The past two or so months has been a time of flux, new experiences and varied challenges. I moved continent and uprooted my comfortable cottage on scenic farmlands, swopping it for a dinky apartment in a frenzied European city. In many way ways I still yearn for the wildly flung blue skies of African wilderness, and something tells me I will never be rid of this yearning as long as I am absent from my homeland. In spite of this I have tried to immerse myself in the present, taking deep gulps of car-fumed-full air and elbowing my way through crowds of gawking American tourists with jolly gusto.
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When the moment of stress takes hold, the mind is at flight. I have come to measure and understand my level of stress in relation to my ability to sustain conscious awareness. Stress, for me is defined by a sense that I have lost a measured observance of my thoughts and how time passes. I often find that bad habit patterns that I may have under control - for the most part anyway - resurface in times of stress. I act by impulse. I act out of fear and I act unknowingly. Here is a podcast for you to listen to in moments of stress. I hope its useful.
American writer and poet, Donald Hall, wrote a melancholic, self-reflective essay in The New Yorker late last year titled, “Between Solitude and Loneliness”. He writes about his solitary life on an isolated farm he has inherited from his late grandmother. He is in his late eighties at the time, a widower with little contact to the outside world other than through his craft, and a weekly visit from a housekeeper. He is perfectly content. He looks back on his life in this essay to unearth and then ponder over a succession of circumstances in which he has cherished and sought solitariness.
On average we are supposed to spend a third of our lives asleep, and yet, sleep and dream states remain insufficiently understood. Sleep is clouded in mystery and a source of rich ongoing research for scientists and philosophers. Most significantly, we can’t seem to bend it to our will. Any insomniac or light sleeper knows that ghastly and hollow feeling of desperation when trying to fall asleep. This desperation is made worse if your partner or a close family is snoring peacefully nearby. How is it that one person can flick off the switch and slide into a dreamworld, whilst another cannot? I am a periodic insomniac and I have asked myself this far too many times to count. Its a mercurial thing, sleep - perhaps like desire - the more you try to obtain it, the further it slips from your grasp.
One of the most luminous and profound commencement addresses I have ever seen was by Parker Palmer. Palmer was being awarded the first ever honorary degree at Naropa University in Colorado in 2015. Naropa was founded in 1974 by the Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Oxford alumnus Chogyam Trungpa. The university was intended to be an experiment in the synergy of contemporaryWestern scholarship methodologies and timeless tenets of Eastern wisdom. Palmer’s speech draws on a life of experience - he is in his mid-70s - and snatches of what can only be transcendent insight to layout his six pillars of meaningful human existence.