When I first met you I was still young.
You played along with my childhood games as we both shared the fun.
Unaware of the challenges of life I gave in to you without a doubt.
The fullness of life was so overwhelming I did not have to choose.
Later when doubt had entered the arena, you slowly disappeared to the background
Life became complicated with rules, relationships, expectations, punishment and reward.
The simpleness was replaced by intricate thought mechanisms which locked me into place.
Each day my life became more and more an experience of dull and boring rationality.
Playfulness was thrown out of the window in order to make sure I would fit in with everybody else.
But the more I fit in, the less free I felt.
Trapped by tempting promises and nightmares of hope and fear, the web of illusion closed in on me.
The one thing I had lost I had no idea I was missing.
Only when I found you back I knew I had been wandering in a cold and barren desert forever trying to clench my thirst.
The walls build around the inner temple squeezed the life out of me.
I tried to forget, suppressing everything I did not want to hear – I did not want to know.
Cause forgetfulness was better than to be reminded of not having you near.
Oh trust, life saviour, love giver.
On your shoulders I long to build my life.
Better than the sweetest dream, you wake me to a reality which is profound in its evidentness.
You are the atoms which hold the universe together.
Universaly revered because you are so humble.
I can now see myself again when I trust.
Naked with arms wide open, laying myself to rest in the heart of the world.
To trust is to know.
The wise among us know how to trust.
Trust. Let go. Fly.
Once you start to notice, it’s intriguing to see everything which goes on inside our body and mind system. Various parts call out for our attention, while other parts try to take the house down and yet other parts try to be the ruler of the inner universe.
Yet all of this happens within one system. Parts may not like the feelings which accompany other parts, or choose to ignore, but there’s always an overview available. The sum is greater than all of its parts. This field of awareness is the ground for all of the parts to play their games.
If one can learn to stay in contact with the field of awareness, integration becomes a possibility. Mindfulness, simply being with all the various parts, not being overwhelmed by the accompanying and often conflicting emotions. This helps to create a compassionate attitude to whatever arises from within.
All the inner riches await us. They may be covered in dark layers of soil, but they’re there. As so often in life, to reach these places within requires hard work, effort and resilience. One needs to learn to deal with conflicting emotions instead of fighting them. Being with emotions, allowing them to show what they’re hiding from us, is a process which can be aided by it curiosity. Curiosity is the key to unlock the treasures within.
If one can befriend one’s inner demons, the inner riches can be uncovered. All the beautiful traits of our childhood can be integrated. Not in one attempt, but as one progresses, each time it becomes increasingly easy to deal with everything which arises within.
All the inner riches are waiting to be explored!
Flower of Compassion
Oh flower of the heart
Shine your light over us
Open up and show your beauty
The guiding force
You know what it is like
To be vulnerable
Naked and alone
You know there is no need
To be afraid of our tears
You grow so easily
As you are inherent within us
On the good soil of pure intent
Our wish for all to be happy
Stems from your seeds
Oh flower of compassion
Love is your guiding light
Teach us to be human
Help us to accept
The basic uncertainty of life
This poem was inspired by the documentary Crazy Wisdom (2011) about the late Tibetan Buddhist Master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Rinpoche taught people how to become warriors of Shambhala, how to become genuine human beings. A beautiful and encouraging message worth contemplating.
So often we tend to look for the extremes.
It has to be fast, beautiful, precious and rare.
It has to be true, profound, smart.
But having explored these realms of inner riches,
i’ve found that all the beautiful things my mind can create,
have never been able to really fulfill me.
Sure, there have been days in which i’ve been thrilled and exited by an insight,
but as the years have passed i’ve come to learn
that these fleeting moments don’t define my existence.
The extraordinary experiences can become addictive,
like drugs they lure you into the next big high.
But never high enough, as the sky is the limit.
I’ve decided not to give in any longer,
not to crave for that which is delusive.
And so i’ve turned away from getting the next kick,
instead, i’ve learned to recognize what was always there.
The normal every day life which i took for granted,
has learned me life is full of surprises.
That which i once deemed boring and to be avoided,
turned out to be the exact place where the magic happens.
The extraordinary is that the ordinary is extraordinary!
Whether we recognize it or not, each moment is pure magic.
But we don’t need to describe it eloquently with words,
or try to grasp it’s innermost secret meaning.
We are part of the extraordinary ordinary.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is extraordinary!
Like so many of us, at one time I became somewhat obsessed with the idea that I could improve myself all the way up to enlightenment. I was convinced that I was here to make that realization and the best way to do it seemed to be improving myself on all levels. So I started reading a lot of philosophical and spiritual books. Also I started having some mysterious and unexplainable experiences which seemed to come from a different world. I was intrigued by my own success and it never came up to me that these things could just happen by themselves.
Alan Watts explained my situation to me in a video on self improvement. As a start, he pointed out that our whole educational system – and after that the business world – is only occupied with the idea of improving and growing. In school we get grades and degrees to show that we have learned something. But instead of seeing the learning as the real goal, the degree has become the goal in our society. So the curiosity of a child who just wants to learn about the world is seen as bad and is replaced by the insatiable mantra “improve yourself and you’ll become the best”.
The same goes for work. When we work because we like what we do, we tend not to focus on the money we earn with it. The money is not a goal in itself, but is a necessary good since you need money to survive and eat in this world. So far there is no problem with money. The problem arises when the money becomes the goal. The reason why you started working in the first place (e.g. because you like making good clothes) is pushed to the background and is replaced by the need to earn as much money as you can. Success is no longer measured by your ability to do what you really like doing, but instead is measured by the amount of money you can accumulate. More money means more improvement.
But it’s just an idea in our head. What if there is nothing to improve? What if the world happens to be just as it is right here, right now? We’re in constant conflict with this idea. Because we feel the need to improve ourselves, we’re unconsciously telling ourselves that we’re not good enough. We think we need to overcome all our flaws in order to be a good person. But what if it is actually perfectly fine to have flaws? I’m not saying we should stick with old and toxic behavior; we should try to let go of the idea of improving ourselves.
Just look at growing up as a child. As a child, you’re not busy improving yourself and yet you grow. It’s a basic characteristic of human existence: you are born as a child and inevitably you will start to grow and learn. It’s part of being human. And it explains why we are so curious by our nature. If we can see that there is nothing to be improved, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with us at this moment, we can start to relax and breathe. We can start to observe the world in a new way. There is no need to look for something to be improved. Why make the world a better place, if it is ok right now?
To me this is a powerful mirror. If I look at my own situation; I think I want to help other people. What does this actually mean in the light of self improvement? It still reflects that I want to improve myself, helping other people being the disguise. So I still believe at some level I need to improve myself in order to be whole. But where is me? If I look I can’t find it anywhere. The world seems to be rolling by itself just fine!
*The quote used in the image comes from the website https://www.tinybuddha.com
For now a small break from the writing with images as i notice i like to share some photos too. This one was taken back in 2013. It was very impressive to stand in front of the Forth railway bridge near Edinburgh back in 2013. Such an amazing sight. And then to think it’s over a century old. I tried to create a bit of a mood in this picture. Really worked with the light and the contrast here, to emphasize the bridge and the clouds.
Life of a Tree
As a tree admires her beauty by looking into her own reflection
Water flows gently beneath and carries along her mirror image
Birds singing from the canopy come down to see the spectacle
A moment in time connects the tree to her own past lifetime
Once she stood firmly and proud on the banks of the forest creek
She was a home and shelter to many animals who befriended her
Her roots went all the way down deep below the water level
The crown on her head was majestic full of the greenest leaves
Years went by as she grew and grew with many seasons passing
She saw humans dramatically change the landscape around her
But the forest was left untouched and remained a peaceful sanctuary
With her birth ground safe she started giving in to gravity
Letting go of her connection to both the air and the ground below
Her the faithful task was to become a bridge between life and death
A few months ago i came across a documentary about the work of Joanna Macy. She’s an environmentalist with a Buddhist background, who has done a lot of work to help people cope with the problems the earth is now facing. And which we are facing. Her work is called ‘the work that reconnects’ and this summarizes it perfectly. For myself it has been a process of years in which i’ve learned step by step to start to reconnect with myself again. Due to circumstances i became lost in a world of mind which was disconnected from the larger whole which was always there, but i couldn’t see back then. Through my own pain came the recognition of something larger.
With a personal crisis i really was forced to look deeper into my inner life and had to face my inner demons. The gifts i’ve received from going through this growth process are immense. Cause they’ve all learned me that it’s important to strive to become a better person. Not to be seen as a better person, or to gain recognition. Instead, it’s out of an intrinsic value that i recognize within myself and within others. I owe it to myself, my parents, brother, friends and family and i owe it to total strangers. The process was hard and difficult as it always is, just like in stories. And sometimes it still is tough. But luckily i’ve learned ways to deal with difficult emotions and situations. Buddhism has brought me a way to work on inner and outer peace. I’ve learned that i’m not the stories my mind tells me. So much of what i remembered from childhood now makes sense. Experiences which didn’t make sense at that time, make perfect sense now. There is more balance in my life.
And with this new found balance there is room for new things to arise. When i first heard the message Joanna Macy was speaking of, i felt a longing to experience this myself. Although i’ve studied about nature, i never felt the connection which i knew from when i was younger. The exhilaration, joy and pleasure just to be in nature was replaced with a more rational way of looking at nature and its various uses. At the end of the study, i became aware of this discrepancy. I knew that it was not for me to find work in this field. I did felt the connection, but on a different level. When i heard someone saying that he knew a women who had studied nature conservation only to find out that she was actually looking for her own relationship to nature, i understood. This was also the case for me. I´ve always felt a curiosity to understand nature, cause i wanted to understand myself. So when i studied nature without seeing the relationship between nature and myself, i got lost in the woods. Joanna Macy gave me a few bread crumbs which brought me back on the path.
More recently i was looking for a workshop to learn more about the work that reconnects. After some failed attempts to find a workshop, i was lucky enough to find one right in my own hometown even though these teachings are not yet well known in the Netherlands. So i signed myself in to the workshop about deep ecology which was held this weekend. At a beautiful farm in the rural part of the municipality we came together with 9. Under the guidance of two wonderful persons, we were invited to start to uncover our concerns, fears and worries about what is happening on the planet right now. Some were angry, some were very sad. For myself, it was a search.. a search for the words, a search for what i really feel about the current situation. And so i spend the weekend, opening myself up to what lives inside of me. I could sense a longing for connection, a longing for being. An authentic wish to once again take my part in the whole and leave all my protective shields behind.
By working with and in the group, sometimes in pairs, sometimes alone, sometimes together, we created a space in which everyone could be and could share their concerns for the planet. We talked about animals and plants and how they suffer by the hands of human actions. A deep sense of belonging, of wanting to explore our pain and struggle with the current situation was present throughout the weekend. Each made their own discoveries, small and little. As a group we could see that it was not about what ´they´ do. It´s about what we do and what i do. Only i can make the change and connect with nature again. And that´s what i´ve felt throughout the weekend. The connection is always there, but it takes responsibility to be able to be aware of it. If i´m only focusing on what i want and what i need, i´ll close myself off and lose the connection. But if i am able to look beyond my own needs and see all the needs of all those around me, it´s easy to see we´re all together in this. There is one beautiful planet and we´re all on it. Yes, we are struggling. We might need to change drastically. But it´s our personal freedom to choose how to change. Or not to change.
To become aware of this responsibility is on the one hand a heavy weight. But on the other hand i see it as a precious gift, a wonderful opportunity to learn to cooperate. First of all to cooperate with myself and not to fight myself. If i can befriend myself and appreciate who i am, i can be of so much more value than when i´m lost in inner turmoil. Learning about deep ecology and the work that reconnects has given me a platform with which i can investigate this further and to explore where my strength and weakness lies. Cause i feel that this was just the start. It felt like a younger part of me was there all the time, who was waiting for this to happen. I could sense his joy and his pain. And i could also sense the wisdom which lies within. Knowing there´s no true separation. It makes me feel whole and in contact with my true nature, which is not limited to this body.
The bigger challenge which lies ahead is to learn to use this information and experience to share this with others. This writing is an early attempt. As it all feels so fresh, i´ve chosen the image of young wet grass. I felt it was right for me to share a bit of the experience. As so much happens on an internal level, it is difficult to really describe what i´ve learned from the weekend. But if there is one thing, it has to be gratitude. And the interesting thing is that it´s not just gratitude for nature, life, all beings and the people i was with. I was taught that i can be grateful for the person i have become. It really feels humbling to hear that and it helps me to share more of my authentic self instead of adapting to others. And that is also more valuable. Cause i´ve always felt intense joy when i could help others or see others excel. When someone is truly sharing his or her inner drive and passion, it is so inspiring. It made me realize that i can be of much more help if i am grateful of myself. Not out of arrogance, but out of recognition of my place in the whole. So i´m looking forward to explore the work some more and find out what it all means what i´ve learned this weekend.
With eyes wide open looking into the world
I can feel depths i have never felt before
Emotional states of being come and go
The variety of feelings seems never ending
Pain, joy, sadness and laughter
All blended together in the stomach
The head is full of profound thoughts
While it tries to think no thoughts at all
How can i bare all of life’s bombarding
The senses in continuous overdrive
To keep up with this exhausting rhythm
Though i never felt his much aliveness
As the cocoon slowly breaks and opens up
Life touches and tickles in many ways
This new found sensitivity is very special
It just requires time to learn how to play
In the Netherlands the climate is moderate. The winters are not too harsh and the summers are not too hot. Because of this, i’m not always aware of the changing of the season. There is just a constant flow of the seasons coming and passing. Right now it’s summer and in a few months autumn will be here again. The cyclic nature of the seasons has always been there, but the way i see this cycle has changed a lot since i was young. When i was young, there was the expectation of hot summers at the beach and snow at Christmastime. It was all about enjoying the possibilities each season held.
Now i observe the seasons from a different perspective. Spring means i can start going out again with the camera more easily, do some work in the garden or just sit and relax outside. Winter triggers me to go inside. Both on an external and internal level. Like the bears who go into hibernation, i tend to become a little more seclusive and contemplative during wintertime. And springtime brings the much needed sunshine. After all the long dark nights, it takes some time to recharge the batteries and start enjoying the arrival of spring.
The most important thing i’ve learned to observe is that everything is impermanent. Although things may seem solid and build to last hundreds or thousands of years, in the end everything which is made will eventually break down again. Glasses and cups fall to the ground and break, flowers grow until they fade away, and grandparents are there until they pass away.
At first i was quite intimidated by impermanence. With my youthful enthusiasm i thought that life would last forever and that i would always be healthy and sporty no matter what. But when a good friend and also former roommate suddenly passed away at the age of 28, i realized after going through a lot of denial, pain and frustration, that i am going to die one day too.
And that’s why it has become important for me to recognize and acknowledge impermanence. Not to be nihilistic, but more in a sense that i become more sensitive to the changing which is happening all the time. Every moment is impermanent. Everything changes, although we might not recognize this. Some things we can easily learn to deal with, as they are mostly on a mental level. Take for instance cold and hot. We suffer a lot because of these two. In the office, a colleague might think it’s too hot and open the window. Then another colleague will start complaining that it’s cold. So why would i bother with this? If it’s warm, then it’s ok. If it’s cold, that’s also ok. I can dress accordingly. Accepting the inevitable change of the weather makes life so much easier. It helped me to actually enjoy the rain instead of feeling sorry for myself for becoming wet. By seeing the larger picture, i can now see the benefit the rain brings to farmers and the land.
To come back to the image. This young fern was at the start of its life and now a few months later i’m sure it has grown a lot bigger. And at the end of the year all of it will be gone again, after the seeds have been spread onto the earth. In the end it doesn’t really matter that the fern grows or dies. What matters is its relationship with everything else. Without the earth, without the rain, without the shade of the trees, without the sunshine, there would be no ground for the fern to grow. And the same goes for us. We tend to cling so much to what we want and who we are, but we tend to forget that we can only be in relationship to everything. Not to mention that there is just one me and 7 billion other humans. Pretty presumptuous to say to myself that i’m the most important one huh?
For me the journey is now about honoring the relationship, the interdependence of things. It’s about the act, the doing. Not the subject or object, but the verb. Cause everything changes, everything flows. We are all part of this flow, we can not be separated from this flow even if we think we can. And even if we separate ourselves by living our illusory dreams and thoughts in our minds, we’re still one with the flow. So i’ve decided that i will just let go. As said in the movie Waking Life: “Go with the flow. The sea refuses no river”
To allow myself to open up
To finally show what is hidden
To express what really moves me
How come it is so scary?
Yet the prospect of having to live
With all the pain locked inside
Emotional blockades ruining me
Can only lead to depression
So the urgency is very clear
I have to allow myself to open up
Fear of rejection and failure
Will surely be my guide for some time
Yet many have walked this path before
Teaching that in being vulnerable
Seeing the others are no other than we
We can share our most precious gifts
From this moment onwards
I let the free heart speak
With its shaky unstable voice
Stepping into an unknown world
Cause the world needs me to be
Vulnerable opening all senses
To the suffering and pain
Of the world in which we live
Instead of looking away again
I feel that this time i can stay
Let life run through my veins
As the heart cries out its song of hurt