Content May Shift During Transit

It’s a difficult thing to practise contentment; not only do you have to keep reminding yourself of it but there’s a tendency for discontent to creep in everywhere; so if you’re not careful you can end up in the somewhat ridiculous situation of being discontented about the practice of contentment. (I’m too discontented.  I don’t have enough contentment.  I must be more contented…)  And then your head explodes.

So the trick is to be contented with the degree to which you are able to practise contentment – and then, with a wave of the wand and a cry of riddikulus! you’ll be doing it anyway.  Discontent really is a Boggart pretending to be a Dementor – we need to laugh at it and it will go away.

Contentment is a necessary antidote to a society where work of all kinds becomes increasingly demanding: a society where you hit one target and are immediately presented with another.  This is sometimes seen as a virtue but according to Yoga philosophy* it’s anything but.  Discontent is the thief of life and the destroyer of satisfaction.  What is the point of achieving your goals if you never enjoy it?  I could go on and on about the need to avoid end-gaining in yoga but that’s enough for today.

*and not only yoga philosophy: Buddhism also emphasises it and it is implicit in the practices of Christianity (here‘s a blog that makes the link and also has a really good quiz to test your own level of contentment).

This is a very short blog post and doesn’t say as much as I’d hoped.  Nevertheless, I am contented with its contents…

Kirk out

 

 

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Today I Shall Be Mostly Practising…

Sometimes life can seem like a merry-go-round.  I don’t mean that it’s horribly busy, though it is for many people; what I mean is that insights which are very clear one moment can be lost in the next, and only recovered when you ‘come round’ to them again.  Life seems to swoop like a waltzer-ride, causing us to lurch from one reality to another, one set of people to another, one lot of viewpoints to another.  In a globalised world where values are relative and every second person you meet has a different outlook, it’s hard to know exactly what and where you are.  The temptation is to build a wall of prejudices and lob missiles over the top.

Enough with the metaphors.  It came to me today that since I blogged about it a few months ago, I haven’t really practised santosh much.  I’ve thought about it fleetingly, as a face glimpsed fleetingly from a bus (is that another metaphor?) but decided, for whatever reason, not to go there.  But today it has come to me that I need this more than ever.

So let’s skip the what and the why, since those are dealt with in that previous post, and go straight to the how.  How precisely is one supposed to practise this thing?  Can you download a course?  Are there exercises?  Well, perhaps; but my method is to begin by reminding myself of what I’m practising, often just by simply repeating mentally the word santosh.  It’s about noticing when the mind gets a little manic; when there’s a tendency to be perfectionist and to practise end-gaining, and telling yourself: Wait.  Practise santosh.  Be content.

In addition you can bring this awareness to everything you do.  For example, this morning I decided to vacuum the living-room.  There wasn’t time to do it ‘properly’ so instead of feeling dissatisfied and making a mental note to go over it again soon, I decided to be content.

But how do you be content?  If it doesn’t come easily to you this can seem like an inaccessible mountain.  There are some good suggestions in this blog including practising gratitude and not being judgmental.  As Paul McKenna points out in ‘I Can Make You Rich’ there’s no point in being a millionaire if it just makes you want even more money: he calls this ‘wealth dysmorphia’, a very apt phrase.  It’s a hard lesson to learn, particularly when there’s something you want very badly, but contentment doesn’t mean resignation.  It doesn’t mean accepting that you’ll never have whatever-it-is; just accepting that right here and now you don’t have it: it’s the spiritual equivalent of geo-positioning:* knowing where you are.  Because if you don’t start from here, where can you start from?  So every time I look at the garden and think about what’s left to be done; every time I look at the washing-up, every time I consider that I am still not celebrated as a writer, I tell myself ‘I am content.  I am content.  I am content.’

And for your own contemplation here’s an OM symbol inside a mandala:

https://galleryofgod.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/wpid-om-symbol-hd-wallpaper.jpg?w=834&h=626

I am going to get around to blogging about the McKenna book, I just haven’t got to it yet (I am very content with this…)

Kirk out

*I would call it ‘ego-positioning’ which would be nicely anagrammatical, except that it’s not about the ego.

 

 

 

 

What a Load of Old Santosh

There’s not a lot of the old Santosh sloshing around these days: the practice of contentment is so far off the radar that most of us don’t even see it, and even those of us who practise are liable to forget it just at the crucial moment.  Though it stands at our elbow and nudges, we push it away.  Only let me have this, we say, then I’ll be content.  I just need this one thing to be happy.  But Santosh is a wily old bird, and she knows better.  ‘You come along-a me,’ she says, ‘and then you’ll have everything you need.’  You know she’s right but you resist, you delay; because you’re afraid that following santosh will mean accepting that you can never have the Thing.  And you really really want The Thing.  The Thing is what your whole life has been pointing at, and you can’t give up The Thing.

Give me the Thing!

Santosh is one of the practices of Hinduism and hence of yoga.  What with Eastern traditions being non-dualistic they don’t have Cardinal Virtues and Deadly Sins: even though the concept is roughly the same (as you’ll see in a minute) the approach is much more gentle.  Rather than choosing between heaven and hell, you arrive at different levels (as it were) and are reincarnated accordingly.  I don’t believe in actual reincarnation but the principle makes a lot more sense to me than an arbitrary ‘on-off’ switch where you’re going down a chute and God flips the switch to send you up to heaven or down to hell.  There are ten of these ‘practices’; five things to do and five to avoid.

Here are the niyamas, or things to practice:

Santosh

Saucha, or cleanliness,

Tapas, or discipline (primarily self-discipline)

Svadhyaya, study of self and of texts

Ishvara-pranidhana, acceptance of a higher power (a bit like the practice in Alcoholics Anonymous, and susceptible of many interpretations).

But before you get to these there are five yamas, or things to avoid:

Ahimsa, non-violence (the corner-stone of Gandhi’s philosophy)

Satya, truth-telling (Gandhi also spoke of satyagraha, or ‘truth-power’)

Asteya, non-stealing

Aparigraha, non-greed

Brahmacharya, either celibacy or the right direction of sexual energy (this does not necessarily imply homophobia but a focussing on sexual energy to foster relationships rather than on personal gratification.)

https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/practice/the-yamas-and-niyamas

The thing about these is they all work together; and it occurred to me this morning that santosh and aparigraha, or the avoidance of greed, are very much in tandem.  If you are satisfied with what you have you do not crave more (this does not apply to those whose basic needs are not met) so it could be said that the constant striving after achievement is a kind of greed.  That sounds a little harsh, I know, but in an age where being driven is seen as some sort of virtue, it might help to see it in that way.

Kirk out

 

 

End-gaining in walking

Here’s an object lesson in how end-gaining happens.  Two and a half weeks ago I set out on a walk.  I had no end in view, just to walk.  I might get as far as Normanton but I probably won’t, I thought.  And in any case it doesn’t matter.  Wandering without an object is a very freeing thing to do; and as it happened I did make it to Normanton, but it didn’t matter.  It was fun and interesting and I got to use the chain ferry.  But it wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t.

Then I thought, what if I walk further?  Maybe park up somewhere and walk north, see where I get to?  I did park up somewhere, I did walk north and where I got to was Kegworth.  I was interested because I hadn’t been to Kegworth before, only through it on the nightmarish A-road on which construction lorries grind past all day long (they’re getting a bypass, which is good.  In a sense.)  Kegworth has at least two great cafes and some interesting shops, so I enjoyed a good mooch.  And as I sweated my way back to the car at Zouch, a Plan began to emerge.  Now at this stage the Plan was merely fun, something to structure my holiday around, like a peg to hang your hat on.  The peg doesn’t matter, it’s just a means of placing your hat somewhere.  But in order for the Plan to work, you have to make believe that it’s important.  Much fun is based around this kind of make-believe: pretending that it matters who wins a card-game or whether certain rules are followed (Mornington Crescent is a perfect example of this.)  And holidays (at least self-catering ones) are a way of living your normal life in a sort of relaxed parody where you do some of the same things but none of it matters.  In a word, it’s play.

So at this point my walking was entirely in that spirit.  Of course I was aware of being fitter and getting lots of exercise and being out in the country and Finding Out About Canals and all of that – but none of it mattered.  If I hadn’t done any of those things it would still have been good.  It was play.  But then at some point another little voice began to arise.  ‘What about walking the whole of the river Soar from the Trent to its source?’  This seemed a fun idea (though later studies of the map showed it to be impracticable), an idea which was conceived in the spirit of play – but all too soon the plan of walking the Soar from end to end became a – well, an end in itself.  It became Something I Was Doing; something I would Tell People About.  And they would Be Impressed.

The more this end-gaining took over, the less fun it became.  I knew where I was going each day, whereas the fun had previously been in spontaneity.  I had a goal to reach and I might feel a failure if I didn’t reach it.  I began to feel tired instead of energetic, dispirited instead of joyful.  And at some point I said, enough.  No more.  I was all set to give up walking altogether.

And then, just like a see-saw*, (and after a day’s rest) I found the desire to walk was not entirely extinguished.  I abandoned altogether the plan of walking the Soar (now adapted into a plan to walk the canal down to Foxton Locks) and went closer to home (see yesterday’s post).  And it was much better.

The moral of the story is, all ends must end.  Oo, and while you’re here I found this video again, which I thought was lost:

Kirk out

*or see-Soar

I Think You Ought to Know

The character known as the paranoid android, aka Marvin in the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, was fond of saying ‘I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed.’  Eeyore has similar conversational openers although he is more adept at emotional manipulation (‘we can’t all have houses’, ‘very natural, and it was only Eeyore’s tail.  But still I wondered.’)

But when I’m feeling depressed I have a dilemma – to talk about it or not to talk about it?  I’m only too aware from certain miserablist individuals of my acquaintance of the total downer it can be when you subject others to your own depression; I’m also aware of the potential value of thinking and acting positive.  But then again there’s the need to talk about it, not to be in denial.  So what to do?

It seems to me that there’s an optimum amount of expression required.  Naturally I tell my dear OH when I’m feeling down and OH is always concerned and wanting to help.  But whilst it’s a relief to get it off your chest I’m aware that feeling better is largely down to me.  Fortunately most of the time I can find something that works: watching a comedy, digging the garden, going for a walk, reading a book.  Equally important is avoiding things that bring me down: listening to the news, reading Facebook, thinking about the future.

Food and drink can also help: eating good, fresh food gives you energy but there’s nothing to beat chocolate.  I avoid alcohol as it’s a known depressant.  Sleeping properly also helps; unfortunately this is not under my complete control and sometimes everything I try fails – or at least only succeeds partially.  I can drink my chamomile and swig my herbal sleep mix and put on my sleep CD and still stay awake for ages.  It’s very annoying.  It’s as if there’s a part of my brain that resists all efforts to put it to sleep.  This part of my brain is like a recalcitrant toddler and insists on being awake no matter what I do.  

In my previous incarnation as a yoga teacher I used to teach groups of depressed people.  I would always focus on active postures; plenty of movement, no contemplation or meditation and some high-up music like this:

video removed on request

High notes seem to reach a part of the brain associated with euphoria; there are better tracks than this but I don’t know what they’re called so I can’t find them.

I’m off now to buy some salad stuff and chocolate biscuits…

Kirk out

Oh Wow. A Whole Decade

I had a little notification in the corner of my page this morning.   ‘That’s odd,’ I thought, as I’m usually told of comments and followers via email and I had just checked my inbox.  I clicked on it and it informed me that it was TEN YEARS AGO TODAY!!! that I started this blog.  I won’t bore you with the details as regular readers have heard it all many times before, suffice it to say that Hanif Kureishi was partly responsible for setting me off on this path.  I suppose I really ought to do something deep and retrospective, like picking out my favourite posts or summarising my journey or selecting the best comments, but the very idea fills me with a reluctance so deep that I can barely move my fingers across the keyboard; so I shall just say Happy Anniversary to lizardyoga’s weblog and a particular shout-out to those readers who have been with me since the beginning.

Thinking about it, the last decade has seen my transition from teacher/part time writer to full-time author and performing poet, which is quite a big deal.  I was updating my CV the other week and it was quite startling how many things I’ve done, from the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square to Leicester Riverside Festival to Left Unity’s national conference and Quaker Yearly Meeting to Sing for Water at Leicester Riverside Festival.  Publications include poems in Mslexia, blogging for the same and short stories in Everyday Fiction.

Maybe soon I’ll get it together and find some retrospective links.  But right now I’m getting ready to go to Wales which includes checking the car tyres (am I the only one who hates doing this?  I think I have a subconscious fear of blowing up one of the tyres.)

So if you’ve been a reader of this blog since May 2008, please drop me a comment and let me know how the last ten years have been for you.

Kirk out

Like the New Theme?

I’m trying to think of a word that isn’t revamp or makeover; words which strike gloom into the boots of every reader; anyway, whatever you want to call it, this blog is having one.  We’ve got a different theme called Penscratch and I’ve renamed it Sarada Gray to reflect the changing emphasis since I no longer write about yoga.  Now, I don’t expect you to get excited about this since this blog is about content not packaging; and I promise above all not to subject you to any surveys.  Surely everyone must be sick of surveys?  Every time I go on a website or fill out a form I’m asked to rate my experience: I swear to God that when I die I expect St Peter to be up there holding out a clipboard and a pen.  Please rate your life experience under the following categories….  Yeah, yeah, I appreciate that people are just trying to do a good job (or look as if they are) but there must be better ways of doing it than the infernal tick-box.

But I digress.  Sarada Gray, in case you didn’t know, is my pen-name.  If you don’t know where the name comes from and can’t be bothered to click on the link above, it happened like this.  In 1992 I was on a yoga retreat in Avila, coldest place on earth, at a convent in the mountains above Madrid.  The convent was basically a set of corridors open to the elements and the heating came on for half an hour a day, between 3 and 3.30 pm when I was usually taking a nap.  We got up at some ungodly hour to do meditation and at the start of the whole shebang we were invited to choose a ‘nombre espiritual’ – a spiritual name by which we would be known on the retreat.  This name should embody qualities which we wished to develop in ourselves.

I think it was that which inspired me more than anything in yoga – if you want to achieve something you should act as if you’re already there.  So I asked myself, where do I want to be?  The answer was of course, to be a writer, so I searched lists of gods and goddesses for suitable names and came up with Sarada.  Aka Saraswati, she is the goddess of creativity and wisdom (good combination) and is usually shown playing a veena, something like a sitar:

maa-saraswati-hd-wallpaper

Image removed on request

But believe it or not, it was years before I thought of using it as a pen-name.  For ages I played around with variations on my own name – Liza, Lisa, Beth… I knew I wanted to keep Gray but none of the variations seemed quite right; and then I had an epiphany.  Of course!  Use Sarada!  So there it is.  No-one else has a name like it; it has history and relevance and it sounds good.

So from now on this blog will be called Sarada Gray and soon it will have a new banner, courtesy of my talented son.

Now, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your experience of reading this post?

(Just kidding)

Kirk out