do not hurry but do not tarry–  Set a time for yourself unto which you need to decide.  I recently had to replace my 8 year old computer.  I did all the research into the best computer for my use, what the best prices were, where to buy it and who could give me a hand getting it from the shop to my home and then waited until my savings were there.  Then I just bought it- no more thinking.  There are no check boxes in life!

3. Think about the impact– your decision will have an impact upon your life.  What sort of impact do you want it to have? What difference do you want to make to your life?  Try to visualise the end result and then take the steps towards it.


Power of thoughts

The power of the mind has been in the news this week a lot- from Indian mystic who claims to have lived on ‘cosmic energy’ harnessed by the power of the mind for 70 years (yes, 70 years!) to the volunteers at the University of Minnesota who managed to fly model helicopters through hoops using the power of thoughts (you can see it on youtube if you like).

What many new age thinkers have been saying based on age old traditional wisdom, has now been proved scientifically. Buddhism talks about the one-ness of mind and body and for too long, mind and body have been treated separately by medical practitioners and science. So it is worth looking into what we have been thinking when we fall ill- did we have negative thoughts about ourselves or for others? Does a particular food or surrounding trigger off negative emotions or depression?  How does lack of exercise make you feel?

While it is not always practical to remove ourselves from negative environments or people, we can limit their presence and as soon our interaction with them is over, we can send out positive thoughts to them and ourselves. I did that recently with a woman I met on the street- although I initially felt angry at what she said to me, as I walked on, I continued to smile and send her smiles as well. I had the most amazing day!

As Daisaku Ikeda says- “One thing is certain: That is that the power of belief, the power of thought, will move reality in the direction of what we believe and conceive of it. If you really believe you can do something, you can. That is a fact.” I truly believe this now.  So do start using this from now on- it may be the best thing you have done for yourself and for others!

Soul food

Today I visited a hospital as part of my work.  I went around the whole building from outpatients to operating theatres, clinics to wards  (by the way, thinking about it, what strange names form part of a hospital!)  Health is one of our greatest gifts, even our greatest gift- something we do not realise until we fall ill.  Physical and mental health are part of ourselves that may be treated by doctors.  But what about our spiritual health which rules both our physical and mental health?

Our spiritual health can only be treated by ourselves.  It is the most difficult to treat.  Some people say that they have no religion.  Where they have religion or not,  everyone has their own philosophy of life that is part of their spiritual make-up.  I was reading about ‘Soul food‘, which is separate from kind of food we eat that nourishes our bodies and minds. Soul food is for the spirit.  The soul or spirit needs food and exercise to be healthy just like our physical and mental selves.  ‘Soul exercises’ are the troubles and tribulations we go through in life that expand our life states and make us more capable.  Soul food can be many things that nourish us-

1. Love and support from your loved ones- like heart warming conversation or soul stirring advice.

2. Love and support that you give yourself- like a gentle best friend who encourages you.

3. Inspirational books, music, art or films that you see- here someone else’s soul touches your soul.

4. Cutting out negative influences- leaving toxic relationships, disregarding critical messages from your childhood and from others; and any other negative external influences.

5. Soul exercise- it could be your hobbies, some great food you cooked, some work you enjoyed, the child you soothed with calming words or songs, the kind words you said to a friend, a challenge you solved, a serious illness you overcame with cheerfulness and joy- anything that you give from your soul!

If we don’t feed and exercise our souls, we cannot live a full life.  We know this from meeting people who are are physically ill and yet, we find, they could be the ‘life and soul of a party’.  It is not the mere absence of illness that makes us healthy, it is the absence of a spirit to live that makes us unhealthy.  As Nichiren wrote:

“Life is the most precious of all treasures. Even one extra day of life is worth more than ten million ryo of gold.”

(If you are ill and struggling, I recommend the book, Love, medicine and miracles by Bernie Siegel, M D which has real examples where people overcame many health problems with a strong spirit supported by proper medication and health professionals)


look at the sky


(photo of the sky from my balcony)

When I was child, I used to spend hours lying on the terrace and looking at the sky.  The changing colours, the wind, the clouds, the planes, birds and sometimes the flying kites– all fascinated me.  In particular I loved sunsets.  As I grew up, my focus become more on the things in front of me- the book, the desk and later on, the computer- and inside the room.  Many years ago, I think it was Mia Farrow, who was asked how she got her creativity.  She replied that she always looks up at the sky.  Someone also wrote that while we are stuck inside, we forget to look at the amazing drama of the skies going on.  Again, I remember someone who photographed the skies from his window for a whole year- I think it is available as a book.  All great thinkers and creative people used to take walks outside and look at the skies.  John Constable said words to the effect that ‘light was his teacher’.  Nichiren says, “There are trails in the sky where birds fly, but people cannot recognize them. There are paths in the sea along which fish swim, but people cannot perceive them. All people and things of the four continents are reflected in the moon without a single exception, but people cannot see them.”

I remembered then how I used to look at the sky so much as a child and sure, it increased my creativity.  It was not wasted time but a time for rejuvenation, rest and reflection.  We tend to forget what we did as children, when we were freer of constraints- free of having to do’s- instead we found our own natural, instinctive and low cost ways of being creative.  Fortunately I always found the right house (or rather the house found me!), where I can look at the uninterrupted expanse of sky. I try to photograph these amazing scenes and they are on my computer or my camera for me to look at- even those are inspiring.  However, nothing beats looking at the real thing!

So now go out and have a look at this amazing thing above you- it is always there and always changing.  It will give you an instant creativity shot!


Cherish a little emptiness

Crowded spaces, walls, rooms- never work for me.  I see that the best paintings and displays in the museum have spaces around it.  A little emptiness is good not just for things but our lives too.

I have been trying to give away something everyday this year to create a physical emptiness and also cutting back on things I do to create a spiritual space in my life.  This spiritual emptiness (like when children say, “I am bored!”) is especially good for your head and heart.  It is said “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” I disagree- we have to stop and slow down in order to be more productive.  Others agree with me- not only have many ‘slow’ movements sprung up around the world (slow food being a good example); but also websites and books promoting ‘idleness’.

My best ideas come to me when I am still and a little ‘bored’.

Lao Tzu says-

“Thirty spokes on cartwheel

Go inward towards the hub that is the centre

-but look, there is nothing at the centre

and that is precisely why it works!

If you mould a cup

you have to make a hollow

it is the emptiness within it that makes it useful..”