Without the silence that follows the chants, you get only half the story. It’s like the climax of a good story. The silence is there because it exists in the music. It just needs to be exposed and acknowledged. It’s so easy to overlook the silence inside the music… and it’s that which is healing us… if we allow it to be there. This is really one of the main reasons Miten and I sing — to bathe in Silence. It’s our nourishment. It’s what keeps us on the road. For me there is nothing more precious than having sung with an audience, ecstatic with bliss, and then entering the deep silence that the mantra brings… so deep, that with closed eyes you really feel there is ‘nobody’ there at all… all personalities dissolved for a tiny sacred moment. — Deva Premal
Simon Yugler writes, “I’d like to fashion myself an advocate of doing things that scare us. In today’s world of guard-rails, antibacterial soap, and well-meaning regulations, there are more precautions set in place to make sure people live comfortable, protected lives than ever before.
Yet despite the efforts of mainstream media to convince us otherwise, the truth is that the world is a much safer place than it ever has been in all of human history. Most of us will live long, happy lives. This is great news! Except there’s a catch.
The drawbacks of never having to face our fears or navigate danger are starting to impact us as a generation, and as a culture. Always feeling safe; always opting for the comfort of the known, over the daunting mystery of the unknown, offers only one side of the human experience. The result is one-sided human beings.
These days, real fear, and real adventure is hard to come by. I say, seek fear out, take a deep breath, and learn how to make fear your friend. You will be a changed person.”
‘i love myself.’
— Nayyirah Waheed
Why Our Imagination Needs the Dawn Chorus
Rob Hopkins writes, “It’s still dark on the early May morning when we gather. It’s quiet, apart from the few robins who’ve woken early, tricked into an early start by the few street lights that are on. It’s cool, but not cold, and in spite of the fact that all seven of us were out of bed before 4am (not that difficult: as Henry Porter once wrote, this is “easily achieved by drinking a lot of water the night before”), everyone is focused, purposeful, intent. We set off on a 10 minute downhill walk to the place where we are going to sit and listen to the dawn chorus.
As we walk, we hear some other early risers. The first blackbirds are up, and as we head down the hill through open farmland, we hear the beautiful song of a skylark high above us. We reach our final stop, by a bend in the River Dart, with woodlands on the other side, stretching as far as the eye can see. In spite of the near-darkness, the chorus has begun. The invitation from Tony Whitehead, the ornithologist and sound recordist who is leading the walk, is to just listen. To be still, and to enjoy the remarkable concert laid on for our delight.
The early voices are those of robins, then blackbirds and songthrushes. Soon they are joined by wrens, wood pigeons and crows. Then there’s a Mandarin duck, whose call sounds like one of the splodgy sound effects on Candy Crush. There are mallard ducks, long-tailed tits, chiffchaffs, and chaffinches. And the occasional pheasant.
Some of them I recognize, some I don’t. The song of the blackbird usually comes in two halves. The first half tends to be roughly the same, its signature if you like, and then in the second half, they just improvise, making up something random, different each time. I am reminded of Charlie Parker’s quote: “You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail”. I’m hearing nature’s creativity, nature’s improvisation. Jazz birds. And it’s beautiful.
…So what does all this have to do with imagination? A common experience when seeing something like the dawn chorus, something beautiful, powerful, something that resonates back with human experience for tens of thousands of years, is a feeling of awe. Whether it’s the late evening sun on the Himalayas, the birth of a child, the Northern Lights, awe is a rare but extraordinary thing. There are gradations of it of course (for me, finding edible wild mushrooms in the autumn is pretty awe-inducing), but we all need a bit of awe in our lives. Awe, according to Florence Williams in ‘The Nature Fix’, is considered by psychologists to be one of our core positive emotions, alongside joy, contentment, compassion, pride, love and amusement.
She cites research that indicates that people who experience awe tend to be more generous, more helpful, more compassionate. Awe reinforces social connections. It has even been found that when people experience awe in a terrifying way, like a hurricane bearing down on their town for example, people tend to be more inclined to work together with each other with the best interests of the community, rather than themselves, in mind. Awe is a good thing all round.
She quotes Craig Anderson, a student at Berkeley, who argues, based on his research into awe, that it promotes curiosity because “we experience things out of our normal frame of reference, things we can’t easily categorise or understand”. And curiosity is a key precursor to imagination.
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. ― Brené Brown
Leslie Davis writes, “On a recent personal retreat, I hiked into Horn Canyon in the east end of Ojai, California. Due to the severe drought, it had been years since water had flowed alongside the trail there, but now I was delighted to cross the creek a few times, jumping from rock to rock.
My mind was clear and focused, taking in the sounds and smells of the trail — glistening poison oak, fragrant sage, infinite wildflowers… With the warm sun on my back, I felt fully alive in the present moment. Such a wonderful gift to be alive! To be awake!
On the way back through the canyon, though, my mind jumped ahead of my body: it was busy planning out what I would do as soon as I got back. First a snack, then another writing session, or maybe both at the same time, then a hot shower. And what would I have for dinner?
Many minutes would pass before I noticed this. How many footsteps did my feet take while my mind carried me away? And how many times in any given day does this occur, or even in just an afternoon? And what can bring us back to the present moment? How can we return to what’s at hand — the conversation we’re having, the child in front of us, the trail we’re walking?
The mind can go and go without us noticing how fast it’s going, or what direction it’s headed in. Then, suddenly, a thought jumps out at us, and we trip, or stumble, or burn something on the stovetop. And just like that we’re reminded to pay attention. This is where a little magic happens.
In that moment we can bring our attention back to our breath. We can reconnect with ourselves, our spirits, and our awareness of where we are — right here, right now.
There are two ways to live your life: One is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle. — Albert Einstein
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Your mind is like a piece of land planted with many different kinds of seeds: seeds of joy, peace, mindfulness, understanding, and love; seeds of craving, anger, fear, hate, and forgetfulness. These wholesome and unwholesome seeds are always there, sleeping in the soil of your mind. The quality of your life depends on the seeds you water. If you plant tomato seeds in your gardens, tomatoes will grow. Just so, if you water a seed of peace in your mind, peace will grow. When the seeds of happiness in you are watered, you will become happy. When the seed of anger in you is watered, you will become angry. The seeds that are watered frequently are those that will grow strong. — Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Our true home is not in the past. Our true home is not in the future. Our true home is in the here and the now. Life is available only in the here and the now, and it is our true home.
Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives. You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life. There are those of us who are alive but don’t know it. But when you breathe in, and you are aware of your in-breath, you touch the miracle of being alive. That is why mindfulness is a source of happiness and joy.
Most people are forgetful; they are not really there a lot of the time. Their mind is caught in their worries, their fears, their anger, and their regrets, and they are not mindful of being there. That state of being is called forgetfulness—you are there but you are not there. You are caught in the past or in the future. You are not there in the present moment, living your life deeply. That is forgetfulness.
The opposite of forgetfulness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is when you are truly there, mind and body together. You breathe in and out mindfully, you bring your mind back to your body, and you are there. When your mind is there with your body, you are established in the present moment. Then you can recognize the many conditions of happiness that are in you and around you, and happiness just comes naturally.”