the waste books

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German scientist and man of letters Georg Christoph Lichtenberg was an 18th-century polymath: an experimental physicist, an astronomer, a mathematician, a practicing critic both of art and literature. Although he wrote and published a lot, he kept aside several notebooks  where he jotted down observations and aphorisms.  He numbered them by using the letters of the alphabet- all except ‘i’.  Surprisingly he never meant these to be published and therefore called them the ‘Waste Books’.

I came across the New York Review of Books edition.  It is quite amazing to discover these waste books were written in the 18th Century- they seem so relevant and contemporary.  A typical aphorism reads- “Everything in a man must move towards the same end.”  How pithily put- we must live and act by our values.

I looked at my collection of diaries and re-read some of these.  I would like to think that these are my ‘waste books’ but these contain much personal material as well as my aphorisms (see photo).  I used to feel ashamed of writing these as if it was some kind of subversive act but now having been inspired by Lichtenberg, I shall continue to do so.  Lichtenberg probably did not regard these outputs too highly, calling them ‘waste’ and he never meaning to publish them.  Yet reading them, I find them intelligent, humorous, humane and futuristic.  These waste books have become his most popular writings.

Sometimes we don’t realise the value of our thoughts and words.  For this reason, we must write everything down.  Then leave it to posterity to judge.  Did Lichtenberg the sage that he was, ever think that three centuries later, people from all over the world would be inspired by something he called waste?

Living lightly- part III

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Now I come to the second book I bought from the library sale (please read the last two posts if you are new to this).  This was the ‘Healing power of the mind’ by Tulku Thondup (a Tibetan Buddhist monk).  I would like to share from this book, the most powerful visualisation and relaxation exercise I have done.

This is about nothingness and imagining that you are slowly dissolving into air and your surroundings- expanding to become part of it.  Most mindfulness exercises ask you to become mindful of your body, thoughts and actions.- you are asked to ‘look’ at your body, feelings or actions and consider them lightly, letting them go.  With this ‘nothingness’ exercise you let go of everything.  It is very difficult to achieve at first but becomes easier and easier, achieving this state easily.  Perhaps this is what drugs to you I thought but without the harmful effects.  The first time I did it, it was not easy.  However, with time, melting into my surroundings has become easier for me.  I felt relaxed with the heaviness of life gone- I felt like air and light.

Thondup also talks about not ‘grasping’ state of mind.  A lot of worry and stress come from grasping- people, power, position, fame etc.  By doing this exercise of dissolving, it is the opposite of grasping.  I have this photo of snow drops and other spring flowers which disappear after the spring, only to arrive beautiful and rejuvenated with life next spring.  We also do a similar thing during sleep, perhaps even during death.  So doing this while alive can also have a rejuvenating effect.

Try it and let me know if it works for you!

How not to worry

I used to be a big worrier but now I think I have only 10% of that amount left in me.  My beloved late uncle used to say, “Hurry and worry are the biggest threat to someone’s life”.  If I look back at something that had troubled me in the past and then analysed what had actually happened, I could see that all the horrible things I had thought that might have happened, never did.  So why did I worry?  There might have been childhood insecurities as sometimes I did not have enough to eat or wear.  My dad worked long hours and I was worried I would not see him.  But anyway, I have met others who had exactly the same circumstances but not as huge worriers as me.  So perhaps it was genes.  Whatever it was, it was not good that I used to grind my teeth at night (I still wear a teeth protector at night), bite my finger and fidget endlessly.  So I am pleased that it has all but gone now.  What do I do now?

Apparently this method for not worrying was discovered by Willis H Carrier- the inventor of modern air conditioning.  According to him there are three steps-

1. Work out what is the worst that could happen in a situation (usually never happens)

2. Acceptance of the ‘worst position’- what a relief this step is!

3. Work out how to remedy the situation in step 2 (most of the time we never get to step 2 or 3)

A few weeks ago, I had a letter from the tax office who were querying some figures I had given.  I was about to go away so I asked for some time to respond.  Instead of worrying, I calmly went about collecting the information they had asked for before I left so that I could enjoy my holiday in peace.  I also thought about what the worst situation I could face- perhaps a fine.  So I looked at my bank balance and realised that I could pay a small fine off.  Eventually I sent off the letter and today I got a reply which said the tax office had accepted the figures and evidence I had given them.  A few years ago, I would have probably bitten my entire hand with worry even before sending anything off.  That hurry and worry go together as my Uncle said is so true- a calm acceptance and analysis of a situation can help us through worry.

So what about that 10% of worry that is still left in me?  I actually think it is good- it keeps me on my toes and urges me to take action.  If I was so indolent, then I would be careless too.  Excessive worry does not keep us in the moment- it takes us into the unknown future or the unchangeable past. Worry is not empowering- let it go!  As Kalidasa, the ancient Indian poet says below so eloquently, we need to live in the present moment-

Exhortation of the Dawn!

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

Lesson of mindfulness from my watch

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This is my watch- about 12 years old- an unusual design and so, many people ask me where I got it.  It has a sentimental value for me because it was bought so that I could hold my children when they were small as it has no spiky bits.  But since last week, this watch has become even more valuable to me.  All because it taught me mindfulness.

I was at a celebration last week because an affable colleague of mine received knighthood.  The venue was the beautiful Goldsmith’s hall in the City of London, shining in the resplendent glory of golden chandeliers, skilfully crafted tableware and oil paintings. Wine, conversation and food flowed; and time passed until, it was time for speeches.  I looked at my watch.  It was not there!

I recalled where I had been all day.  Perhaps I had lost in the crowded tube, perhaps in the ladies toilet, perhaps when I was at the drinks reception (I have a habit of fiddling with it), perhaps a pickpocket had skilfully taken it off- my mind raced around London, looking for clues about the missing watch.  The sound of clapping disturbed my thoughts.

It was time for my colleague to speak.  And it was time for me to give him my full attention.  I spent two minutes rationalising about the situation while he ascended the podium.  It was time to let go of this watch.  After all, I had another watch to replace it.  Okay, the other watch was not an unusual design but still, a good make.  Perhaps I would find it in the hall somewhere (I sent a message to the Senior Houseman).  But at the moment, I realised that I was sitting right in front of my colleague and I needed to listen to what he was saying.  I needed to respect his evening.  I also needed to enjoy the moment and be in the present, not in the past or future.  So after this small battle, I stayed focussed and really enjoyed his speech, being genuinely happy for him and his family.

Surprisingly for me, I even managed not to talk about my watch when the speeches were finished- there were things that were of greater importance than the loss of a 12 year old watch.  I tried to broaden my world and enjoy the last of the evening.

And when I returned to the cloakroom to get my coat on the way out, there was my watch waiting for me!  The cloakroom manager had found it- I had no idea when I had dropped it.  I was of course, very happy to get it back.  But I was happier to have learnt the big lessons of mindfulness and that of respecting people, rather than worrying about material things.  Of broadening my heart and learning to live with a loss (even though this turned out to be not true).  One day, this watch will breakdown and I will have to part with it.  But having already lost it once, I know it won’t be a big deal then.

Finding daily Inspiration

I have realised that I keep going back to certain quotes and so I thought it would be good to place them together.   Hope you enjoy ( even identify with me) and get inspired by them too!

1. The quickest way to gain power is to do something we are afraid of doing.  When we are afraid of doing something, we have given up our power to that.  So to regain that power, we need to do whatever we stopped doing or never did.

Robin Sharma (I heard this in one of his  videos so this is may not be the exact quote but it is the essence of what he said ).

2. The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King Jr. (I read this at a hotel in Birmingham when I was going through an extremely difficult time and this inspired me to carry on)

3. In your 20’s and 30’s, you worry about what other people think. In your 40’s and 50’s you stop worrying about what other people think. Finally in your 60’s and 70’s, you realize they were never thinking about you in the first place!

Anonymous (I can’t remember where exactly I read it but it struck me that I had I had spent a long time worrying about what others thought of me and consequently, I had put very little into nourishing my own soul and body.  And this had been another way of giving up my power and individuality and so this has helped me)

Today, a Buddhist friend said that he spends the time before going to bed reflecting on three things that he did for others and how he could do them better next time.  I thought this was an inspirational way to get ready for sleep in a positive frame of mind for the next day.

Finally I read this recently in Huffington Post written by Tamara Star (10/10/13) and I read this daily as an affirmation as I go around finally living my own life.

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Slow art

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This week we have the ‘Artists at home’ event where artists open up their homes to the public, show their works to the world and make sales and new friends.  I visited local artists, Kate and Jonathan, who make exquisitely detailed prints which are transferred on to paper, cloth, china ware and books.  They use box wood which can take fine work and use a very old and heavy press to imprint their designs on paper.  The work is slow, methodical and painstaking.  The materials are sourced locally or regionally.  This is a photograph of Jonathan showing his press.  Such slow art is therapeutic for both the artist and the buyer, not to mention the spectator.  As I stood in the studio, fast RAF jets flew overhead with a roar, celebrating the birthday of the Her Majesty the Queen- contrasting with the tranquility of the slow and quiet work of the artists below.  I bought one of their lovely china cups to remind myself of the value of slow art while drinking tea from it.

With my own creative work, I spend a long time contemplating what I am going to do- this I do while I am cooking or cleaning, a sort of meditation cum thought process.  The slowness of our minds helps to unblock the creativity of our hearts and what we tend to produce is much finer and introspective.  So how can we produce slow art?

1. Use your whole body– you may write with your fingers or paint with them, but to make true art, you must feel it with your whole body.  Any great work of art is that which produced with both body and soul.

2. Give it enough time– I used to only give just enough time, now I double and sometimes triple the time I need to spend on creative work.  If I ‘save’ time in doing so, then it is a lovely gift which I use for more creativity!

3. Do one thing at a timeMulti-tasking is a myth, not even women are good at it.  Mindfulness which is part of Buddhist ways of working is about paying attention to what one is doing.  So while I can just about clean and think at the same time because cleaning is not a ‘high’ skill work, I can’t listen to a fine piece of music while trying to open up my own creativity- both sets of activities compete.

So go on, try these things today if you haven’t before!  And on this note, as I have now written 50 of these blogs, I am going to go slow myself and put less pressure on myself to produce a blog each day.  So although I will not be publishing daily, I will continue on this creative journey by writing daily.  Please stay in touch!

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!

Inspiration

At one of the train stations I use, one of men working there has been putting up inspirational quotes every day on the notice board.  The quote today was particularly apt for women who want to change themselves in order to attract a partner.  This quote from Wilson Kanadi, a modern ‘twitterer’, said- “You might not think that you are not worthy.  But I guarantee you that there is someone out there who thinks you are.”  To which I have added another one from Wilson Kanadi- “If you have choices, choose the best. If you have no choice, do the best.”  Many times we, particularly women settle for the second best, thinking that nothing good will happen or who would want me, etc.  Those negative thoughts have these exact outcomes as ’cause and effect’, i.e. we meet potential partners and nothing good happens or we don’t even meet them.  So I am trying to positive from now on, keeping those thoughts in mind constantly.

 

Seeing the light

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There is a wonderful ‘book sharing’ going on at my local train station- part of a book sharing scheme for London’s tube and train stations.  So I have been taking, re-placing and giving my books.  In January this year, I found a small desk calendar.  Having no calendar for the year, I took it.  It had paintings on it but I did not give them much thought, thinking some of them a bit amateurish, only glancing at the calendar from time to time to check dates.  One day I started noticing the lovely colours of the paintings and realised for the first time that all these paintings had been made by foot and mouth artists. I was so humbled instantly.  I started researching these artists and that has been such a journey of inspiration, joy and love.

Today, I bring to you the astounding work of Keith Jansz which is featured for this month- you can google him to look at more of his work online. Keith Jansz was a successful freelance financial advisor, stockbroker and physically, a very active person. In 1995, after a car accident in which he broke his lower vertebra, he was left wheelchair bound, unable to use his arms and legs. Two years after he left the hospital he met the mouth painter Trevor C. Wells who encouraged him to paint with his mouth and Keith began a painting course at the “Open College of Art”.

That small desk calendar has made such a big impact on my life- a huge thank you to the unknown person who left it there to inspire me on my journey of following my heart.  I now realise that following our hearts is not easy and sometimes, as we learn from Keith, a huge jolt to our reality gives us the opportunity to live our lives more creatively.  I also realise once we shed our arrogance, we can look at things in a different light and truly appreciate each gift that life brings us, even a calendar.  Buddhism says, “The heart is a skilled painter.”

These inspiring words come from Keith’s website- “Before 1995, when life forever more changed in a split second, I don’t think that I really saw the world around me…Now I revel in these simple pleasurable sights but at the same time try to keep them in my memory until I can use them in my painting….Of course, not everything inspires me but as my experience develops I find that it no longer has to be a perfect sunny day to motivate me to paint – there is as much pleasure in capturing the rest of nature’s moods.  Real enthusiasm comes from the heart…I hope that my enthusiasm for life and my art is conveyed to you through my work.”

(PS- The title of this post comes from Keith’s website)

worries, no worries

I was worried that I would not be able to blog today.  My computer just closed down for no reason and would not start up.  I thought that I would have to go out to get a new one, then thought about how much it would cost, which brand I should buy, how I would bring it back home, how I would transfer my work from my old computer into the new one… and so on.  I was just getting unhappy and worried. My head was winning over my heart!

Then I just decided not to worry and just enjoy the evening with my family.  I called the computer engineer and he was to come to take away the old computer to rescue all the files the next day.  I had a lovely dinner with my children after which I started to think about all the good things that had happened today.  In light of all the good things, the computer problem was only one bad thing.  So I decided, all in all, it had been a good day.  Then a miracle happened.  Suddenly the computer burst into life.

I rang the computer engineer to cancel his appointment and then started writing this blog.  No one knows why the computer stopped working and then started again- we did Internet searches later to understand why this may have happened, we changed the fuse, looked at all the connections- but we could not figure out why a machine stopped working and then started again.  For no reason it seems.

But to think again, I think there was a reason- things happen for a reason.  Even this had a lesson for me- I am a perpetual worrier.  So my wonderful computer I like to think, taught me a great lesson about not worrying.  I must use this new lesson of not worrying from now on.  As Nichiren advises-“Never let life’s hardships disturb you. After all, no one can avoid problems, not even saints or sages….Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life…”