from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

wherever you go... being awake

Of the couple of thousand on my shelves, my 'desert island' book, I think, would have to be Wherever You Go, There You Are. In its simplicity, it unpacks the core teachings of Zen mindfulness practice (Kabat-Zinn was responsible for the upsurge of interest in mindfulness the last 20-odd years). Jon K-Z woke me up, and I never tire of the teachings in this book, which lives by my bed.

In my exile on my desert island (and sometimes the notion is not unappealing!), I think I'd need the reminder that my peace of mind would do best if I remember that it's not what happens (or, indeed, doesn't) that matters, but how I deal with it.

The book brings me back to what is – just this present moment, as it is, clear of my assumptions, opinions, desires and aversions – the key to happiness, really. Happiness is not, after all, something we 'get' from the outer world, but a state of presence – a mind that is clear and accepting and fully present with how things are, non-judgementally. 

I think I used to believe that was a rather crap and inferior state of mere contentment, and who would want that when they could have real passion, extreme experience, knowing they were really alive by the dramatic edge on which they could choose to live?

I write that and chuckle, recognising the girl in me who continued being that girl for way past girlhood. And, of course, she is still also there. But I no longer make the mistake, I see, of identifying happiness with drama and excitement. (Must be getting old, or growing up at last, then...)

So these days I can differentiate my fear of falling into a life of 'quiet desperation' (it wasn't actually Pink Floyd who wrote that, but Thoreau, of Walden Pond fame) that I used to think was the dull mud of 'contentment', from the very deep joy that can come from knowing I am exactly where I should be right here right now, that I can determine my own future with my response to how things are right now, and that there is nowhere to get to, nothing to achieve, except to learn  – and it's a continuous practice, moment-by-moment – to be awake and aware in this moment, the only one I'll ever have...

Thank you, J K-Z – your book, sent to the 35-year-old me, as a gift from America by someone I only met once, really has turned my life around.


  1. Well that book has just moved to the top of my "to read" pile! :-) I think the title of that book must have entered the zeitgeist while I was young because it's always floated around in the back of my head, an encouragement to accept just how responsible I am for the situations I find myself in, how I paint them in my mind (as opposed to how they may actually be in reality) and subsequently how I feel about my life and my self, day to day.
    That comment of mistaking drama and excitement for happiness reminds my of the gist of WWLTM, mistaking the torrent of eros as somehow being more real or more meaningful than the other forms of love; agape, pragma, storge etc which actually to me seem far more fulfilling.
    Another lovely post! Keep 'em coming (as time permits of course) ;-)

  2. Naomi, thank you so much for a great comment. Yes, re WWLTM - quite right - I must at last be growing out of that phase! ;-)

    AND THANK YOU re 'pragma' and 'storge' - TM and I have been trying to remember the other names (eros, agape, and the brotherly one - lost it again - all came to mind; Fromm speaks of them, doesn't he?) for love but had forgotten those two. V useful.

    1. I think Mania and Ludus are the other two. Mania is said to often go hand in hand with Eros - an unstable mix if ever there was one. I had always understood Ludus to be child-like as in the love between siblings or comrades but apparently it can also refer to treating love as a game or conquest; epitomised by the modern day "player" - which seems a bit grim!

  3. Naomi, thanks again for a rich addition. Ludus is certainly to do with play, so I prefer to think of it as a kind of playful trickster quality that can add a lightness to any love relationship. 'Gamesmanship' is perhaps more an emblem of our modern cynical age, sadly...


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