Category Archives: meditation

Inspiration Monday: Silence

pat oxburgh b&w

Husband sitting in the partially ruined church at Oxburgh, Norfolk

I was reading the chapter on silence in Christina Baldwin’s book ‘Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as Spiritual Practise’, and it immediately rang bells for me. I have a particular reason for this. Let me explain:

One of the symptoms of the chronic illness with which I live, ME/CFS, is sensitivity to noise. Some days are better than others, but there are everyday sounds in modern life that can create physical agony for me. And no, I’m not kidding.  I mean, I get actual pain. A cold electric current feeling up and down my spine and a nauseating icy pain in the back of my skull. Unpleasant to say the least.

For the first three years of my illness, I couldn’t listen to any music with a beat at all. Every thud of bass was like a knitting needle jabbed into my neck. No pop radio, no rock, no hand jiving in the car to the Stone Roses or the Pet Shop Boys. No Elvis.  No Beatles.  Nothing.

I couldn’t listen to anything much. Mozart and Bach worked, a little Handel mixed in. Beethoven proved too noisy, as did anything after him, although I did find I could handle some Vaughan Williams. Opera was right out, so goodbye to my favourite tenor, Placido Domingo. I just couldn’t bear to listen to him anymore.

Most of the time, though, any kind of noise was painful.

So for three years I avoided places where the music was piped, and had to ask friends who listened to music perpetually to turn down their stereos, which was mortifying because they just didn’t understand.

I adjusted to a world without music.

I learnt a different way of listening.

I listened to the birds, the ones that make pretty sounds, and the ones that don’t. I learnt I could set my watch by the rooks in the tree opposite the house. (They all get together and start shouting at one another at 3.30pm, no matter what time of year it is.) They’re funny, like one of those noisy markets where everyone is shouting about their wares.  I’m rather fond of rooks now.

I learnt to hear the vegetation around me too, the creaking trees and rustling shrubs, the fresh new spring leaves and the rattle of the dried autumn ones.

And the animals. The scuttle of mice in the undergrowth, the mewling squeaks the rabbits make, the scrabble of the squirrels on the roof tiles. The buzz of the mason bees under the window in the summer, the drone and thump of the hornets throwing themselves against the window, attracted by the light, in autumn.

I came to realise how much noise pollution we endure, day after day, the constant onslaught of a life lived with continual racket, the radio, the TV, the iPod, the piped music, the slot machines, even the roar of conversation echoing in the cavernous, sound-reflecting spaces of shopping malls. And how much we use recorded sound to blot out our minds, to stop us thinking too much.

The Christian mystics said that prayer is talking to God, but it isn’t much use if you don’t listen for when He speaks back. To hear the Divine, we have to be in silence. This is just as important when the voice that speaks inside us is the big, blousy, shriek as when it is the almost inaudible whisper. The practise of creativity demands that we listen. Sometimes, we have to listen hard, and without distractions.

When did you last spend time in silence? Do you make space for a little quiet time daily? Do you relish that moment when the kids are in bed, and you can sit down at the kitchen table with a glass of wine, take a deep breath, and just listen to the noises the house makes around you as it settles for the night? Or do you fill every waking hour with a constant cacophony to drown out the voices inside your head that are telling you the life you are living is not fulfilling you?

Out of the quiet comes not only spiritual fulfilment, spoken of in all religions, but human creativity. Out of silence come the stories we tell, the fantasies and day dreams that grow into novels, plays, paintings, films, concertos and ballets.

When we cultivate stillness, when we listen, we give our brains space to breathe. And yes, sometimes we then have to face up to the uncomfortable truths of our lives. But often, we have the opportunity to tap into wells of creative inspiration previously unknown to us. Our Muse’s voice can be heard.

You don’t have to take a vow of silence to benefit from stillness, and I’m not saying you should give up the joy of music. (I’m back on it now, and believe me, its one of my greatest inspirations.)

Listen to yourself.

What I am suggesting is that you take time daily to be in stillness. To listen to the sounds of the world around you instead of filling the void with canned synthetic noise. To listen to yourself. It may only be ten minutes, or the time you spend in the bathroom every morning, or half an hour before bed without the telly on. You don’t have to meditate, although that is good too. No, this is a different idea, a way of being quiet with ourselves, a way of listening for the inspiration to come. I know you lead a busy life, no doubt, and that quiet in a city is hard to find. But I assure you, it is there. You can find it. And when you do, immerse yourself in its balm, as often as you can, and allow it to feed your creative life.

Happy Creating,

EF

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Inspiration Monday: Whats Inspiring Me Right Now

VW desktopFor today’s post, I thought I would bring you a little window into my creative mind.  Here are some of the things that are really getting my brain going at the moment.

This post from Kate Courageous really is causing a revolution inside my skull.  Imagine – learning to accept Nigel instead of kicking him?

Not practising enough?  Susan Piver has some interesting things to say about beating yourself up that are relevant whether you are talking about your meditation or your creative practise.

Found this lovely old post by Holly Becker on Decor8 about visual journals.  I really like this one about creating a lookbook too.

The New York Times on why handwriting matters.  Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

The Handmade Home geniuses have their new 2015 planner out!  And yes, I am a total planner geek.  See also the fact that I have just discovered how Pinterest can feed my addiction!

I love Brainpickings.

I love iHanna’s blog, but I especially like this post – ‘Glue book where I collect happiness.’  Isn’t that a brilliant idea?  Collecting happiness between the pages of a journal.  Count me in.

This book.  I’ve lost count of how many times I have read this biography of Virginia Woolf, but right now, every time I pick it up, I am filled with a new rush of ideas, inspiration, and fixes for my novel.

I’m loving this book as well.

Well, that should keep us all going for a while.  Hope you have an inspired and creative week,

EF

 

 

 

 

 

Journal Friday: Core Practices

Diary Pile 2I’ve been experiencing something of a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ lately, a deep, dark journey into the Underworld.  Being creative has been a distant dream.  The only space or energy available has just been for survival.  That said, I’ve realised that there are three core practices that have helped, and continue to help me keep (relatively) sane.

Core practices are those habits you keep going, no matter what.  Activities that keep your engine running even when there is no energy, space or time for anything else.  You keep up these habits through the times of joy and abundance, and those of despair, desolation and drought.  They help sustain you, and keep you in a state of awakened readiness for when the next shower of inspiration comes.  They are part of the minimum requirements that you need to function as a happy, healthy human being.  They are different for everybody, so yours might vary from mine, but they will give you the same comforting, nurturing continuity in your life.

I started thinking about this idea the other day, when I heard Jamie Ridler talking about them in her recent podcast.  The core practices she sites are Movement, Meditation and Morning Pages.  Morning Pages are a practice popularised by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, and I’ve written a little about them here.  Cameron herself would probably site Morning Pages, Walking and the Artist Date as her core practices.

If I had to name mine, the three things that have kept me going in recent days against the tide of despair, I would say they are yoga, meditation and journalling.

Yoga helps me to keep grounded inside my body.  Even when I am very ill and have little energy, a single pose can help.  Yoga eases the chronic pain I live with, and gives me a sense of achievement.  I like doing it outside in the garden in the summer, but usually my yoga mat gets spread out on my study floor.  I light a candle, ask for a blessing on my practice, and do a few asanas.  I also enjoy doing a few poses before bed at night, as this helps calm me from the day’s stresses, but also helps counteract the tension my body builds up during the night.  If you fancy having a go, you might find this website helpful.

Meditation is something I am trying to do.  I’ve been trying to do it for years.  It occurs to me now that maybe thats the whole point.  Even when you get good at it, you are still battling the butterfly nature of your mind as it dances about between the shopping list and the peerless beauty of Benedict Cumberbatch’s mouth, or something similar!  Lately, I’ve had quite a bit of success with the Insight Timer app on my smartphone, and I also like Susan Piver’s free meditation instruction sessions – ten minutes out of your day for such huge benefits has to be worth a try.  When I get it right, when I manage to concentrate on my breath even for just a tiny bit, I experience a sense of peace, achievement and oneness.  I’ve tried Vipassana body awareness meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn too, and they are really good.

Journalling.  Do I really need to add much about this?  I’ve been writing continually on this blog about journalling practise since I started a year ago, explaining the benefits and the pleasures of keeping a diary.  I’ve been doing it for 40 years this year (erch!  Is it really that long?), and I can tell you that it has saved my life more than once.  Check out my other Journal Friday posts to find out more.

Journal Exercise:

Get out your journal and take a little time to ground yourself.  Take a few breaths and be present within your body.  Then think about your life.  What are some of the things you do regularly that sustain you emotionally, physically, spiritually.  Spend some time writing about them, about why they help you, why you do them, how they nourish you.

If you have trouble zeroing in on one, two or three things you do in this way, try thinking about your minimum requirements for a happy life.  What do you go nuts without?  When your life gets a bit haywire and you find you feel out of control, what are the things that have slipped?  It might be anything from drinking enough water and eating fruit daily to spending time with friends and family, walking the dog or reading a good book.  Make a list of the things that you know you need in your life to sustain your wellbeing.

As always, don’t get too draconian about either of these exercises.  Remember these are not the things you think you OUGHT to be doing, or what your friends are doing, although they may be things you might like to try, but haven’t yet.  Take time to explore.  Be gentle and compassionate with yourself.  And if you can’t identify anything yet, allow the answers to evolve over time.  Gently ask them to come to you.  Ask yourself what you need in your life right now, and enjoy your discoveries.

Happy Creating,

EF