Stillness in spring

The above quote, taken from my latest book ‘About Zen: mindfulness’ shares a delight of being surrounded by the stillness of trees. It got me thinking: how often do we, as humans, really take the time to sit in a woodland and allow the presence of the trees to be felt?

I’ve been doing this more and more, especially during the pandemic and the issues we’ve been facing lately as a society. I find it an incredibly healing practice. There’s something wonderful about letting go for a moment, just sitting, noticing the stillness with awareness; allowing the odd creak of trunk and branch moving in the wind to engage the ear.

It’s becoming a habit for me to do such things. I always discover, especially if there are things ‘on my mind’, that I can allow the thoughts to pass when I go to somewhere in nature. The vitality of the fresh air that trees provide generates a symbiotic relationship that without them, I’d be struggling for oxygen; I in turn give them my carbon dioxide on my out-breath. Again, I’m reminded of the interconnected web of life, and problems about ‘self’ tend to fall away.

If you have a problem just now, see if you can take the issue out somewhere, and sit in the stillness. Spring is a perfect time for this, when it’s warmer outside, and delight in the colours of snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils that are beginning to emerge. Even if you’re sitting in a garden or a park bench, you’re still getting access to this stillness – this awareness that dwells everywhere. You might be able to take the stillness back into your home, in your spaces, keeping the silence alive within you. You’re not ‘avoiding’ your problem; you’re giving yourself rest and kindness, to recharge your batteries and to access your inner wisdom which will be able to cope with the problem more than maybe your logic brain is trying to.

By coming back to the present moment (and nature is so good at that) we are reminded to come back to ourselves. From there, you’re building a foundation of stillness, peacefulness and gentle kindness within you. The world needs more of those attributes.

May you all stay safe and well in these times.

New year message 2021

I post this during a renewed lockdown in many countries for Coronavirus and the news showing the current political violence in the USA. These are just two examples of how 2021 is impacting so many people, just as the year before affected so many.

My heart opens to the suffering in this world, and compels me to write this blog today.

The news continues to repeat the same headlines, just with different actors and events. There is violence. There is anger. There is separation, anxiety and death. How can we, as viewers of this continuing narration, serve the world? How can we help ourselves change?

I’ve been reading and learning a lot about non-duality lately: this means seeing (and feeling) the world as one, interconnected whole. It’s only in our minds (our conditioned interpretation of things) that we think there are boundaries and differences between people, cultures, countries and systems. We’ve been working on this ego-mind for centuries, fueling religious differences, racial differences, political differences, and the ego is full of panic, of anxiety and anger. We try to protect ourselves through our unconscious mind that creates all of this world. When there’s separation like this in our identity, there’s conflict.

From this understanding and insight of ‘wholeness’, to be angry at someone is being angry at ourselves. Whenever anger manifests within, it needs to be treated, cared for and loved, just as if we were hugging a young child needing comfort. That gives us comfort; it transforms the anger into kindness. If we’re all connected, what we do, how we act and what we think manifests into reality not just for us, but for everyone.

What if we all worked on our kindness, our compassion, our joy, our gratitude, our connectedness? What if we woke up from our own ego mind, which is just a tiny part of our being, and witnessed the awareness underneath – our innate, natural state that lives to love, to care and to nurture ourselves and others? We are not our thoughts, or our judgmental interpretation of things, because we can see these thoughts. Thoughts are conditioned by our past. Beyond thought, there just is, there’s just awareness of being alive. This awareness is inherently non-conditional.

I finish this blog with this seed of hope; that we all wake up to kindness and our natural, unbiased, non-conditional awareness. There, I’ve planted it onto the internet. I’m sending everyone in the world, right now, kindness and love. I wish everyone to suffer less. May you all have a kind, hopeful 2021, filled with the wonder that truly is this life.

“Even on the darkest of days, we can catch a glimpse of something majestic, something beautiful.”

Winter awareness

Awareness: it’s the key to non-judgment.

When we turn our awareness onto something, whether it’s the trees we’re walking by, the sound of the wind, the feel of the ground under our feet, the sense of taste when we’re eating…whatever our focus is on is without judgment. It’s just connecting ourselves to the moment we’re in.

Therefore, awareness is what gives us the now and takes away our ‘thinking’ about it. We’re just present with our awareness, choosing to see what is happening with our senses. The longer we can stay in this state, the less heavy we become. It is an amazing thing that the more we cultivate our awareness, the joy of simply being arrives.

We are so conditioned in modern society to be doing, to be rushing, to be thinking, and everything we take in can make us think (even reading this article might make you think!) and so if we’re bombarding ourselves with images, books and soundbites we’re filling our head with potential thought.

This is fine so long as we see how often we’re there, and choose to come back to our awareness. I’m looking forward to winter, in the fact that there are many things that I can use my awareness on: the colours of autumn leaves, the sounds of wind storms/rain hitting my window, the feeling of the cold, the sounds of fire crackling in my log burner, the gaze upon the flames dancing in front of me, that delicious hot chocolate I’m drinking, cradling the mug in my hands….awareness can be absolutely everywhere!

So, this winter, see what you can focus on with your awareness. More awareness is more meditation of the moment you’re in. Practising this will increase your ability to see your thoughts and emotions, and then you’ve got a choice of what to do, consciously, mindfully.

Looking at winter this way, then, for me, is akin to being on more mindful retreats, without having to go anywhere particularly. Each time I dwell in the moment, I lose my judgment of everything – and this is where my healing begins again in earnest. So, notice if you’re grumpy, fed up with the long winter nights, moaning about life, or judging things to be dark and miserable, and come back to your awareness. By tuning into the feeling, you’re healing, and you’re creating acceptance within you.

Happy winter and the remainder of 2020; here’s to a wonderful New Year filled with wonder and gratitude. Compassion and kindness to everyone.

Remembering to be mindful

I took a walk recently and came to these two bridges near my home. I decided to incorporate a ‘mindful trigger’ in my life, which is a rule I’ve created for myself: whenever I walk over a bridge, I practice breathing. I call this the ‘breathing bridge meditation’.

It’s one of many ways I work to remember to practice mindfulness in my everyday life. If we can all think of a mindfulness trigger like this, we’ll be cultivating the practice and making our awareness stronger.

Mindfulness isn’t difficult; but we sometimes think it is. We complain when we’ve been practising it for years and not getting any results. We tell ourselves off for not meditating every day, or for forgetting to be mindful in situations when, in hindsight, it would’ve been extremely valuable to have done so. Our mind is always letting us know when we’re wrong, or a failure, and yet, all of these labels are just mental formations made up by our thinking brain: they’re not actually real; they’re not of the moment. What is wrong? What is failure? These are concepts that we cling to, because we’re used to clinging on to them.

As soon as you focus on your awareness, you’re being mindful. You’re mindful of your breathing. You’re mindful of your cup of tea. You’re mindful of the rain hitting your window. These things are just breathing. Just drinking. Just listening. There’s no ‘mind label’ of right or wrong, or success or failure. Things just are. It is just what it is.

At those times, we’ve become mindful. You’re doing it! You’ve achieved it – so how difficult is it? We can all do it because we’re born with awareness. Try it right now. Take a deep breath, feeling the air as you breathe-in, feeling the air as you breathe-out. A moment of mindfulness.

What’s curious is because we re-enter our mind that labels everything, we often lose mindfulness for a while as we journey through our heads. Yet we’re only truly a moment away from reclaiming it, from coming back to ourselves with our awareness in the present moment.

Small but often practice starts to see changes. Putting mindfulness post-it notes over your house; having a routine everyday to have a go is wonderful. This creates a discipline, just like when I walk over bridges, I always stop and take a full breath. It’s built in me now to do that.

So, notice if your mind labels mindfulness to be ‘difficult’, or ‘worthless’, or that ‘I’m not doing it right’, or ‘only people who have time on their hands can do it’, or ‘I’ve not time to sit and just be, look at all the stuff that needs doing’ etc. By noticing your thoughts and labels, you become mindful. This is what letting go of judgment means. You simple engage with what is going on now.

Wishing everyone all the best in these current times. May we all manage little moments of mindfulness to ground us and nurture us.

Mindful Walk – Falkland to Freuchie via Laich Road, Lathrisk and Newton of Falkland: Sun 30th Aug, 1pm-4pm

We’ll start at Falkland community car park (by the library). From there, we’ll walk along the Laich Road, follow country roads to a woodland at Lathrisk, then proceeding along the back route into Freuchie. There is a possibility of refreshments at the Lomond Hills Hotel (or the Spar shop opposite), then onward leaving Freuchie, walking along the side of the B road to Newton of Falkland, where we’ll wander down through the north part of the village to rejoin the Laich Road and then back to Falkland.

Please note this route is approx 5 miles, so an extra hour has been added making this a 3 hour event.

To book your place please contact Craig either by text (07846 399594) or e-mail: info@craig-gilbert.com
Cost is £10 per person.

Note on walks: We’ll still be practicing social distancing as restrictions are still in place. 

Mindful storm practice

Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday morning gave my wife and I the most dramatic thunderstorm we’d ever seen in our lives. Normally, I’m a big fan of watching thunderstorms, but as we were in the middle of a new roof installation on our house, I noticed a lot more than just the continual lightning and rumbles of thunder outside!

There it was; anxiety and tension, watching as each blast of lightning continued on, adding torrential rain to the mix…for around 8 hours.

The rain began to leak in after the first hour, first at the windows, then through the ceilings in three rooms. Taking a ladder, we went up to the loft and noticed several leaks – unsurprising as we had been without roof tiles and guttering. Several hours of placing strategic pots, pans, tubs, bowls etc. later, and we’d caught most of the leaks and stopped the ceiling problem.

My wife ingeniously worked out a way to open the windows slightly, putting bin liners in tactical places to divert the water back outside rather than inside.

All through it, we practised mindfulness. We noticed our tension, we noticed our worry, and we breathed with it. We took moments to sit and ground ourselves; to remind ourselves that the storm couldn’t last forever, and that everything would dry out. We made cups of coffee and sat and drank these slowly, watching the lightning and listen to the awe-inspiring, deafening rain.

So, we got through. Mindfulness helped my wife and I endure a night without too much ‘inner angst’. We just got on with what we needed to do in the moment and that kept us calmer. It’s another example of what the practice can do for you in tougher circumstance; it builds resilience – a few years ago I think we’d have both been a lot more panicky about the same situation.

Seeing the news the next day, I feel we got off rather lightly and were very fortunate. So many other people had flooding in their homes; cars abandoned (floating in a hospital car park just down the road from us!) and people lost their lives in a train derailment.

We just don’t know what life is going to throw at us next, and 2020 has certainly been such a year for the uncertain to pull the rug out from under us, to make us re-assess and ponder our lives and the way we live. The storms certainly seem to be one reaction to the climate emergency that is now upon us. Now, more than ever, we need to centre ourselves and root ourselves in our calming practices, so we can observe the right action going forward for this world: the most compassionate action for us and the planet.

There is always hope; for me, it’s rooted to how we live in the present moment (and building our awareness of those moments). I believe now more than ever that we could all be working together, regardless of country or background, to give love and compassionate action to the world and all those who live in it. We can only begin to do that if we’re compassionate to ourselves and our immediate locales.

The storm, then, for us, was – like the leaky roof that instigated our replacement installation (now we do have roof tiles!) – a gift, another sign of building resilience and of the reminder to inter-connect with everything. We are not separate. It’s not humans versus the rest of the world, or even each other – we’re all part of the same system.

True knowing of this can only guide us in the right direction for the future.

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.