A More Beautiful Being

A More Beautiful BeingSelf awareness, the realisation of who, or what you really are, comes to some people with age, but for me, it came at a point in life where I was at my all time low.

Seeing my true reflection in the mirror was a long and painful process, there’s no joy in realising that you are someone you don’t really like, but it lead me to a turning point that has allowed me to change for the better.

It is said ‘that we hate in others, what we refuse to see in ourselves’ and I suddenly understood what that meant. Things that annoy us about other people, are sometimes the very things in us that annoy others. Being honest enough with ourselves, to admit our failings or less attractive traits, can be the start of a process of self improvement.

In Nichiren Buddhism we refer to that process as Human Revolution, the nurturing and growth of self improvement through the acquisition of wisdom, courage and compassion. It is achieved, over time, through a determined adherence to our practice and continued learning.

So next time, before you start criticising others, take a long, hard and honest look in that mirror, and have the courage to see the faults you are so desperate to hide from yourself.

It will be a painful process, but you will emerge on the other side, like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, a better and more beautiful being for doing it.

Nature Is Everywhere

Girl with a swan - click for videoThe day had been billed as being affected by the remnants of hurricane Bertha, and in the wee small hours, it did indeed sound as though all hell had been let loose. However, after a leisurely start, including breakfast in bed, things were looking a lot calmer in the quay.

There is the temptation to draw the blinds and hunker down when the weatherman tells us that it’s going to be a nasty day. But as someone once said, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. So by lunchtime we were out in the very fresh air and down by the quayside.

Scully had spotted Vestas, the lone swan, looking hungry amongst the boats and pontoons. Vestas is my name for him. He is ringed, but he hasn’t got a nametag, so his nickname has stuck. Though how you can tell a swan is hungry is beyond me.

In my experience, swans are always keen to eat any bread you care to give them, and the slice of thick cut wholemeal was gone in very short shrift. Scully has a way with animals, they seem to know that, as a vegan, they aren’t in any danger of being eaten, and seem to trust her just a little more. She, on the other hand, was pretty wary of Vestas’ beak. Even though they don’t have teeth as such, the serrations along his beak could inflict a deal of pain to the incautious.

The theme of nature continued as we walked into Poole. The pavement alongside the road to the Twin Sails bridge was strewn with grasshoppers of all colours and sizes. They seemed to be enjoying the dark tarmac that had been warmed by the midday sun, and were oblivious to the giant footsteps approaching. We had to be very wary of where we walked as we tried not to injure any of the creatures.

Twin Sails Bridge - Poole - Click To View OriginalHaving had a quick bite in the Slug and Lettuce (more nature references) we had a mooch around Poole and then headed back over the Twin Sails bridge. This time we were treated to the magnificent sight of the bridge opening to let one of the RNLI lifeboats through.

Compared to the old bridge with its massive solid functional structure, the new bridge is a true work of art, and watching it open majestically really is a treat.

The whole process of opening and closing the bridge only takes a few minutes, but it is well worth the time spent as you see the spars of the lifting sections tower above the waters of Holes Bay.

More mindfulness as we carefully picked our way back through the grasshoppers, followed later in the evening by a stomach churning time on one of the fairground rides in Hamworthy Park. The ghost train wasn’t nearly as experiential, though there was a squib of cold water right on the back of our necks as we entered the first ghostly tunnel.

Good Evening Mr Toad - Click To View OriginalOur day of experiencing nature first hand was rounded off in style, when who should we find waiting for us when we got home in the pitch dark, but Mr Toad. Of course, Scully was keen to put the little fellow out of harms way, many fall prey to domestic cats, so picked him up.

Contrary to popular belief, toads have a dry skin, not wet or slimy, and the rescuee sat quietly in her hands as we selected a suitably sheltered spot in the back garden. He even seemed a little reticent to crawl off into the grass, maybe he was enjoying the warmth her hands offered.

With the adventure over, it was time for bed, but our day of mindful nature will live long in the memory.

Through Fresh Eyes

Through Fresh EyesA great work of art is one that truly moves and inspires you. The test is when you yourself are moved. Don’t look at art with anyone else’s eyes. Don’t listen to music with others’ ears. You should view art with your own feelings, your own heart and mind.

If you allow yourself to be swayed by the opinions of others, ‘It must be good, because everyone else is raving about it’ or ‘It must be bad, because nobody else likes it’, your feelings, your sensibilities, even your confidence, which are the basis of every artistic experience, may wither and die.

To enjoy art to the fullest, you must abandon any preconceived notions, and look at things through fresh eyes. You should then confront the work directly, with your whole being. If you find that you are deeply moved, then for you, that is a great work of art.

Precisely the same applies to your faith. What moves you is a personal thing, it should not be based on what other people feel, nor should they influence you in any way. Have the wisdom, courage and compassion to stand firm and hold onto your own beliefs.

Beauty Everywhere

American BeautyMaybe I’m strange, but one of my favourite films is American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes and starring Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening. It is the story of a dysfunctional family and the interaction between them and their new neighbours. It involves Lester Burnham, played by Spacey, his wife Carolyn, played by Bening and their daughter Jane, played by Thora Birch, who befriends the boy next door, Ricky Fitts, played by Wes Bentley.

Ricky videos life, all aspects of life, and sees the beauty in everything from a dead bird to a plastic bag dancing in the wind. It’s not an easy watch. It touches on all manner of issues, from death, drugs and interpersonal problems to Nazi memorabilia, gay rights and marital infidelity, but it is beautifully acted and even more beautifully filmed.

Having watched it again, but for the first time in high definition today, it got me thinking about the sheer amount of beauty in life. Of course, much of life is ugly, but there is often an underlying beauty there too. It reminded me of a set of photos I took at Westonbirt arboretum a couple of years ago, that I reworked into a video set to music. I challenge you to watch the video and not to see just how beautiful life can be, even when the subject is autumn leaves, the dying season of the year. Watch it here.

Emerging Beauty

Emerging BeautySelf awareness, the realisation of who, or what you really are, comes to some people with age, but for me, it came at a point in life where I was at my all time low. Seeing my true reflection in the mirror was a long and painful process, there’s no joy in realising that you are someone you don’t really like, but it lead me to the turning point that has allowed me to change for the better.

It is said ‘that we hate in others, what we refuse to see in ourselves’ and I suddenly understood what that meant. Things that annoy us about other people, are sometimes the very things in us that annoy others. Being honest enough with ourselves, to admit our failings or less attractive traits, can be the start of a process of self improvement.

In Nichiren Buddhism we refer to that process as Human Revolution, the nurturing and growth of self improvement through the acquisition of wisdom, courage and compassion. It is achieved, over time, through a determined adherence to our practice and continued learning.

So next time, before you go criticising others, take a long, hard and honest look in that mirror, and have the courage to see the faults you are so desperate to hide from yourself. It will be a painful process, but you will emerge on the other side, like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, a better and more beautiful being for doing it.

A Fresh Pair Of Eyes

A Fresh Pair Of EyesA great work of art is one that truly moves and inspires you. The test is when you yourself are moved. Don’t look at art with anyone else’s eyes. Don’t listen to music with others’ ears. You should view art with your own feelings, your own heart and mind.

If you allow yourself to be swayed by the opinions of others, ‘It must be good, because everyone else is raving about it’ or ‘It must be bad, because nobody else likes it’, your feelings, your sensibilities, even your confidence, which are the basis of every artistic experience, may wither and die.

To enjoy art to the fullest, you must abandon any preconceived notions, and look at things through fresh eyes. You should then confront the work directly, with your whole being. If you find that you are deeply moved, then for you, that is a great work of art.

Precisely the same applies to your faith. What moves you is a personal thing, it should not be based on what other people feel, nor should they influence you in any way. Have the wisdom, courage and compassion to stand firm and hold onto your own beliefs.

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland - click to view full size imageWhat a wonderful surprise greeted us down here in Dorset this morning. A beautiful blanket of pristine snow had fallen perfectly and silently overnight, covering the trees, roofs, cars and roads, turning the everyday scene into a winter wonderland. It is always a privilege to see it before any footsteps spoil the perfection.

Of course, being a work day, it wasn’t quite as perfect as it might have been. There was still the job of clearing the car windows, and along with the other hardy souls, braving the conditions to make my way the twenty miles, cross country, to Ringwood.

Listening to the radio, experts and representatives of the motoring organisations were urging motorists to stay indoors and not to attempt any non-essential journeys. Ha !!! The biggest problem was circumnavigating the poor souls who had clearly never driven in snow before. I guess that might cover quite a few commuters down here in southern England.

Anyone reading this in Canada or North America, where they have snow several feet deep for months of the winter, will laugh heartily to hear that a mere couple of inches can bring UK roads to an un-gritted shuddering halt. But even having taken the time to clear the car, I was still in work on time. And I was the only one in IT who made it.

Some of the team come from further away than me, others were away on business, but it was clear that the rest had decided it was far more prudent to work from home, and why not, I cannot blame them for that. But it did make me think, that having lived in the Midlands for the first thirty five years of my life, then in the Netherlands, where they also have ‘proper’ snow, I was used to driving on the stuff, in fact I really enjoy it.

So as with all things in life, a little wisdom, borne of years of experience, stands me in good stead when the unexpected arrives, be that a sudden (though much announced) fall of snow, or any other situation that might befall me. In a world that is fast trying to ignore the assets that older people have to offer, this was a good example of how the wisdom of age can be a great benefit.

Taking Time

Peace, Quiet And A Clear Blue SkyFor some reason, by lunchtime I was in need of some peace and quiet. Fortunately, the stream behind the office is exactly the right place to find such an environment, so while others sat and ate sandwiches or wrestled with the microwave, I took several long minutes to just stand and chant in the midday sunshine, watch the quiet waters flow past, and let my mind find its equilibrium as the trials and tribulations of the day drifted away with the lazy current.

If we are to deal with the challenges of every day life, it is important to take a deep breath, to inhale the quieter side of life, and release the stress that builds up inside. Next time you find yourself feeling agitated, stressed out, or getting submerged beneath the everyday strains that life puts upon us, find a quite spot, take time to stand still and just let those anxieties drift away.

Far from being a waste of time, they may be the most important minutes of your day.

Gardening At A Snails Pace

2012-06-04-158The rain that had watered the runner beans and hanging baskets while we were in Surrey had finally given way to the odd patch of blue sky and sunshine by the time we got out into the garden to plant the new arrivals, purchased yesterday.

With Bumble still incapacitated by her injured ankle, she set to weeding all the buttercups out of the border by the cottage from a seated position, while I was charged with planting the Lupin, Scabia, Foxglove and Sweet Peas.

The rain had turned the soil into a wonderfully moist texture, compared to the arid dust of just a few days ago, and the smell as I dug the holes was very cathartic. B was busy creating a huge mound of uprooted buttercups when she suddenly found her new friend.

Wondering what was tickling her leg, she looked down to see a rather large snail that had decided she was more tasty than the vegetation it had been hiding in. Mr Snail was a very friendly chap, not the usual shy retiring sort that hides in his shell when you pick him up.

It was very interesting to be able to inspect such a curious little creature at close range, and it made me realise just how much wildlife, apart from the ever present birds, we share the garden with. Sometimes beauty comes in some rather unexpected forms.

Pure Talent

Click here to see more of Liz's workSunday is supposed to be the day of rest, but in true Greystones tradition, it was a mixture of work and play. After a slightly later start than yesterday we got on with a few little jobs, little in stature, but as always, bigger in reality, all taking longer than expected.

The highlight of the morning was a visit from B’s friend Liz. She’s a hugely talented lady, an artist and a professional violinist. The sort of person who oozes creativity and who is in the fortunate position to be able to live in a beautiful part of the country, whilst making her living doing things she truly loves.

The highlight of the afternoon was choosing the plants for the hanging baskets for the front of the Cottage. There are so many beautiful plants, but so little room to pack them in, so some difficult choices had to be made. Having decided that we would plump for a pinky purple colour scheme, it narrowed the field down a fair bit.

Having found a selection of tall and short, upright and trailing plants, it was great fun mixing the compost and getting down and dirty in the greenhouse. We had a little battle with the planting. B wanted to go all random, but I wanted them to match. So we came to a compromise of a matching pair of random baskets.

We gave them a good dousing and apart from actually hanging them on the wall they are ready to look beautiful for the whole summer. It’s lovely ‘creating’ a feature out of plants and flowers. Even a klutz like me can make a beautiful display when you have nature’s perfection to work with. When they are fixed in place and looking lovely, I’ll post some pictures so you can enjoy them too.

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