Welcome to Carolyn Cowan Online; Designer, photographer, teacher, mother, counsellor and bodypainter.
Archive for 2008
We cannot stay still. We have to keep on moving. Although it has been a stressful and full on year we have to move into the New Year with optimism and a determination to find an empowered way forward.
Remember the words of John Lennon in imagine: Imagine there’s no heaven, no hell below us. Etc. The whole song is about opposites and how you, we, cannot have only the good parts. We have to have the disintegration to have regeneration. Without the pain we cannot know that we are experiencing pleasure. As it says in The Prophet by Kalil Gibran; You pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
All the angst, fear and stress that we are feeling now is just the falling away of old structures that we have used to shield each of us from ourselves. We are now tender little shoots feeling a new way up and out of the fires that surround us. Be a mountain goat finding the way or water swiftly moving around each and every obstacle; let go of being defeated by the times. There is no value in that at all.
We are approaching a New Year, we have just been through the Solstice, the new moon is today. All is changing, energies are being re-routed, numbers are all moving forward and we have to move with it all. Do something that makes you feel alive, positive and vibrant.
My suggestions for the New Year ahead are to do a heart opening meditation each night before sleep, be judicious with your proximity to any form of newspaper or news reading, take up a personal practice like yoga, running, Tai Chi or similar, recognise the other person is you and smile as much a possible.
There has been so much written about the Dark Night of the Soul. I make no attempt to compete, but it seems that many of us are touching the places that we usually never venture alone, and last night could be seen as somewhat symbolic of this anguish; it was the longest night of the year. The time when our subconscious rules us for the most interminable time but we can touch the mud at the bottom and start the long slow climb up towards the light.
I certainly feel as though this is my current reality. I know there is still time left this year but it all gets folded up in Christmas. All of a sudden New Year is upon us and the feeling is one of being rushed headlong into a whole new experience. So it is a good thing to start reviewing the past 12 months now. To look behind and see what we climbed through, over, under and along.
I am conscious of a year of learning. From January 1st this year, all I have done is learn. Lessons, new ways of thinking, more about myself, more about other people, and a lot about money. It seems a pity that some of these extreme experiences could not have been foreseen but then none of us like to be warned, we all want to have our own experiences.
The most profound thing that we can all do to handle the current reality with aplomb is to take up a personal practice. Do something that brings you into your body, into your heart energy and your lungs, away from the drama and turmoil of the mind. If you are feeling stressed, tired, overwhelmed, fearful or unsure of yourself, start a practice that will ground and strengthen you. Yoga, Tai Chi, running, swimming, walking; these are just a few suggestions of types of practice that bring self esteem, strength to the nervous system and a feeling of positive energy. All of which can transform your experience of life at high speed.
When I first went for sober living I longed to have a tattoo on my hand that said Breathe. Just a small thing that would remind me to do just that: consciously breathe into the moment.
I did not go for it as with time I did remember, little by little, that each time I took a really deep, conscious breath I was present, and in the present moment, all is fine, perfect and very dandy. It is the forward projections that trip us up. When the mind is let to run rampant through the dark and dangerous forests of our deepest fears we have no way to get perspective and distance without coming very clearly and deeply into our body.
If you are present to your physical reality you cannot think. If you can feel the blood coursing through you, the vibrant electrical energy of this human experience then the mind is ground to a screeching halt. But be aware that the mind is a tricky and wily beast. As soon as you start thinking that you have beaten it, you have in fact just fallen back into its’ arms again.
So when you find your mind is being unkind just take several long, slow breaths and ask yourself if how you are thinking is helpful right now. Chances are it is trauma based and really useless. Breathe out the negative and fearful thoughts and realise that right here and now it is all do-able.
The real art is remembering. Bringing your self back into your body. It is exactly what the word means: re-member.
We went to a drinks party on Monday night by Battersea Park and I ran back home in the rain afterwards. It took an hour and I went through some very wet and scenic areas such as Clapham Common. Very different in the middle of the night. Today I went to Oval, Kennington and the very lovely Walworth Road. A snappy run past long, early morning bus queues.
Without the dog I have to run in better lit and more populated areas. It is noisier because of the buses and this distraction forces me to push even harder to stay with my chosen mantra. To keep away from the thoughts that want to crowd in and trash my early morning experiences.
In the moments when I strayed I found myself thinking about writing and all that I do and can say. It always makes me examine where I am, writing weblog, and there is a lot that has to be censored. Not because of swearing or illegal past times, but just because it is not the right time, space, thought, direction. As I focused my thoughts today I became keenly aware that the pain of now, not just for me but for all who feel the pinches, is so much about discovering who each of us really is. We move so far from our real self with lots of Add-Ons. We add on fashion, jewels, a bag. A shiny car, a smart apartment or house, well named friends, our job, holidays, the phone, the ipod…. So many things that we adhere to us to expand our sense of self. The current media frenzy is generating a huge amount of insecurity and fear that then threatens our long-term use of all these applications that have greatly increased our sense of our intrinsic worth and value. The thought of “being” without all of this is really stressful.
I dragged my mind back to the mantra and carried on running until I found I was remembering 1991. I lost all my Add-Ons then: Relationship, car, house, career, and quite a few friends. The whole lot went crashing around me and I ended up in a bedsit just up the road from the shop. Not my first bedsit, I have to confess as I had ended up in one in Maida Vale in 1980. The learning experience gets harder, in a way, because I feel I should have it all “right” by now. I should be established and set up. Everything ought to be easy now. I think many of us think like this and resist the life cycles that come and go like the seasons. We have all become so comfortable with our vastly expanded sense of self that we are far, far away form the reality of who we actually are.
As I approached the house I was still holding the mantra but lost it in the last few steps to the door. I am constantly astonished by how tricky and quick the mind can be.
My fascination with the stilling of the mind has taken many turns, some fruitful, others dead ends. I have also found that there are some practices that endure and others that fall away, but when re-found, are wonderful old friends.
I am, I am is an old friend. I use it a lot when teaching and showing how mean and relentless the mind can be. It is a mantra that is as old as the hills, ascribed to no religion or person, but states that “I am my soul” . This makes the mind crazy and in just two minutes one can clearly experience the insanity that most of us assume is normal reality.
It is easy to attempt, quick to experience and can take ages to master just two minutes. But once mastered can be expanded into an endless experience of utter bliss. You are relaxed, at peace, calm and slightly amazed at each ending of the experience.
How to: Sit comfortably. You can be on the tube, the bed, at the office. In the kitchen. (Not bed, it will not work lying down.) Eyes are closed, hands comfortable but not touching, in the lap or palms up on the knees. If you have a timer on your phone or similar, set it for two minutes. The mantra is just “I am, I am” repeated mentally, not out loud. Watch your mind. Keep the mantra repeating and refuse to go with any thoughts that try to hook you out. Keep coming back to the mantra each time you are pulled away. Mastery is when you see you have been distracted. Keep returning to the mantra and start to take distance and watch, like you would a puppy playing, the insane attempts of the mind to get you away from bliss and peace.
After two minutes take a deep breath, hold for a few seconds, release and relax your mind. Open your eyes and think about what just happened, what you witnessed, what you understood, and how challenging it was to keep just two minutes of focus on “I am, I am”.
The Mool Mantra
I run. I also do and teach yoga. The two have melded in an interesting way after a very stressful year and I now have reached a point where my personal practice has become very fulfilling. I have been looking for peace since 1989. A long time. I have tripped and stopped at many paths along the way. Some good, all interesting, some unable to hold me for long and the path of Kundalini yoga taking a major chunk of the experience.
Nut earlier this year my practice, which had become very intense over the years, was no longer holding me. I lay on the floor one early morning and realised that I had to go further than this. I got up, and ran. I did not run away, I ran forward, shedding history with every step. It was a faltering start. I had not run for 12 years, I had had two kids, my back was bad and I had to work with a chiro all the way through the first few months to get it worked through, but now I can run for an hour. I am impressed with myself.
The one thing that got me through all the torture of learning to street run at 5am was the Mool Mantra. I love mantra. More than the postures, the mantra and chanting has always transfixed me and I have learned to use it as a tool to still my mind and bring peace to ahead that I should never be left alone with. From the very moment I step out of the gate in the morning I start turning the Mool mantra and hold my attention to it until I put the key in the lock to get back into the house. I do not use an MP3 player, I just turn the sound of the words in my head and refuse to think at all.
I had a fascinating lesson the other day. I ran later than usual, at 8am. It was awful. I hated it. I was cold, tired, unenthused and kept thinking of turning back and giving up. It was not until I was two thirds of the way around the park that I realised I had left without the mantra turning. My mind had been let loose and was trashing my time completely. I started to mentally chant and hey presto! I loved my run and returned home at the end of it feeling peaceful and calm.
So I offer the Mool Mantra as a tool for this profoundly challenging time. Write it out and then learn it by heart. There are lots of versions of it around. I sell several. Guru Singh at Gurusing.com does a great one as does Sada Sat kaur. It is said to contain all of creation with in it. Obviously the Gurmukhi version is the one to repeat. The translation of the words is in English, below.
Ek Ong Kar
Sat Nam Kartaa Purk
Hai Bhee Sach
Naanak Hosee Bhee Sach
There is One Creator
Truth is the Name
Doer of Everything
In the beginning: Truth
Throughout the ages: Truth
Even now: Truth
Nanak says Truth shall exist forever.
I am freshly back from my Speed Awareness Workshop and drove slowly.
Gosh, I learned a lot and despite all preconceptions there was not a drop of blood show during the entire thing.
I learned a lot, too. Unlike being a yogi, where one has to legally keep the esoteric knowledge levels well topped up, as a driver of a 1.5 tonne vehicle I am under no such pressure. I passed my test in 1779. Health and safety did not exist and I suppose a lot of road markings have just passed me by. So I learned a lot and now feel confident to drive the hazardous route along Clapham Common with a certain level of impunity. Well at least I know how to tell if I am about to go over 30mph without looking at the speedometer. I am not sure if it is general knowledge, but if you stay in 3rd gear in a 30mph zone you will not go over the speed limit without really needing to move up to 4th.
So it was good. Interesting. An amusing man who held the crowd of miscreants very well. I did the maths on such a large group and it is a lucrative business, training us to slow down, but the statistics are somewhat alarming when it comes to road safety and accidents. I am wiser and more circumspect. Hurrah! A happy, over charged customer who will hopefully now refrain from doing 34mph in a 30mph zone.
Otherwise I am making the most of the sunshine before the blizzards kick in this weekend. Keeping my stress levels balanced and reading the Power of Now which means I know there is snow and cold due but I am doing nothing about it.
I have gone back to the delights of Eckhart Tolle. I read it in the bathroom, in the bath. Interesting reading right now. Slowly, slowly, after so many years, I seem to be getting it. Funny how long it takes. Tragic, probably, rather than funny. It is a wry smile.
It’s like being a rat
I know rats are horrid, and I honestly would be first in line to say I don’t like them, but right now the way forward is to endlessly find the way forward.
Old habits do not work. The established visual and behavioural patterns need to be constantly updated to adapt to how things are changing, and they are changing fast. The news is an endless bloodbath keeping those who listen in a state of high alert. The financial drama needs attention and it is here that the most ducking and diving is needed. No reactions, but careful planning, forethought and strategy. This is my awareness now. I have just been talking with the café owner on the street corner about how to go forward and it is this principle: find a way around the rocks, the holes and the blocks. Be like a rat in the sewers, always making the best of it all and the whole thing is an adventure.
(Remember, I remind myself, that one always teaches what one needs to know.)
I suppose the next question would be “do rats have a sense of humour?” If yes, all of them, then I need to keep hold of mine. It is a slippery thing and very dependent on those around me. Why is that? Why can it not be a stand alone item…. Always ready, endlessly willing and bright? This will have to be my next sphere of effort.
Otherwise there is a definite sparkle in the air. The lure of Christmas and the financial **** it that goes hand in hand with sparkle and biting cold. A mother at the school told me she is off to Lapland to see Santa. Wow. I am jealous. I know not why. I thi9nk it may be the ought of being pulled through the snow by a team of panting dogs. What on earth that is about I have no idea, but there is a lure there somewhere.
I read a wonderful book earlier this year, part of the Lymond Chronicles, set in Russia. Ah, the descriptions of the cold and the snow were so compelling. And then I have always dreamed of living in Scotland. There is some strange pull towards the cold, dark and windy as well as the Northern Lights. I saw them once, in the freezing snow whilst getting the coal aged 15. It was an awesome and unforgettable experience. But I am in Balham and need to remind myself that Hell is my resistance.
I have to say that I woke up in the night and felt as though we were all waiting for some Divine body to appoint a new Noah. Gee whiz, how much rain do we all need? Oh, God, it has been relentlessly awful.
But someone up there heard me and the sun came out. I ate my lunch in the garden and smiled for a while. After that brief crack in the clouds I went back to being stressed again, like a good citizen and drove back to work wondering how I can finally accept my life exactly as it is. No resistance, no stress, no fear. Ah, me, that would be such bliss.
Truthfully I have been working towards that all my life. Well, all my sober life. It just gets slightly re-worded with a little more experience and time passing. 48 years of stress, I would have imagined that I might have got used to it and just shrugged it off. But no. I react and suffer the consequences.
It is so boring, but I suppose me and Pavlov’s dog must be related. It is the only excuse I have. That and trauma bonds. Bored of those, really I am.
Christmas is carefully laced through my beautiful emporium as of today. The divinely creative Philip waved some magical part of himself around the place and did things that I had run out of steam with. It looks gorgeous. Totally wonderful, and I am thrilled. Thrilled enough to let the stress go for now. Funny what it takes: a little bling and some incense and I am relaxed and happy again.
It goes right over my head, but my husband buys the Financial Times on a Sunday. We also get The Week which I love, when I can find it. I digress, but the point is that both of them have glossies: How To Spend It and The Quarterly. These are extraordinary odes to appalling wealth and the new way for boys, men, fully grown adults, to flaunt their wealth is a watch. A shiny, bright, heavy, gaudy watch costing incredible amounts of money all of which must go to pay for the advertising space in these periodicals.
I am not out of my pram, yet, but could be heading that way. I suppose I will have to see how this text unfurls.
It used to be the Handbag that took all the space, literally and figuratively, in the pages of these magazines and the wardrobes of fashionistas everywhere, and there was a push to get Statement jackets to be the next thing but it didn’t work. So attention has been diverted to watches. I had a boy friend many years ago whose father had given him a very lovely Rolex for his birthday. He was walking down Pont Street, (sadly Not heading for the 6pm recovery slot on a Monday), when a young man stopped him and asked for the time. The owner of the watch made the timeless gesture that would pull his cuff back to give him this prices information and the Timeless One asked: “Is that a Rolex?”
“Yes”, replied the soon to be ex at the time, and got a punch on the nose and his watch stolen.
I think I find the switch from feminine decoration to the male preening rather interesting, especially as those that I would assume could spend that kind of money are those that have contributed to our current learning curves. Questions have been asked as to when the FT will stop printing How to Spend It. I am not privy to the answer. But I remember living in Italy in 1982 when the Red Brigade took against those with any money and all ostentation would lead to unpleasant experiences. Everyone took to the tiniest cars they could find and all money was hidden from view. I suppose I wonder what is going to happen here?
I ran yesterday morning in the snow. It was a novel experience. It was cold and early as I set out and there was a real chill in the air. As I reached the park the snow started and it was quite wonderful, the soundscape; crows cawing in the empty trees, the cold grey sky and the sound of the snow landing on the dry leaves making a constant fizzing sound. It was very lovely. There is something that emerges from withme in at certain times when there is an image that touches my heart. A snow filled landscape is one of those times. As I ran I tried to figure out what I was feeling and I think it was an awareness of the total acceptance that comes with the vision of snow. The landscape and everything in it, particularly when it is remotely pastoral, all seems to stop and wait in stillness. Driving past pastoral scenes in India brings the same feeling for me and I know it is a longing or an old karmic thing from long ago, but I felt it yesterday as I ran and it brings a sense of peace and continuity which is deeply relaxing on a subconscious level. So I ignored the stinging of the snow in my eyes and ran as fast as I could in the freezing stillness. Delightfully cathartic.