Happy Year of the Earth Sow!

Sitting in the winter garden with a head cold

I am planning to write a set of blog posts about my 2 week retreat on Holy Island this winter, but I thought I’d ease myself back into writing and using my left-brain with something more embodied and immediate.

My husband and I both have terrific head colds. And by “terrific” I mean completely normal and probably less strong than most. But both of us are working with our tendency to spin drama around illness and notice how we do that.

This morning – a stunningly sunny day in Newhaven, – I chose to meditate down at the bottom of the garden where it’s a bit wild and unkempt. (As opposed to the top of the garden which is is less wild but still unkempt).

Our dog is a former meditator lapsed from grace in a former life

Our splendid new dog, a Spanish Mastiff called Ben is clearly a meditator that fell slightly from grace in a previous life, since he patiently sits at my feet guarding my practice whenever I sit outside. He takes a very regal pose and sniffs the air, endlessly entertained by the freshness of the morning; the magpies and rooks in the sycamore trees; the neighbours’ dogs and the smell of the frosty grass.

Behind him, meanwhile, I am struggling with the familiar work of escaping my mind-made prison over and over and coming back to the fresh morning. A few moments of being in my body, or hearing a passing plane and then – whoosh! – back I go, deep into the drab corridors of my thinking mind. I scarcely bother to beat myself up about this these days. Some mornings it’s luscious and easy to stay in the dark, groundedness of my body. Some other mornings it’s like my thoughts are like giant electro-magnets drawing all the iron filings of awareness into a pointless magnetic dance.

We learn to never malign anything human (or otherwise)

But hey-ho! that’s the human condition. And the nice thing about hanging out with so many inspiring and experienced Buddhist practitioners over the years, is that you learn never to malign anything human. That’s just self-harm. And I have taken a vow to dedicate my life to the benefit of all beings, including myself. So that definitely prohibits taking mean pot-shots at my own mind.

Anyway, Ben and I are sitting in the February sunshine on the first day of the Tibetan New Year – (the Year of the Female Earth Pig, if you’re interested) – and I have pinged out of pure awareness in to a set of thoughts about my recently departed friend Jane and whether we should light some bonfires in her honour and to mark the New Year. And I notice this exit and return to my body and the crappy cold-achey feelings in my joints.

And I recognise that as Reggie says – the exiting is not worth thinking about. When we exit – even to fond thoughts about our friends and the special day ahead – then we are missing the chance to be in the boundless space of the moment. But if we then berate ourselves and think about why we started thinking then it’s doubly absurd. We’ve exited and then double-exited by thinking about why we exited!

Get back to the space where all good things dwell

So on the auspicious first day of the Earth Sow, I wish you all a happy Tibetan year of kindness to your exiting minds. I have taken a sub-vow to be less worried about exiting but keener to get back to the open space where all good things dwell. That’s the open space of the mind, unencumbered by specific things – thoughts, sensations, aches, pains, dreams.

If Ben the dog can do it, then I can. I shall take my lead from him and the glorious Earth Sow of 2019.

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  • Lynda says:

    I loved reading this and also suffering some heady thing going on. Dragged myself out to the veg garden and polytunnel, and felt boosted by all the new growth and buds. Life doing its thing. Thanks for sharing

  • Scott Mikesh says:

    I can sense your frustration, Alistair, and sure hope that blogging helps you clear your mind, to get to that open space, and doesn’t create more mental weight. Your words sure help those of us who struggle with busy minds, and I know the pressure of creating media/marketing content for your business can compound it too (business worries weigh heavily on my mind), so I hope the writing eases your mind. Your thoughts sure are comforting and helpful, and I appreciate you sharing them, when you feel like it. Keep treating yourself as compassionately as you treat others. Sending healing wishes to you, Reggie, and Ben too (hope you kicked your colds)!

    • alistairappleton says:

      Thanks Scott. We’re all feeling much better. (Just to be clear my husband isn’t Reggie! He’s my Buddhist teacher. I’m not sure he’s up for gay marriage!)

  • Great blog, as always, Alistair. You never fail to make me feel better about my ,often mixed up and anxious, thoughts. I remember your sad blog regarding the loss of your dogs, so it’s really heartwarming to hear that you have Ben. Pets can be such a comfort, especially on “down” days, they never fail to lift the spirit. Here’s wishing you and Daniel a speedy recovery. All the best Patti. X

  • Anna says:

    Happy Losar dear Alistair.

    Your post reminds me of Rumi’s beautiful words: “out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there”.

    Sending lots of love to you and the field, to Ben, D and Newhaven. Anna xxx

    • alistairappleton says:

      Happy Losar to you too Anna, so nice to see you. Funny how a friend of mine from New Mexico had quoted that very same Rumi saying to me only last night. It’s the favourite of my friend Sue Minns too… It’s the place I’d like to hang out more often! x

    • alistairappleton says:

      Happy Losar Anna! Let’s speak soon… Or come visit! x

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