| August Journal |

To the leaves in my bowl                                I thank you
To the stillness in my soul                              I revere you
To the follies of youth                                     I love you
And to God                                                       I miss you…

So long I have been gone
Busying myself attempting to build a temple
For You to enter and take rest.
I did not answer when You called
And now I cannot hear.

I have cleared a space for You inside.
Come rest here if You will.
Rest Your feet against my heart
Your hands drape over my eyes.
Turn my vision inwards
To rest solely on You.

A letter to the forgotten in myself
Lies unwritten on my heart.
A melodic imprint
Drowned out by a frantic and confused song.
The prayers of the voiceless
Impart a stillness beyond description.
Alive with vibration
Static with clarity.
Fill me until I overflow with stillness,
Until the words unveil themselves,
And identity dissolves.

Then, abundant in silence,
Allow me to welcome You Home.

The season of abundance: cultivating moral integrity

By late summer we have carved ourselves into a basket. The warm months of expansion and openness culminate in the heady days of harvest. In a literal sense, August sees the garden teeming with activity as the fruits swell and the vegetables explode. The month of berry stained fingers and stuffed cheeks in upon us. And as our baskets overflow with gifts from the tenderly cultivated earth, so too do we experience an internal overflow. Our inner expansion reaches its pinnacle before we shed our autumn layers. The season of heightened social interaction, the fluid emotional state in perpetual motion, picking up and adapting to the energy of a constant stream of other souls – each seeking for their own natural equilibrium within the turmoil. We have to stretch ourselves to inhabit multiple roles. To fill up with experience, emotion, and lesson.

Finding ease in abundance is not always straight forward. Having so much, being so full, seems the antithesis of the humility, austerity and quietude that spiritual teachings advocate. Many of us share a perception of self-deprivation as a means of ultimate betterment. But could this good intention be a misunderstanding? Or at least, could be reframed, shedding new light on the meaning of abundance?

The abundance we cultivate through honest, internal expansion is an emotional wealth, not to be confused with the material. We may have nothing material to show for ourselves, but overflowing spiritual richness. Equally, having nothing on the outside does not necessarily signify internal abundance. The practice of minimalism has become increasingly popular, and whilst shedding yourself of excess that does not serve is a beneficial practice, it does not in-and-of itself guarantee any profound mental shift. Some of the greatest spiritual teachers going back through history have been mendicants or ascetics who uphold a vow of poverty. Others have been kings of great material wealth and responsibility. Yet they are all the same in that none have become identified with their temporary economic situation. The lesson is that abundance comes from within and is not defined by external manifestation. Simply by being still and allowing the experience of life around you to full sink in, fills you to the point of bursting. Leaves you abundant with energy. The expansion of the Self beyond the bodily limitation. The experience of true love and devotion. Of sincere humility and gratitude. This is the true meaning of abundance.

‘The Brain – is wider than the Sky –
For – put them side-by-side –
The one the other will contain
With ease – and You – beside -’
- Emily Dickenson

But with great abundance comes great responsibility. When we grow and expand emotionally, mentally, spiritually, we must take great care in the ways we interact with the material space. This is where the notion of morality steps into the picture.

Too often now is morality associated with the polarities of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Morality is lumped in with language and belief that is misconstrued to be depicted as something archaic, out-dated and no longer relevant. We speak in terms of right and wrong, taking a position and forming judgements from there. However, morality is not so black and white. To be moral is to act out of humility, reverence and deep love. It is to honour life, to treat ourselves and others skilfully, encouraging healthy and wholesome communication, practices and lifestyle. To live a life in Truth, a life of connectedness and spiritual depth, morality is fundamental. We are responsible for the actions, words, and even the thoughts that we harbour.

Most spiritual traditions lay out terms of morality clearly for the student. However, if the idea of subscribing to a formalised moral code of conduct doesn’t appeal, we can still engage with morality on a personal level by practicing self-effacement and recognising the connectedness of all beings. The more present we become, the more intuitive the cultivation of morality becomes. The more we are seated in authentic awareness and relinquish our tight grip on individual identification, the more at ease we become. The more we naturally treat others and our environment with honesty, awe and compassion. We walk with softness and integrity.

Practice… drawing energy from abundance. Drawing in energy in order that we have more to give. That we are able to grow and shine. Take some time, somewhere quiet, somewhere beautiful. In nature if possible. Sitting heavy on the earth, take some time to root firmly. Lengthen and slow the breath. Feeling into each area of the body as it becomes filled with nourishing prāna. Give over to the natural and unforced cycle of inhale and exhale. The rise and fall of the chest. Expansion and contraction of the ribs. Begin to take in your surroundings. Using each of the senses in turn, absorb the colours, shapes, smells, sounds. Closing down the eyes, allow the senses of touch, smell and hearing to take over. Feeling the breeze on the skin, the birds chirping in the sky. The sound and vibration of fluttering leaves.
Start drawing the attention a little deeper inwards. Allowing the senses to turn their gazes towards the energetic flows within the body. Feel the limbs come alive with the pulsating currents tracing beneath the skin. As you sensitise to the subtle vibrations within, feel the energetic body as it extends beyond the skin. This might feel like a tingling sensation or static energy just at the surface of the skin. Once you have a sense of this permeable boundary, feel the air entering from the entire surface of the body as you inhale, and feel it leave again through the skin on the exhale. Stick with this practice for several minutes.
After some time, you may like to visualise the breath, the prāna, the life force energy, as a light that permeates your energetic field. On the inhale you draw in light and energy from the space around you, and as you exhale you can experience your own energetic field lighting up, shining brighter and brighter with each breath. Although the eyes are closed, you can become highly attuned to your surroundings. Perhaps even being aware of the location of certain objects around you. As you inhale, receive energy, receive light from your surroundings. From each object, the ground, and the space. With the exhale, reciprocate that energetic exchange by sending light back out to them. Spend several minutes in this practice.
Once you feel completely full, abundant in energy and light, you can gently bring yourself out of the meditation – taking your time before re-emerging fully, trying your best to maintain that state of presence.

Conscious Communication: The Heart Protector

When we practice consciously giving and receiving energy from our surroundings and becoming comfortable in a seat of abundance, we can turn our attention to how our energy interacts with other people. We all know the feeling of having our energy ‘sucked’ by someone who is energetically or emotionally demanding of you. Similarly, I'm sure many of us have had an interaction with someone who is closed off energetically and is hard to reach emotionally, coming across as cold or hard.

Summer is the season of the Fire element. In Chinese medical terms, Fire is closely related to the Heart and the Heart Protector (pericardium). The Heart has so many significant connotations but one of the most important is that is a space in which resides the shen, that which is both Spirit and Mind. The radiance of the spirit extends from the heart space. It radiates virtue simply by being itself. A. Hicks states that ‘a healthy Heart with no obstructions does nothing other than allow our spirit to rest peacefully within it’. It is the seat of Heavenly awareness and consciousness within each of us, and therefore we should learn to communicate from the space with great care and have the means to protect our Heart energy.

The Heart Protector, or pericardium, is known as the guardian of the Heart. Some texts describe it as a gatekeeper, protecting the heart by regulating the energetic flow to and from others and our environment. It manages the level of intimacy in various relationships – the degree to which we open the doors of our Heart to different interactions. For example, we open our heart more to our lover than to a stranger you ask directions from in the street.

When the Fire element is healthy, the Heart Protector will function smoothly, ensuring that we open ourselves up and close in again when appropriate. However, when we are out of balance, have let awareness slide and are not grounded in truth, the doors to the heart can become firmly jammed open or closed. When the heart is open all of the time, we run the risk of having our energy drained, or taking on another person’s negativity. Like a sponge we absorb all that is around us: good, bad or indifferent. This can through us into emotional and energetic turmoil. Whilst a state of open-heartedness is ultimately something to work towards, until we are completely balanced and in control of our energetic input and output, we become overly sensitive and can let harmful influences come close to the heart. When the doors to the heart are tightly shut – perhaps in a bid to protect ourselves from hurt after having gone through betrayal or painful experiences – we lack warmth and close ourselves off from receiving energy from others.

At times we will be full. At other times we will be empty. This is healthy and right. Problems only arise due to our failure to recognise our energy levels and what it is that we require. When to be open and when to give ourselves some space. And how to be open without becoming drained. Even by simply become aware and witnessing the fluctuations of our energy in various scenarios we are making progress.

Practice… sitting in the heart space. Closing down the eyes and taking several rounds of deep breath, allowing the focus to turn inwards and the chatter of the mind to quieten and eventually cease, even if just for a moment. Take the awareness to the heart centre. Use the breath to find expansion, encourage a warmth and lightness to emerge. Just sitting as a gentle witness, become aware of the energetic state of the heart at this particular moment. Is it full? Expansive? Bursting with light? Or is it feeling more vulnerable? Introverted and soft?
At first it might take some time to familiarise yourself and tap into the energetics of the heart. But persevere without frustration and eventually the practice will become intuitive as you re-sensitise to the subtleties of the energetic body.
Once you have established your current state, then you can consider how best to approach certain situations and conversations.

Stillness: balancing doing with being

‘At some point all the horizontal trips in the world can’t compensate for the need to go deep into somewhere challenging and unexpected. Movement makes richest sense when set within a frame of stillness.’
– Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness

I used to consider myself a Seeker. I was in a perpetual state of motion in the hopes that somewhere along my travels I would pick up little crumbs that would ultimately make me whole. There was one year where I spent more time on trains and airplanes than I did at my destination. I felt stagnant when I was in the same place for too long, like I was wasting an opportunity to be out discovering further reaches of the globe, as if they somehow were linked to further reaches of my soul. Although I always understood that everything I needed was already inside me, forgotten, dusted over and covered by illusion, I never truly felt it. I held on to the hope that somewhere out there, there was a neat little package with enlightenment bundled up and waiting for me, I just needed to wander around until I found it.

Whilst I certainly had many realisations and was exposed to some powerful teachings on my travels, it wasn’t until I committed to being still that I really allowed them to sink in. I realised that all these years I had been so busy Doing that I had left very little time for Being. Sinking into a slow life in the Yorkshire Dales, very much dependant on a close relationship to the land, is teaching me daily how to Be. It’s hard work, but what may look like a monotonous or isolated life is really the greatest and most expansive adventure I have ever been on.

Whether I feel like it or not, I am forced to connect with my environment on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. Living in rhythm with the seasons encourages me to keep grounded; become accepting of those things that I do not have the power to change; to be humbled constantly by the power of this land; and to find steadiness and delicate beauty in everyday simplicity. I have the opportunity to create a life that celebrate stillness. That relishes it. I want to inhabit a place where the greatest weight is given to the silence between two thoughts.

‘The deeper blessing (of stillness) … is that it can get you as wide-awake, exhilarated, and pumping-hearted as when you are in love.’ – Pico Iyer

Stillness should not be looked upon as either an indulgence nor an austerity. It is the simple, yet challenging, act of limiting our input and our output – becoming closer to the senses. It is not available to some and inaccessible to others. It is a space within us all. It is simply a matter of decluttering the cavern of the mind in order to appreciate it. Being still doesn’t require giving up all action - quitting your job and aspiring for a state of perpetual languor. It does not require an ashram nor a mountain retreat, but simply a dedicated and devoted heart and a presence of mind to resist the callings of the ego. Some of the stillest people in the world have made the greatest achievements. This is because all of their action is one-pointed and focussed. There is no waste. Not illusion. No wishy-washy thinking or self-consciousness. They are not disturbed by a fluttering mind and a rapid, chattering inner dialogue. To cultivate stillness is to cultivate a state of mind whereby we go about our daily chores with the attitude of meditation. With a reverential steadiness and heightened awareness. Slowing down to take in the world. To Be and not simply Do. To give yourself the space to really Live.

‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.’ - Henry David Thoreau, Walden

It may come as no surprise that Thoreau is my all-time hero. He championed a life of simplicity and stillness – very much a man of Being – a life lived in harmonious proximity to nature, abandoning our ‘lives of quiet desperation’, to restore broken ties with the environment from which we all stem from. It might seem odd that, to me, Thoreau’s account of solitary, self-sufficient existence in the woods demonstrates the pinnacle of abundance. I have written before about how I like to define self-sufficiency as a state of inner wealth. To be sufficient within oneself. Not to require any validation or identification, but to be complete and whole. We are all self-sufficient, yet we forget and allow ourselves to be veiled in egoic illusion. Constantly striving for more. Trapped in this cycle of fear of not being enough. Thoreau is a shining example of someone sufficient within himself. Content to be alone with himself. To be still. To be full – not of the temporary or superficial, but full of an inner richness. An abundance of contentment, acceptance, and integrity.

‘Sitting still as a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it…’ - Pico Iyer

Practice…Sitting with Tea. Just some simple leaves in a bowl. A tender green bud or a floral oolong. Practice becoming very still and very present. A meditation in soft expansion, drinking in the experience, drinking in life. Rather than just drinking Tea, live the whole experience. Find abundance in the simplicity. In the rolling clouds of steam. The delicate perfume of the Tea liquor. The connection of your seat to the ground. The passage of the warm liquid snaking its way through the body. The energetic vibration of the prāna, the life force, electrifying your being. Sit for as many bowls as it takes to become fully present and free from the time construct. Become lost in the abundance of stillness.

Journal…an unstructured and free-form flow of words that tumble from the unconscious mind onto the page. Try not to think too much as you allow stillness to predominate. In your writing try to avoid language of the ego – invite self-expression that isn’t tangled up in our personal stories or dramas. See how aware you can become. How minute the detail as you try to put the beauty of your world into words, however inadequate they seem. As though writing a love letter to God, or to the ground from which life springs. Become vulnerable and open. Tenderly unfurling the petals of the heart with each syllable that ornaments the page.

Illuminations: Realisation and Acceptance

‘We wayfare together as individuals, each with his or her own destiny, and each with his or her own unique abilities and capacities for service. Our goal is to facilitate an awakened destiny in everyone, without exclusion. As we are all of one heart, we are also of one tradition: the tradition of the Earth.’ – Wu De

The late summer sun sits high in the sky. Offering illumination in the hidden depths. Encouraging us to open the shutters of our secret rooms, and shed light on the shadows we turn our back to.  

Once we find comfort in the stillness, and thrive off a truthful mode of Being, we create space for realisation of a more profound nature. We begin to peel back layers of conditioning to reveal our innate wisdom, there all along but forgotten over time. Practicing daily meditation – becoming very quiet, very still – encourages us to shift perspective and understanding. To view the world through compassionate eyes, free from egoic input. From this vision we can begin to accept reality as it is, without battling for a self-constructed narrative. From stillness we awaken. Our destiny lies illuminated in the present. Our unique ability highlighted. Our desire to acknowledge the call to service is illumined.

When water is disturbed, the light penetrates in shards and with a flicker. Similarly, an unsettled mind can only realise partial illumination. The spirit of the Fire element, Shen, is reflected in the settled mind and in clear thinking. It is the sparkle in the eyes of the present and unattached being. To realise our true nature is to become settled. To overcome the illusory energy of the mind by becoming still and present. Pure and vibrant we can accept that which is without flinching, as our trust lies with the divine, with the breath, with life itself.

‘For one who has conquered the mind, the Supersoul is already reached, for he has attained tranquility. To such a man happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same.’ – Bhagavad Gita, 6.7

‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ – Shakespeare, Hamlet

Read…make a habit of reading texts that inspire and illuminate on a daily basis. Whether they are Spiritual scripture, biographies of inspiring people, or even novels that contain an enlightening story, take the time to expand the mind each day. Commit to the practice as another form of meditation. Sit somewhere quiet without distraction and give your full attention to the material. It is nice to note down any passages or quotes that stand out for you so you can refer back whenever you need reminding.

Image by Ingrid Beddoes

Medicine: Hibiscus

Moving with the theme of abundance, the open-hearted overflow of awe and compassion, the hibiscus flower is a beautiful medicine to connect with this month. Used for powerful awakening and protection of the heart chakra, hibiscus is deeply medicinal as it is packed with anti-oxidants, actively fighting free radicals. As the summer is the season of pitta dosha and the fire element, hibiscus is especially beneficial as it is very effective at pacifying pitta and supporting the main organs associated with the Fire element, such as the liver. It lowers blood pressure, boosts the metabolism and has natural anti-cancer properties. Hibiscus has a cooling and calming energy, promoting a sense of clarity and internal harmony.

August is a month of finding comfort in abundance. Of holding space and maintaining an open heart, whilst protecting your energy and learning to draw in energy from the natural world around you. Stillness is a theme close to my heart, and at this time of full expansion at the peak of summer, I invite you to dive deeply into the present moment, exploring how it feels to be fully aware and accepting of Reality with clear sighted vision, un-clouded by the constructs of the whirring mind. And most importantly, to rest. To trust that all is within you, waiting to be remember and revealed once again to the consciousness.
Be joyous. Be open. Be still. 
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