B is for Being Friends Together

I notice a request in the Quaker Life Network email that regularly lists opportunities for service that Friends can express an interest in. They are looking for Friends who are interested in visiting meetings to help the meeting discern the appropriate learning route for them.

‘I could do that’ says the voice in my head.

‘No, you couldn’t. You’re far too busy already’ I admonish myself.

art room

The request is repeated in the next QLN email.

‘I could do that, maybe I should contact them.’

I send an email. I hear nothing.

‘Quaker News’ comes out. There is an article about this new project from Quaker Life and Woodbrooke – ‘Being Friends Together’. They are still looking for potential volunteers.

‘Maybe I should follow that up’

I email again. I hear nothing. But I note the training date in my diary.

It’s January. My diary is full. I feel busy. I could just drop this ‘Being Friends Together’ business.

I don’t. I ring Friends House. Repeatedly. I email again.

Eventually I get a reply. Yes, there is still a place. Yes, I can come. Just fill in the form.

The form needs Friends to support my application. ‘Oh, hadn’t thought of that’, and there’s only a few days to go.

I email two of my fellow elders about it. ‘Of course we’ll support you’ they say. They don’t say ‘Aren’t you too busy already?’

I send the form in.

CanterburyMH

On the appointed day I go to Friends House, despite engineering works on the underground. A lovely crisp bright morning makes it a pleasure to walk along the Euston Road instead. We are only eight, although fourteen were expected.

I’m glad to be there. Simon Best, Alistair Fuller and Oliver Waterhouse are welcoming and calm, but full of enthusiasm for this project.

We’ve looked at the online resource beforehand, but they help us explore further and understand the aims. They explain the model they have in mind for meeting visitors. We ask questions. For some there are answers, for others the issues need thinking through. It’s good to have raised them.

When we share out impressions of the day we are mostly a mixture of excited and slightly scared. Excited at the potential, slightly anxious at what we might find when visiting a meeting.

I came away with enthusiasm for this project and looking forward to the possibility of helping a meeting into using it. And with an unexpected message in my mind: ‘take Jesus with you’.

Canterbury view

‘Being Friends Together’ is an online learning resource for Quaker meetings. It brings together the best of many learning resources that have been developed for meetings over many years and groups them into themes and pathways. Meetings may identify one off learning opportunities, or courses of study, resources for a study group or a discussion after a shared lunch or a weekend away. It can be used in many ways. Do take a look. I particularly liked the ‘topical activity’. One session that you can download and use straight away – just what is needed when the speaker for shared lunch can’t come at the last minute! You can browse for free, but for full access to download the resources a modest (£35) annual subscription is requested. For one subscription, the whole meeting has access.

For those who have members shared of the internet, be aware that this is an online resource, a library, it is not online learning. A few people in your meeting will need internet access, but the intention is that meetings will download the resources and use them in the ways we are used to (though some may use e-readers instead of paper copies).

A is for Accepting

‘May God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change

the courage to change the things I can

and the wisdom to know the difference.’

Reinhold Niebuhr

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of accepting recently (ie over the last year or so), especially in the context of accepting my physical limitations and what I can no longer commit to do.

I get a lot of practice at accepting that some days I just can’t. Just can’t get out to work. Just can’t cook a meal. Just can’t tidy up. Fortunately others days I just can. So when I can’t. I don’t. If I accept that and rest I get back to being able much sooner than if I fight it. Whether the cause is MS, or ME, or a infection, it isn’t particularly worth finding out. Accepting the situation as it is, and resting, is key.

What is much harder is accepting that there are activities that my increasing disability (particularly walking) means that I have to refuse to do. Some days I walk better than others. With my ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) I can walk quite briskly and for quite long distances (a mile or more). What is not so apparent to an observer is that the extent to which I have to concentrate on what I’m doing ie walking. So I usually can’t manage a conversation while I walk and I certainly can’t supervise youngsters (ie Guides). Uneven ground is a challenge and for steps I require a handrail, a stick or an assistant.

So recently I’ve had to say that my days of taking the guides to camp are over. It’s hard to accept, I love to be at camp with the girls and I could easily manage the organisational part, but I can’t cope ‘on the ground’ any more. But to write an email to my fellow guiders saying that was really difficult.

The flip side of this is learning to ask for and accept help. I’m quite good at asking for lifts. I’ve never driven, so that’s something I’ve always done and people are very willing to help. Accepting that at times I need to be in a wheelchair is a lot harder. But it’s much better to go in a wheelchair that be left out! Last winter we hired a wheelchair from the Red Cross for a couple of months when I was really unwell and it was good to practise with it. Recently I was offered one that someone else no longer required and was able to accept fairly easily (and hopefully graciously).

Having a fiercely independent streak is an asset in keeping me active and a liability in making it very difficult to ask for and accept help. Getting the right balance is an ongoing challenge.

A is for Actual Practice

Advices and Queries 3: Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength. Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life. Do you encourage in yourself and in others a habit of dependence on God’s guidance for each day? Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God.

It has taken me years to find ways into stillness that I actually do on a daily basis. Over time I have found some that work so well for me that I find myself doing them without effort. Others I like, but still take effort. Still others, while appealing, just don’t appear in my regular routine.

As a child I tried earnestly to pray every evening at bedtime – but it never lasted more than two or three days. Though at junior school we did have prayer time in assembly and at the end of the school day plus I went to Sunday school about 50 weeks out of 52. I do remember taking those seriously and enjoying Sunday school.

As a student I tried various things – stopping for a silent grace at meal times was one I managed fairly consistently, even in the public arena of hall of residence dining room (much helped by having other friends who did it too).meditation 1

So what do I actually do? Quakers, in particular, often talk about setting aside times of quiet but are reluctant to go into detail.

Every morning when I first wake up, often before I fully wake up, I practice Reiki. I do both distant healing and self-treatment. The distant healing gets very mixed with simple intercessory prayer, holding in the Light and metta meditation (because I can’t really tell the difference). I send it to difficult situations in the world and to leaders in those situations (currently leaders in Israel and Palestine, ISIS, the military government in Burma) and to people I know who are ill or having difficulties at present. I sometimes also think of, uphold, send light to, other people or groups of people that I know eg my meeting, my guides, my difficult next door neighbour. Quite often I fall asleep again, but I just continue when I wake up again. It usually takes about half an hour. On completing the self-treatment, which I do second and actually do laying on of hands on the parts of my body that seem to need it, I give thanks for everything and get up.

greet the morning

If I’m at home, I then usually go to the window, look out through a small gap in the curtains (my spouse usually still being asleep) and bow to the new day and to all the beautiful buddhas out there whom I may meet in the course of the day. If I’m in a different place I usually forget this.

At breakfast, I’m usually alone and my habit is to recite the five contemplations. When we take meals together at home (often lunch and almost always the evening meal) we observe a period of silence during which we may just breathe, we may give thanks, we may recall the last supper or other stories. My spouse is very consistent in this particular practice and it is definitely part of our family life.

leave the house

Now I sound very good, but at this point it peters out rather rapidly! On work days I usually pause on leaving the house and remind myself to walk mindfully. Sometimes I remind myself again part way to work – and sometimes I just forget.. In the last few months I have managed to walk mindfully down the corridor (it’s long, straight, boring, and goes from the area I work in to the staff toilets) most days. I have a few ‘bells of mindfulness’ in the workplace in the form of computer passwords that use key words that remind me to be mindful and some postcards on my desk. By the time I go home for lunch I just go home. I may remember to prepare the vegetables mindfully if it’s my turn to cook, then again, I might not.

corridor

That’s the private daily practice, but the shared practice is essential. I go to meeting for worship as often as is reasonably possible. That is every Sunday (unless really prevented) and most Wednesdays. If I’m at Woodbrooke or somewhere else where there are more opportunities (such as Yearly Meeting Gathering) I will take most or all of them (ie early mornings, but not late nights). I also go to Buddhist mornings of mindfulness about monthly and that is becoming part of my core practice. Some days I practice sitting meditation at home, but not as often as I intend to. Though when I do, it requires as much discipline to stop as to find the time. I will also take happily the opportunity to worship or meditate with other groups if suitable opportunities occur.

This sounds like a lot, but I enjoy it, it doesn’t generally feel like an effort.desk

I also remember the advice, read on a poster on a friend’s wall many years ago: ‘everyone should sit for half an hour a day in silence, unless he is too busy, in which case he should sit for an hour’.

Time set aside for silence, for inward stillness, is time well used and never time wasted.

Z is the end?

Ending and beginning again

alpha omega
יהוה eternal
continuation

This post marks the end of this year’s alphabet. I have found the exercise valuable and plan to begin again at A.

Next year’s posts will probably be from a broad Quaker perspective and coloured by my formal appointment as an area meeting elder from 1.1.15 and as a member of the national Quaker Committee for Christian and Interfaith Relations from 1.5.15. They may also be enlivened by more photographs, since I have been given a digital camera for Christmas!

יהוה  is Hebrew and may be read as ‘yod hey vov hey’, it is normally rendered YHWH in English.

Y is for Young

Is it good to be young, or better to be more mature?

Having recently been studying the letters of Paul of Tarsus, one of his oft-quoted verses has been much in my mind: ‘When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and think like a child, and argue like a child, but now I am a man, all childish ways are put behind me.’ 1 Corinthians 13:11 The Jerusalem Bible

In my faith journey there are times I need to put away childish things, to lay aside images and notions that no longer serve. The image of God in the clouds, of Heaven as a distinct place. But I must also realise that I am replacing them with other images, other notions. God as a benevolent force, Heaven as a reality here and now. I have to be prepared to let these go too.

There is a Buddhist story about a raft. The raft serves us well when we have a river to cross. But when we later come to a mountain that we must climb, we must abandon the raft which will only serve to hinder us.

In my experience, I also need to reclaim childish things. Trust, the moments of total absorption in the present moment, the awareness of Presence. I need to strip away the layers of defences that I have learnt, that I have been taught, that help me cope with day to day life. I need to become vulnerable, to be open to the movings of the Spirit. My first Reiki initiation helped considerably in peeling away some of the layers, healing me. That was why I wept so much.

Another phrase that has stayed with me recently is from David Amos writing in the Friend of 19 September: ‘People have told me that I am naive, which is not true. However, I am working very hard to get there.’ I think that is my aspiration too.

beach

Y is for Yearning

Yearning, longing for something not quite attainable.

Yearning for Bardsey. In 2011 I went on holiday to the Lleyn peninsula with my spouse and my daughter. Like many tourists/pilgrims before us we followed the old pilgrim route along the north coast of the peninsula, stopping at various churches on the way and visiting lots of holy wells. We ended at Aberdaron at the tip of the peninsula, and looked out to Bardsey Island. We telephoned the Bardsey boatman three days running, but the tides and sea conditions were not safe, and so we, like so many before us, could only yearn to go to Bardsey. It looks so tranquil and near at hand from the shore.

Bardsey2

In a more spiritual sense what I am yearning for? Those of us who are involved with more than one religious tradition are often accused of cherry-picking, only taking the pleasant bits from each tradition and not do the hard bits. Or of rushing round seeking spiritual highs all over the place. And yet the spiritual high, the awareness of being in the Presence, or just of being truly present in the present moment, isn’t achieved by rushing around, or even by trying hard. It’s there, right at hand. I need to just stop, just be, and be aware that I’m in the Kingdom, in the moment. Then maybe I stop yearning.

burning bush

While musing on quite what to write in my blog this week, I also received this, from ‘Fresh from the Word: the Bible for a change':

“Does the passage in which Moses meets God in the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-6) suggest that God had been there some time? Do you think God was waiting, longing perhaps, for someone, anyone, to stop, go over, and look at the wonderful sight? God may have lit the bush hours, days, weeks or years earlier. I wonder, if I had been there, would I have noticed the bush and would I have taken a closer look?
What do you think?”

It gave me a different perspective – is God yearning for us to stop, to notice, to be present? Would I be noticing my surroundings enough to see a burning bush if there was one? Or would I be rushing by, intent on the next thing I needed to do (however worthy that task may be) or yearning for something I believed to be unattainable, when all the while it was right here?

X is for cross-stitch

During 2001-2002 Rhiannon and I were both very ill with ME/CFS, easily tired by any physical activity (eg fetching a drink from the kitchen, getting dressed), prone to frequent infections, often in pain. Life was very boring and it would have been easy to be very miserable. We needed some very light activities to distract us.

redadmiral

Cross-stitch became one of our favourites. In particular we made greetings cards, many featuring butterflies. Our Quaker meeting was raising funds for a refurbishment and extension of our building. In addition to applying for grants and organising fund-raising events, we had a ‘bring and buy’ trolley on Sunday mornings. People contributed vegetables they had grown, cakes they had baked, other things they had made. It didn’t bring in vast sums of money, but it helped, and, very importantly, it gave everyone a chance to be involved.

So we sat at home and, as and when we were able, we drew designs on graph paper with coloured pencils, stitched them, mounted them in cards, wrapped and presented the cards neatly for sale. It kept us very gently occupied. Importantly it also kept us feeling that we were contributing to the community effort.

 peacock

With many thanks to Luanne for the creative interpretation of ‘x’.

W is for Woodbrooke and learning about Buddhism

‘Being Peace’ at Woodbrooke 18-20 December 2009

I wrote this account some time ago, very soon after the retreat. This weekend was significant to me on my Quaker Buddhist journey, so it seems appropriate to share this in this blog.

reflection

Impressions from a Zen Buddhist retreat:

 

the sound of snow crunching under my feet as we walked mindfully around the snowy garden in the sunshine

 

the taste of the vegetables as we ate lunch mindfully together

 

the sight of twenty plus adults snuggled under their blankets on the quiet room floor

 

the feel of that floor under my knees, palms, forehead as we ‘touched the earth’

 

the smell of the tea in the tea ceremony

 

deep relaxation aided by ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’

 

sharing readings and songs together: from the Heart Sutra to ‘Just William’, from ‘Nam myoho renge kyo’ to ‘Ubi Caritas’, from Plum village to a gospel choir

 

waiting at table to meditate together before eating together – reminiscent of the ‘old days’ at Woodbrooke, when we served at table

 

hugging mindfully

 

the quality of listening to one another in the ‘insight sharing’ group

 

the sense of connection to one another and to the world beyond as we ended our early meditation by bowing to the Buddha within one another and to the new day

 

happily babbling baby during meeting for worship

 snow

And what did I learn:

 

how to sit on the floor

 

that everything we do can be a ‘practise’

 

that the real practise begins when the meditation ends

 

where the next step on my journey lies

 

to be grateful for stairs

 

the deep joy of being totally present in the moment

 enjoy

This retreat was based on the teachings of Thich Naht Hanh and led by Murray Corke of the Community of Interbeing and Tim Peat Ashworth of Woodbrooke. My thanks to them and to all the participants.