The Path to Zen

I’ve been having lots of creative ideas during lockdown. When I take the time to just sit and meditate, it’s amazing what a calm mind can provide – rather than mulling over my past or my future, I gain some new thoughts and perspectives on things.

One such idea concerns my new service: “The Path to Zen”. This is an intriguing concept; it’s about offering a 2 year service to mentor an individual into nudging them along towards ‘Zen’. Two years!! Wow, a long time, people might say.

I’ve noticed in the five years of my mindfulness practice, that it’s taken me that long to arrive at some deep realisations about myself, my place in the universe and what everything all means for me. In those five years, I’ve done a lot of inner work: I’ve cried, I’ve shouted, I’ve got angry, I’ve had sadness, I’ve had all the emotions in the book. I’ve also leaned into my emotions, my resistances to a lot of events/situations in my life and I’ve become more curious about them, really honing and chipping away at what it means to be…well, me…or perhaps, not even me.

I’ve come to something which is quite humbling for me. Actually, there is no me. What I call ‘me’ is just an illusion, really. I’m part of everything, no different to the water, the clouds, the air, the earth or the fire. Everything is impermanent, everything alters and transforms into something else. I wonder when my time is up, what I will transform into. A ray of light? A cosmic being? An animal? A tree? When I have such thoughts, I laugh at this little ‘me’ that I hang onto for dear life.

I suppose what I’m getting at in this blog is that we like to sit in our permanent thoughts. We want things to stay the same. Not many people look forward to when they get older, for example. We don’t actually want to transform! We plot ways to try and stop the flow of this time: if I could do more fitness, if I could do more healthy eating, if I could not be sagging here, or getting a double chin there…

We also continually plot how to make our future more secure. Often, we delay our happiness until an external condition is supplied: I’ll be happy when I meet someone; I’ll be happy when I have tonnes of money in the bank; I’ll be happy when I retire etc. Only we lose our happiness of our current life! We’re delaying our joy of life as it is now. And life is so fleeting, so…impermanent…that many of us waste our lives in this kind of striving, this kind of future thinking.

Even after five years, I’m still learning. The Path To Zen never stops. It’s not something to be achieved. It’s a journey. I can let go of my ego telling everyone ‘look how far I’ve come’ for the cosmic joke of all of this! However, the longer one walks the journey, the more wisdom and insight one gets. This is certainly true, and not caught up in ego ‘trying to impress’ guises.

I’ve decided, therefore, to offer this two year service – to help people along the path, along the journey, so they can begin to walk it themselves. We have to get to a certain place before we can walk this walk. We have to let go of our ego thinking mind, this ‘me’, this illusion of happiness in a far away land, and come back to ourselves right now.

And this kind of change takes time. It takes a lifetime of practice, but if I can offer a two year mentoring service for people on what I’ve discovered; if I can reach some people to follow this journey, I’m positive it will improve their well-being and give them more contentment of life.

For more information on the service click here (scroll down to the second part of the page).

Lessons from a leaky roof

Last week we discovered we had a leaky roof.

After realising the issue was from four different areas in the roof, we knew we had to repair the whole roof. The tiles are years old, and we had been riding our luck for a while with the house, just patching it up here and there. This time, the house had had quite enough, and was telling us about it.

The initial reaction was something I could hold with mindfulness: that shock, that annoyance at such a thing, during a lockdown, during a time when money was precious. I breathed and breathed, feeling my annoyance, smiling at it, knowing it was there and calming it. I went and made myself a cup of tea, and I sat with that, holding the mug gently, taking the time to drink it and really taste the tea. I paused in my condemnation at the universe and whatever else I wanted to blame.

I’ve learned from my practice of mindfulness. I’ve learned not to take things personally; that whatever comes our way is what comes. That every arrival to our door is a lesson – a gift just waiting to be unwrapped. At the time of the news, I had no idea what the gift of a leaky roof could be, but knowing I looked at it with curiosity rather than annoyance meant it wasn’t a threat to my well-being; I was comfortable with it.

After a few days, I sat and meditated and suddenly came up with an epiphany: one gift was shown to me. With excitement, I scribbled in my notebook, and came up with a plan to help with my income. It had been something I’d be toying with before, a change to my delivery of mindfulness courses with Zen Life Fife. Only, because I felt my needs were met, I chose not to pursue it at the time.

The leaky roof had shown me that my needs weren’t fully met; that I’d never put enough money aside to cope with things like sudden house improvements/repairs. It was always something I’d put off, not really expecting things to happen…but of course, things do happen. Also, I had noticed that I’d been offering the same things for a while in my business; in some way, I’d gotten complacent about it and wasn’t giving it my all. I realised as well that for things to improve, for things to become truly amazing, we have to give things our all. As Roald Dahl once famously said, ‘lukewarm isn’t enough’. We need to be passionate about our lives, about our service/purpose.

How fascinating, then, for a leaky roof – on the surface of it, a watery pit of gloom and doom -to be transformed into a kickstart for a new approach at some aspects of my business, and a rekindling of the passion that got me started in the first place!

Thank you, leaky roof. Welcome in, leaky roof. You are teaching and showing me so much.

Garden sitting

I write this blog after eight weeks in lockdown due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

With time at home, I’ve been using the space like a mindfulness retreat, where, in between my online work and adapting my job to exist in this home, internet world, I’ve been taking the action to ‘just be’ every day. Part of this ‘being’ has, with gratitude to the continuing sunshine, been taken outdoors, in our back garden.

These moments outdoors have been sacred, and very healing. By just sitting and looking at the cloud formations passing the house, the feel of the warm sun on my skin; the sounds and delights of all the birds that are fully enjoying spring, I’ve discovered further peacefulness and joy. It’s like a meditation – just sitting, just letting things be as they are, noticing if my mind wanders and bringing it back to ‘just sitting in the garden’.

Over the time, things have grown. Flowers have opened up, like the poppies pictured. Birds have taken to nesting in little alcoves in our outbuilding, and other wildlife has re-emerged from the shadows – one particular delight was the first sighting of an orange-tipped butterfly dancing around our garden fence.

Nature continues, without any care or judgment. This is always a wonderful practice, to sit out in nature, bringing myself back to what truly is happening; not what my mind sometimes tells me. Here, I feel part of everything, breathing with the flowers, giving them more life. I look at the sun and feel the light descending, covering everything. If not for the sun, I wouldn’t exist. Nothing would exist. I can look at the sun and have huge gratitude for its continued presence.

These moments have certainly helped me ease into this lockdown, without worrying too much about the uncertainty over the future. It’ll arrive soon enough, and I’ll deal with it then. Until then, I’m content to sit, practice my being, which has given me a lot of resilience, joy and peacefulness in this time. I hope that I can then offer that joy out into the world to people who really need it; for people who might not have the luxury of sitting in a garden, or having the time, or are coping with larger, more difficult issues in their life.

So, I’m taking this opportunity to send some light, some of that sunshine that I’ve felt, out to you all, in the hope that it helps with your current situations. May you all be safe, happy and free of suffering.

A day of mindfulness

The above quote sums it all up. If we’re thinking too much about past or future, we aren’t present, and we can cause ourselves much suffering. At the moment, it is crucial for us all to try and live in the present, because there is so much happening that can cause us to spin out of control and increase our suffering.

I’m trying to live every day as mindfully as I can. My typical ‘day of mindfulness’ runs a bit like this:

“I wake up, and I breathe deeply for a few in-breaths and out-breaths. I attempt to smile, and to acknowledge that I’m still alive, and that I have another day ahead of me. I then get up, and feel the carpet under my feet as I move from bedroom to bathroom. I focus on my tasks in the bathroom – shower, cleaning teeth, going to the loo etc. I notice if my mind thinks about anything else, and try and bring it back to these simple, everyday tasks.

I then sit and meditate. It varies how long depending on what I need to do in a particular day, but I try at least for 10 minutes. At best, I’ve managed an hour. I sit and focus on my breathing, and let go of any thoughts. I notice my thoughts, how my body feels, how I feel. I don’t fix or think about anything as best as I can. Sometimes my mind is more choppy, and I think about lots of things. Other times I can calm my mind sufficiently to really enjoy the process of simply observing my breath.

I try and do my tasks in the day ‘with being’. I really focus on them, noticing if my mind wanders. I notice if I begin to feel grumpy, or annoyed, or frustrated with boredom, or feel overwhelmed, or anxious, and I breathe and welcome in the feelings. There are times I don’t manage it, and that my thoughts tumble around, and for a while I am anxious or fearful, or annoyed, or sad. It’s ok to have all these emotions. I give myself as much kindness as I can. I’m doing my best. I’m working through the emotions, being with them, not pushing them away or distracting from them, or blaming something for them. I let go of judgment of them and just accept them. Even if I don’t notice them at first, I’m getting better at noticing them and being with them.

I mindfully walk everyday. I make sure I try and feel the ground under my feet, and get outdoors in the sunshine when I can. I love looking at wildlife, hearing the wind breeze through trees. I tune into everyday sounds, and this, out of all the practices, calms me the most.

I try not to rush, or hurry onto the next things on my ‘to do’ list. Obviously with work and sessions to run, I do need to ‘do things’ and I set times to do just that, but at other times I breathe, rest up, and try and space out the ‘doing’ with as much ‘being’ as possible.

It’s not always easy to stay in the moment. That mind and ego can come in and take us away on stories, imaginations and worries. I’ve noticed in particular recently how up and down I’ve been feeling with what’s been happening. There are ‘good’ days and ‘bad’ days, but with mindfulness we take away the ‘good/bad’. There is no judgment, just feeling a certain way now, and then feeling a certain way now, and so on!

I’m finding the practice invaluable, especially in those moments where I am suffering physically/mentally. To have pockets of present moment calmness is worth its weight in gold.

May you all stay safe, stay well, and sending loving-kindness to you all in these unprecedented times.

Braes Loan Trail, Markinch – Mindful Walk – Sun 29th March, 1pm-3pm

A 2 hour mindful walk, beginning at Markinch train station car park, and then a slow walk along countryside tracks forming part of the Braes Loan trail. There are several historic features along this trail, and stunning views. We’ll return to Markinch and walk through the town back to the station (with optional visit to a local cafe for refreshments).

Cost is £10 per person. Please contact Craig if you’d like to attend (email: info@craig-gilbert.com or text 07846 399594).

To dwell, or not to dwell…

I’m noticing a lot of dramatic news headlines these days. The wording used on some of these articles can be very judgmental; taken literally, it would guide us to hide under our beds and never come out to face this life we’re in. It’s fine to watch the news and take in the facts, but when it’s spun in such an intense fashion with the wording it can create fear within us. These kind of thought processes locks us into our ‘fear’ base, and threatens our own sanity, putting us into tinier ‘comfort zones’, separating us from what we actually need to live (and thrive) in happiness.

So, it gets me pondering, what should we dwell upon? What should be considered as ‘fact’, or ‘fiction’? What can we do to avert the ‘fear’ from growing within us, when there seems so much of it around?

What we consume, either through our media, news, movies, stories and people’s guidance, will always affect how we feel about life. Watch enough horror on TV and you’ll get used to it; it won’t shock as much, it’ll become mainstream for your mind. It’ll even become you, in some way, just as if you were sitting consuming other peoples’ anger in a room. We’ll become angry ourselves if we stay in such environments. So, if we’re living in fear, we become fear.

Changing our mindset, choosing what we dwell upon, is key to a peaceful mind. Do we watch the news 24/7, lapping up the drama of headlines and then gossip about how despairing the world is becoming? Or do we look at the headlines, accept these things are happening, and then continue to look at our own lives, to be as happy and calm as we can be? Can we consider what we can do, as one person on the planet, to help? In a room full of angry people, one calm person can make a difference. That one person will be rippling out peacefulness in all directions.

I’m dwelling on gratitude, happiness, joy of life. I’m dwelling on helping others as much as I can. I’m dwelling on my own self worth, self compassion and seeing the good in everything. There’s a gift in whatever comes, if we look hard enough. At worst, it’s teaching us something about how we are: where we do get angry, or despondent. Knowing ourselves is the beginning of transforming ourselves.

I no longer have a TV licence. I do not watch the news. I keep abreast of it online, so I do know what’s going on, but I don’t invest a lot of time in the consumption of it. The dramatic way it can be portrayed can fill us with negativity and worry. By consuming other things in my senses, even the simplicity of feeling sunshine on my face, or watching blackbirds foraging in the undergrowth for worms, keeps my spirit energised and joyful. I believe if we all did this, if we all discovered that life is here for joy and abundance is all around us, then we would – collectively – change the world consciousness and we’d all start to heal all the issues we face as a collective unit.

So, what are you going to dwell upon today? The present – each moment available to us, or worry over the future, or despair over the past?

Five misperceptions about mindfulness

Every moment matters

1: Non-judging means we have to be passive and just accept everything

A: No. Non-judging is accepting the current moment. We can’t be fully present if we’re judging a situation. Judging is a ‘head’ thought process and takes us to the past, i.e. through criticism, blame and often negative words that make us feel heavy the longer we’re in the ‘judging’ mode. Instead of judging, mindfulness encourages us to practice non-judgment, which is letting go of the thoughts of a situation and tuning in to our awareness of it instead; we can then use our intuition, wisdom and discernment to decide on our next action (right action).

For example, if there’s a fire in our home, we don’t judge it as being ‘bad, horrible, a nightmare etc.’ but we also don’t sit there and let the flames engulf us. We’ll act, call the fire brigade, throw water on a fire, or run (or all three) because that’s the ‘right action’ to do. We don’t need to judge in order to do something, but we do need to ‘accept’ that things have happened or are happening. That’s going with the flow. Judging just keeps us stuck and blocks us from the flow.

2. Mindfulness is just a distraction from reality – we’re zoning out, stopping our thinking!

A: No. You’ll never stop your thinking, but mindfulness will make you more aware of what you think. Letting go of thoughts to become present is what mindful meditation is about. We don’t need thoughts to just ‘be’. Being gives us calmness, patience, joy and ultimately happiness. Thoughts do not. It is the experience of the present that fulfils a life, not mental formations. Moreover, using awareness on what we’re doing isn’t zoning out, it’s paying more attention!

3. Mindfulness isn’t going to solve my problems. What’s the point in ‘just being’ when there’s stuff to do and fix?

A: Mindfulness isn’t about doing nothing. It’s about doing things ‘with being’. We are present for what is in front of us. This includes eating, drinking, going to the loo, cleaning our teeth, walking, driving a car, having a bath and so on. We can be mindful of all these things. By being more present, your awareness improves, which in turn helps you notice when you’re suffering more (i.e. you KNOW you’re anxious, for example) and by being with these emotions (and not judging them) this can change your relationship with such emotions. Problems will come and go but they’ll be different, and you’ll be more able to see your suffering and other peoples’ suffering too. That leads to kindness, compassion and brings us back to our inherent human goodness, which is always there if we choose to see it. Paradoxically, not thinking about yourself and your problems so much will actually improve your situation than if you were to dwell on them or strive to eradicate them. Accept, forgive, move on.

4. Mindfulness discourages the use of technology.

A: No. Again, there’s no judgment! We just notice if we’re using our mobile phone 3000 times a day with our awareness. It’s an interesting fact that awareness can change our behaviour and our inherent wisdom of what’s good for us tends to overcome habits once we observe ourselves doing the same thing over and over again. This way, many mindful people CHOOSE to use technology less if it’s distracting them too much.

5. Mindfulness is only for certain people. I’m way too busy to do it. Anyhow, it’s only being selfish anyway. What about the world – climate change, etc? Shouldn’t we be working on that instead?

A: Being ‘too busy’ is thinking about time which brings in past and future. If you’re engaged in what you’re doing right NOW, you’ll be finding the present moment. Being in the present moment is something everyone does from time to time, so we could say mindfulness is actually universal. The practice of mindfulness is catching yourself leaving the present moment and choosing to come back to it. It’s no more selfish than any choice, whether it’s eating chocolate or not, or staying at home or not. One finds with mindful practice, and meditation in general, that one becomes more selfless, bringing about increased compassion, loving-kindness, love and understanding. Imagine a world where more people are this way. Perhaps mindfulness could help things like climate change, after all, if it changes peoples’ outlook on life. We certainly would evolve into more conscious beings, acting out of wise counsel, not subconscious thought patterns based on ‘fear’ based judgments.

The delight of foxes

On January 1st, I did a wonderful mindful walk with my wife Caren. We had stayed the night at a friend’s house in Ladybank for Hogmanay, and as there were no buses back on Jan 1st, took it upon ourselves to have a leisurely, slow walk through the Fife countryside from Ladybank to Falkland, via Kingskettle and Freuchie.

Mindfully walking is an amazing thing, because it concentrates your mind and body to act as one. Rather than thinking about past or future issues in our lives, we focus in the present at our surroundings: the feel of the ground under our feet, the ever changing weather, the sights and sounds of wildlife. We use our awareness of the moment to keep coming back, again and again, when our mind wanders off.

We decided, also, to explore some woods we’d walked many times before, but moving off the track and through the trees, just out of curiosity. In doing this, we had to walk ever slower, stepping over root, lowering under branch, and generally watching our footing.

Portals in the woods…

This slowness made us more quiet, and then, lo and behold! We spotted five deer. Nature wasn’t content to leave us with that; we then heard sounds above, looked up, and spied a red squirrel munching at the top of a tree. Amazing what can be seen when one slows, leaves public paths, and ventures into the land.

We rejoined the main track, heading through woods towards the village of Newton of Falkland. We had stopped to inspect some strange markings on a tree, when Caren grabbed my shoulder and turned me around. She’d heard a noise behind, and then had spotted it first. I turned and before us, thundering down a track just opposite to the one we were standing on, was a fox.

I’ve never seen a fox do such a thing before: it plunged through the undergrowth, not quietly (as I felt foxes did), but with rapturous presence. It stopped briefly just up a slight rise in the path, looked back at us as if to say: ‘Did you see me?’ then plunged into its lair.

An amazing walk, not to mention all the birds we saw, and the ever changing cloud formations on a windy day. This highlights to me that when we take our time to slow down, to just be, to not fill our head with incessant thinking, we begin to see more visually what is happening on the ground. In fact, I’d go as far to say that we’re not sending out brain waves into the landscape; we’re calmer, and so wildlife tends to be less afraid and comes more into view. This is speculation on my part, but in the current state of being I’m in, I’m curious about such matters. Certainly, what we think can manifest into reality. Perhaps by being calmer, we’re influencing the world around us into being more calm.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Honouring the magic

The miracle of each moment; that we are here at all,

Fully conscious elementals of light;

as pure as stars, as hot as suns,

we feel and touch each strand of time,

we follow a journey with purpose,

each seed in us is watered every day,

and we transform:

we become different to our past,

we evolve, rising to the stream of collective thoughts

and dance into our new, effortless wizardry.

As we end 2019, I felt this new poem fitted my current views. It has been an incredible year, full of change and portent for the future. I keep coming back to how the end of the year feels very different to the beginning of it; how things have transformed for me, for others and for our planet.

2020, the start of a new decade, will see all the efforts of humanity continue to tackle climate change and old ‘fear based’ processes, with our consciousness re-awakening to knowledge of what’s going on and how to face these challenges. No longer are we content to sit in the shadows, watching things unfold without action – I firmly believe we are changing as a species, rising up to awaken to all the issues we face on Earth, with continuing movement towards kindness, compassion and insight.

This then, feels like the magic – the blossoming, new energy, this collective view that is starting to pervade everything and everyone. I can feel this change in my body; there’s a moment of pause, before we plunge into something very exciting. I wonder if others feel this way too?

Often the news can give us depressing items, or fuel our fear through the fears of others, but I’m believing our self-reliance and inner wisdom is filtering these stories, unearthing what is really true and what is really helpful for us going forward. There’s always hope, and I feel 2020 will provide us with even more for us to feel hopeful and grateful for.

I am truly glad to be alive, in this ever changing climate, with a degree of excitement to what is in store. Next year will see changes in where I live, what I do and how I continue my practice of mindfulness. I plan to write a lot more, and am hopeful for five book projects to be released. There’s like a build-up of creativity just waiting to be unleashed.

The time to start, as always, is now…

Wishing everyone a peaceful Christmas and a very happy New Year.

Mindful Walk, Riverside Park, Glenrothes – 1pm-3pm, Sunday 23rd February 2020

A 2 hour mindful walk, beginning at Riverside Park car park, and then a gentle amble on some of the paths beside the river at Riverside Park, before an optional visit back to Glenrothes Shopping Centre for refreshments. Cost is £10 per person. If you’re interested in attending, please contact Craig Gilbert via private message to this page, or text: 07846 399594 or e-mail: info@craig-gilbert.com – thank you.