And what of the Soul?

Poulnabrone
Photo Credit: Jurgen Mangelsdorf via Compfight cc

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an Hour

William Blake

Our Universe is 14 billion years old and within the visible part there are 140 billion galaxies. Our own little planet arrived on the scene 4.5 billion years ago and then about 4 billion years ago a miracle happened.

Life.

It has taken a long time, but for the last 100,000 years our own particular species has been wandering the Earth and at the last count there are over 7 billion of us alive.

Each of us starts our life journey when a single cell splits into two and by the time we are born we have reached 140 trillion cells. Remarkably, every single cell carries a complete blue print of exactly who and what we are.

Our experience of life comes through five senses which allow us to see the reds and golds of Autumn, to hear a little robin singing as night turns to dawn, to feel the caress of a cool summer breeze on our cheek, to taste chocolate and mint in a peppermint cream, and to smell the smoke and sweetness of a turf fire.

Our greatest gift is consciousness, our thoughts and thinking, and it is through our mind that we experience the world. Yet anyone who has watched their thoughts for more than a few minutes will know that they are fleeting and chaotic.

But it is our emotions that give our life color and intensity, and as I read the stories of my fellow bloggers I begin to understand quite how intense those emotions are; despair and grief, love and laughter.

10,000 years ago at the dawn of civilization our ancestors must have been very similar to us in their thoughts and their emotions and how they experienced the world. It is astonishing that the great works of philosophy and religion appeared around the world 3,000 years ago, long before the internet and WordPress.

And yet do we not still struggle with the same challenges and mysteries?

The same emotions that make us feel so alive can also leave us feeling powerless when suffering arrives. Our thoughts and feelings can become so overwhelming, and yet we bottle them up and feel isolated in a society that values silence and secrets.

If we consider the fragility of our mortality can we ever comprehend eternity?

How do we begin to understand where this complex and vibrant world came from?

Do we pause to think about the complexity of our bodies and the vastness of the Universe?

Is there a God? Did any of our religions get it right? Does it matter? Does it change anything?

And what of the soul?

Does it exist?

And if it does, then far more importantly, how do we nourish it?

And what of the Soul?

The Bowl of Mindfulness

Sunset

Photo Credit: Erin Berg via Compfight cc

At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.

Lao Tzu

If mindfulness has a purpose, it is to find calm. It is the way back to our center, to the place of inner peace that lies within us all.

This is not an easy path. Most of the time mindfulness will only make us aware of how far we have wandered from our center. We will see the shadows of suffering cast by the distractions, bad habits and addictions that have grown within us.

But until we recognize and accept our life as it is, we cannot begin the journey back to our center, to our place of inner calm.

Mindfulness is like a bowl, it is both what the bowl is and what the bowl does.

The bowl is nonjudgmental awareness, an ability to watch our thoughts, words and actions without judging them, to become an impartial observer of ourselves.

What the bowl does is to hold our thoughts, words, and actions in this state of nonjudgmental awareness and allows them to marinate.

Meditation is the intentional practice of mindfulness where we sit without distraction for a set period of time. However, this formal practice of meditation can be both a barrier and a limitation in developing a mindfulness practice.

After all we are human and the routine of a busy working day leaves few of us with either the time or the inclination for formal meditation practice.

Instead we can aim for a few nutritional mindfulness snacks throughout the day. Not only will this help us to develop mindfulness, but it gives us a few precious moments to pause, refocus and allow the dust of the day to settle.

In a busy and demanding working day I have found three simple mindfulness practices.

Commas, full stops, and carriage returns. If every day is a page, then it has no definition without commas to add a pause, full stops to take a break, and carriage returns to end one activity and begin another.

We actively need to punctuate our day if we are to prevent it from becoming one long mad blur. I visit calm.com a couple of times a day while I’m at work This takes me for a few wonderful minutes to a distant beach to watch the sun setting, or to dawn in a misty forest to listen to the dawn chorus.

A Walk. There is no better way to draw a line under one part of the day and prepare ourselves for the next than a walk.

Something happens when we step outside the door, context returns and we become part of something bigger than ourselves. Perhaps it’s the sound of the world getting on with its own business without a care for us. Whatever it is, it usually brings perspective and well-being back into our lives.

A deep breathe. In yoga and meditation, the breath lies at the center of mindfulness. We have access to it at any time and in any situation. In the words of Thich Nhat Hahn, “When we breathe in a miracle happens, we stop the thinking. This is the miracle of mindfulness”.

These three simple practices all have one thing in common, they create a pause in the day, a gap in which we can fill our bowl of mindfulness with precious moments.

It doesn’t matter how we develop mindfulness. What matters is that we find our own way back to our center, to reclaim the inner calm that nourishes our very soul.

What path do you take?

The Bowl of Mindfulness

Mastery of Self

Thoreau

“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”
Henry David Thoreau

Does this resonate with you? Thoreau made this observation in 1847, I see its echo in the shops and on the commuter trains, on the streets and in the workplaces. It resonates with me because I know the fog of despair is like a mist that can engulf you at any time.

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.”
– Henry David Thoreau

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self.”
– Aristotle

“One who conquers himself is greater than another who conquers a thousand times a thousand on the battlefield”
– The Buddha

“Real success is success with self.  It’s not in having things, but in having mastery, having victory over self.”
– Anwar Sadat

In Walden, Thoreau writes of the power of words. Words, unlike great words of art, never fade. They retain the vigor and vitality of the moment they were first spoken.

We often feel as if we are the first and only person to experience the challenges, mysteries, and suffering that life throws in our direction. However, great minds have pondered these very experiences since we first found symbols to record our thoughts and words.

So to Aristotle, Buddha, Sadat and Thoreau I say thank you. I hear you loud and clear.

It is in mastery of self that we achieve our greatest victory.

Mastery of Self