O is for Open

The word open seemed to keep cropping up this week, maybe it’s because I’ve been looking out for an ‘o’ for this blog post.

I was at a Kindlers’ workshop ‘fruits of the Spirit’ last Saturday, making some notes as part of the process and the word ‘open’ occurred repeatedly. Early in the day we were asked several questions, with the opportunity to make brief notes of our responses, and then to share as much as we wished to with another member of the group.

‘When did you feel affirmed?’ we were asked. ‘When really listened to. Listening well requires openness from the listener (and the sharer)’, I noted.


‘What does hope feel like in the body?’ My quick response was ‘relaxed, open’. Someone else offered ‘ready to sing’.

‘How have you cultivated the qualities of the Spirit in your life?’ we were asked. ‘Listening, practising, responding, being open’ I noted.


We also considered what we meant when we use gardening metaphors for growing the fruits of the Spirit. In looking at what it may mean to wait for fruition and harvest, it was suggested by members of the group that we need to:

be open to the process of growth;

recognise that we can’t achieve perfection (there will be some bad apples as well as some sound ones);

recognise the fruits wherever we find them (the blackberry in the hedgerow is as good a blackberry as the one from the plant in the garden);

acknowledge the results in ourselves and others (the potatoes have done really well, but we need to think again about how we protect the lettuces).


As I thought about openness and being open during the course of the week, I remembered several references in Advices and Queries:

Are you open to the healing power of God’s love?

Are you open to new light, from whatever source it may come?


As we wait patiently for divine guidance our experience is that the right way will open and we shall be led into unity.


When experiencing great happiness or great hurt we may be more open to the working of the Spirit.


It was also the week for my monthly reading and consideration of the five mindfulness trainings, and I particularly noticed:

I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.


As I prepare to go to Yearly Meeting Gathering next weekend, it comes to me that I need to be open to what that will bring, what others will bring to it, what I can offer. I need to be:

open minded

open handed

open hearted

open spirited


O is for Opportunities

Opportunities for mindfulness

‘Woodbrooke is full of opportunities’ said Murray ‘there are stairs everywhere. Everytime you climb the stairs it can be an opportunity to do so mindfully.’

‘What if you forget?’

‘You have to go down and start again – that’s a buddhist joke’ we were told.


All our activities of daily living can be opportunities for mindfulness if we remember to see them that way, but this particular example of the teaching has stayed in my mind. Especially as I could immediately see that my workplace was similarly full of steps and stairs, being a converted building. That gave me a good way of continuing the practice when I got home from the retreat.


This year my workplace has moved and we are now in a modern building with full disabled access and I can avoid stairs completely if I choose to (and there are days when my walking (in)ability makes me glad to). This has meant I’ve needed to look for other reminders to mindfulness. Here are some of my current favourite opportunities:


Walking – to work, home from work, down the corridor at work (It may be level, but it is long and the staff toilets are at the far end!)


Signing in to the computer. At work my passwords use words or reminders of phrases that remind me to be mindful. Obviously, I’m not going to tell you exactly what they are, but you can think of some for yourself I’m sure.


Preparing vegetables. I used to fill the kitchen with the news on the radio while I prepared food, but increasingly I prefer to just prepare food. That tends to mean I know less about what the news reports are saying and I am aware need to watch the balance there.


Washing up. Ditto to preparing vegetables.


Fruit picking, weeding, generally working on the allotment and being present and aware of the natural world. If I could cultivate this attitude to housework the house might get cleaned!


My current challenge is to remember any of these good intentions beyond 8am.

N is for Non-attachment

Recently I spent a couple of days helping Rhiannon sort out and pack her belongings in preparation for moving from her own flat back to our house for an unknown period of time. Our house is fairly small, and in her eight year absence we’ve spilled over into the extra space. Meanwhile she has accumulated many, very useful, possessions.

Now it was time to say: that won’t be needed again, so it must go; that’s worn out, so it goes too; that’s really useful, but I don’t need it while I’m sharing, so we’ll have to find somewhere to store it. The once-read never to be re-read novels went; the worn-out clothes went; the electrical kettle needs to be stored.

At my end I was finally motivated (and fortunately had the energy) to sort out boxes and boxes of guide paperwork that I’d saved for years. If I haven’t used the activity in ten years I’m not likely to now – it can go. I’d saved magazines for ideas, but I’m never short of ideas, and there’s the internet now, so the cupboard was emptied of magazines (I could hardly move the recycling bin afterwards!).

All good practice of non-attachment to things.

But non-attachment is not just about our attachment to things. It is not, I feel, primarily about throwing things out.

In considering the ‘things’, I find I’ve also been considering what else I’m attached to.

I’m attached to routines, to ways of doing things. There is nothing wrong with routines per se. They can save a lot of wasted effort and avoid me forgetting details. Getting up, washing, dressing, eating breakfast, getting to work – all hugely easier with a regular routine. But if something unusual crops up, be it a problem (eg can’t walk properly this morning), or a delight (how about a day out while the weather is so lovely), being too attached to a routine can be a problem eg I can’t go out with my friends this evening because I always go to bed at 9.30pm; eat my meal at 6pm; or whatever. I need to be able to let go. I may have a routine for housework; or food purchasing; or going to meeting for worship. But I need to be able to let go; to let someone else do it; to leave it undone; to do something different.

Then I started to think about emotional attachments, and attachments to people. Am I too possessive? Too keen to be in control? I need to let people around me have their own space. I like to think I’m available to listen, but maybe people don’t need to talk. I want to ensure that the guide unit continues, but I need to let others run the activities; devise the programme; learn by doing for themselves. I need to ask for help, but not be too demanding; to be grateful for support and company, but remain as independent as possible; to accept the disabilities that come and go without being too attached to my abilities or my disabilities.

The more I think about non-attachment the clearer it is that it’s a lot more than throwing out some old junk.

N is for News and how we react to it

This week’s news of the conviction of Rolf Harris on 12 counts of indecent assault made me think about how I react to items in the news.

I’m not generally a follower of celebrities, but I was a Rolf Harris fan, watching on television as a child and, once, being taken to see a live show – at Yarmouth Hippodrome if I remember rightly. When the accusations had become public I’d had to think through how I felt, so when friends commented on facebook following his conviction, I was able to contribute: ‘It’s very difficult. But I’m sure that people who do bad things aren’t bad all of the time, they do good things too, and those can be genuinely good things to have done. Surely nobody is totally evil or totally good.’

Much more strikingly, years ago in July 2005, I was at work when someone in the office picked up from the internet and read out the news of the shooting dead of Jean Charles de Menezes. Of course, we didn’t even know his name then. My immediate response was ‘I wish they hadn’t shot him’. My colleagues almost all took issue with me over this, arguing that he was clearly a terrorist, that the police knew what they were doing, that it was essential that they defend themselves and us. I, a bit surprised at the strength of my own reaction and conviction, had to argue my case. I think the initial response came from a total conviction that killing people is wrong, but I was also able to say that now he was dead he could not be questioned, could not give any more information, and that the police might be wrong, that he may not have been intent on becoming a suicide bomber. Interestingly, at least one of my colleagues remembered my reaction, when it later came out that Jean Charles de Menezes was totally innocent.

Much more usually I fail to respond at all. I’m not sure what to say, and so I say nothing.

But what is striking me this week is how powerful a situation this is, how we have the opportunity to put a different view by our reaction to items in the news that are in people’s minds, by our responses to these matters when they come up in conversation.

So, returning to Rolf Harris, an conversation began in the office about how long a sentence he would get, how long he would serve, how long people should serve. I was able to contribute some views in favour of assuming that people can change, and that people need hope. To lock someone up for life with no hope gives them no incentive to do anything positive at all. To lock someone up may protect others from that person’s actions, but does nothing to prevent any one of us becoming a child molester or murderer. We all need to try and see things from another person’s point of view, to see what really causes people to commit crimes, to understand how we need to change things to reduce the risks to everyone.

So, I shall be looking out for more opportunities in the future, and doing some hard thinking too, about all sorts of issues, so as to be better prepared to contribute.


M is for Mantra

Mantra – an aid to meditation, usually a word or phrase. It is repeated by the meditator, silently, or sometimes, aloud. It serves to focus the attention and to bring back the attention when it wanders off following some thought or other (and I expect anyone who has attempted meditation recognises that situation).

The idea is used by many different schools of meditation, secular as well as religious. Well known Buddhist mantras include ‘om mani padme hum’, ‘gate, gate, paragate’, ‘namo kuan sin yin pusa’. Christians may use ‘maranatha’, ‘be still and know that I am God’, or a meaningful word such as ‘Jesus’, ‘Lord’, ‘Christ’. Sufi Muslims use the names of Allah including ‘Allah akbar’. Then there is the Hindu ‘Hare Krishna’. Transcendental meditation offers each practitioner a personal mantra (though I’ve heard there are actually only a few different ones).

I use various of these at different times. To put it bluntly – I have fads for different ones. My overall favourite is ‘be still and know that I am God’, which I have learnt to be particularly effective if each repetition omits one more word from the end.

But I also view what look like other practises as variations of mantra meditation. Mindfulness of breathing uses the breath in place of the verbal mantra. Walking meditation uses my footsteps (and my breath too, if I can mange both at once).

Once I was in a group that tried knitting meditation. Each stitch is like the repetition of a mantra. (It needs to be fairly straight forward knitting.) We liked it so much that we did it every day of the week we were together. A lot of blanket squares were knitted. Someone who didn’t knit brought his embroidery along. That worked well too.

Blanket squares

Another mantra I’ve discovered is the visual ‘looking at the flowers’ mantra. While many people prefer to meditate with their eyes closed, it isn’t always appropriate (for the year or so that I took a medication that made me a bit dizzy, keeping my eyes closed, even when sat firmly still on my cushion, accentuated the dizziness and was most uncomfortable), but open eyes can wander very easily, taking the attention with them. Focussing the eyes on something such as the flowers on the table in meeting for worship, or on the shrine, or in the centrepiece, can be a good way of bringing the attention back.


So what is my current mantra fad? Fruit-picking, especially blackcurrants. Like knitting there are lots of opportunities to bring the attention back. And, also like knitting, it’s gently productive.

What is your preference? What works for you?