Being in the Moment

“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”Groucho Marx, The Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx

This weekend involved a visit with a young friend to Windsor and Eton. It was cold and dry, with a brisk wind blowing along the river Thames. It is years since I visited Windsor and Eton and wanted to see what had changed in the town as well as spend time by the river.

There’s a newly built precinct filled with lots of upmarket shops and there is the old part of the town near to the castle with the narrow streets and cobbled areas. It really is an eclectic mix of old and new. As it was a Saturday, the town was filled with shoppers and tourists. There were many different nationalities in the town and it was a pleasant surprise to see so many people out and about despite the cold windy day.

My friend & I grabbed a coffee and a sandwich, sat for a while chatting and the decided to go for a walk along the river.

It was bitterly cold. The wind was blowing along the river and despite the number of swans and ducks on the river bank, there were very few people out and about either feeding the birds or walking along the river.

We walked away from the town towards the sports centre and then turned back. It was at this point that I noticed that there was a fountain in a nearbypark. The fountain in question is the Jubilee fountain, erected to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee. The fountain is 25m long with a circular pool at the centre. In the middle of the pool is a geyser with a “crown” of 60 water jets.

We sat on a bench and watched the fountain as it jetted water into the air. For ten minutes we sat in quiet contemplation; watching the jets along the length of the fountain.

Being in the moment, I noticed that each single jet did not repeat the symmetry of the water as it was jetted into the air. The effect of the wind and the weather obviously has an effect. Perhaps there are pressure differentials. Who knows.

What I noticed was that moment, to moment, every single jet was unique. The motion of the water was wonderful to see. I pointed it out to my friend and we continued to sit for a few moments, observing the fountain in motion.

I took a short – 15 second video of the fountain to save the memory. You can see the video the link below. If you watch closely you too will see that the vertical jets at the front do not repeat and are uniquely jetting.

I leave you with the following quote:

“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”― Alan W. Watts

The Vampire Express and moments of happiness

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” Omar Khayyám, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

You are probably wondering what on earth the title of this article is all about? Perhaps something about a horror film or a book? A bad dream? Nope, not at all. It concerns one of the strangest types of travel that I experience. The rail commute into London.

Picture it if you will. Take a moment to imagine the following scenario:-

An early morning; normally around 6:30am. It is dark and possibly cold. The cars arrive at the railway station and people park up. Everyone seems to have a “spot” that they park in, normally to enable them to leave as quickly as possible at the other end of the day.

A rapid walk to the station office and a queue – the first of the day – to buy a coffee, tea and perhaps the paper. The coffee shop staff are warm and friendly and chat to each customer in turn, often, and this is important, calling them by their name. Everyone they speak to responds and smiles and there is a brief moment of friendliness.

Then a quick walk down the ramp to the station platform and a short walk along the platform, either towards the front or towards the rear of the platform, depending on personal preference. But, and this is important. The regulars, always stand in the same place. Yep. nearly exactly the same place.

Then we wait. In silence. Complete and total silence. Nobody speaks or chats.

The tannoy announces that the train is approaching on “Platform Two”. You know, if you have done the journey as many times as I have over the past few years, that the train is about a mile away, or a few minutes till it arrives. If it has been raining, people come out of the rain shelters. Umbrellas are folded away and people get ready to board the train.

The train arrives and the regulars have positioned themselves almost directly in front of a door. Sometimes, the train driver overshoots or undershoots the correct stopping point on the platform. Difficult, I know, as there are large illuminated signs to inform the driver of the correct stopping point. When this happens you can just hear the tutting from some people. Anyway…

People press the open door buttons and climb aboard. A brief scramble and everyone gets to a seat.

At this point, I’ll point out, that whilst I live on a main line railway into London, my station is far enough out, that I always get a seat. The interesting point, though, is that time after time, people choose the same seat. Rarely do they choose something different. Laptops open. Books are extracted. Tablets and iPads are turned on. Smartphones twinkle in the carriage lights. Everyone. And I mean nearly everyone, does something so that they do not have to interact, even look at the person opposite or beside them. Silence reigns.

The train leaves and picks up speed. Soon, it is slowing down and arrives at the next station. The process is repeated. And again. And again. At some point, there are no more seats and people stand. Yep. Stand all the way into London.

Some people pay over four thousand pounds [£4,000] every year to stand on a train!

Eventually, we arrive in London and there is the queue to exit the train. The rapid walk to the exit barriers. Followed by queueing to present your ticket and leave the train station. A further walk and some of us, continue by foot to our offices. Some turn right and queue to go onto the London Underground. Followed by queueing to get on the underground train. Queueing to leave the station and then the final walk to their office or place of work.   

For nearly the whole journey, there is silence. People do not talk. Hang on, though? Right at the beginning, everyone that was commuting that morning was greeted by the people in the coffee shop when they borough their morning drink. Each one by their name. Everyone who is a regular, at some point, will find out the name of the people they are traveling with.

This whole experience, I call getting onto the “Vampire Express”.

Why on earth do I call it that? Until I took up Mindfulness, I felt as though my whole soul was being sucked dry by this depressive, negative and repetitive process and atmosphere.  You might have felt it too reading it just now.

So now when I travel to London by train, how do I deal with it differently?

Moments of happiness is the key

When I go to the coffee shop in the morning I order water and always smile and chat to the staff. I choose to stand in different places on the platform. When the train arrives, I always wait for the person in front to get on. I generally say good morning to the person next to me. I do not have a fixed seat, but try to consciously be aware of where people want to sit.

When we get to a different station and the train is full, if there is someone who looks like they need a seat, I will ask them if they would like mine. The look of astonished gratitude on their faces when this happens is amazing.

I make the effort to look around the carriage and also to see what is rushing past the window. I try to practice a silent breath mindfulness practice and be present and aware. I never rush at the other end.

Does it make a difference? I think so. There are sometimes more smiles on my carriage. A nod and a hello back. Little acts of warmth and happiness. I treat the commute as a journey, rather than a means to a destination, and hence enjoy it for what it is.

I leave you with the following quote…..

“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”Walt Whitman


Can we be individuals in a world of numbers?

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” ― Mother Teresa

We all have those moments in our lives where numbers appear to be the root of all evil. Bank account numbers, credit card numbers, national insurance, health cover, etc. You name it, we are surrounded by numbers. So many in fact, that I doubt, unless you have a special mind for it, that you can remember them all.

I had the experience recently of having to make an online purchase and used my credit card, quickly followed by an application form that needed one of my daughters national insurance numbers. It made me feel as if I was just a number provider. 

If you are of an age you will remember the TV programme called, The Prisoner, developed and starring Patrick Magoohan. I used to watch the reruns in the early 1980’s, on a Sunday lunchtime. The opening sequence has the following dialogue:

Prisoner: Where am I?

Number Two (not identified as yet): In the village.

Prisoner: What do you want?

Two: Information.

Prisoner: Whose side are you on?

Two: That would be telling. We want information…information…information!

Prisoner: You won’t get it!

Two: By hook or by crook, we will.

Prisoner: Who are you?

Two: The new Number Two.

Prisoner: Who is Number One?

Two: You are Number Six.

Prisoner: I am not a number; I AM A FREE MAN!!!

Two: [Laughter]

If you think about it, the world we have created, with all the numbers and rules and regulations, is supposed to help manage our lives. We have made our lives more and more complex. We have added to our lives, so much “stuff” it is difficult to see where we as individuals exist. But wait. Stop for a moment.

Even those numbers that we use every day are unique to us. My credit card number is unique to me. My purchases and spend history are a reflection of me as a person. Of the lifestyle that I lead. We are even tracked by those numbers. Whether it is our shopping habits through loyalty cards; our credit card purchases sold as commercial data; our phone numbers used to push other services. Every item of our lives is leveraged, purchased and used.

How we live our lives within ourselves, though is not. Every moment that we breathe, think and move is ours. Ours to do with as we see fit. Our internal world is as unique to us as the external numbered world is shared by everyone.

Hang on a moment. The external shared numbered world is unique to us as well. All of those numbers that are “registered” to me are mine. They are a reflection of me. Not my persona, but the exterior representation. They were created for me, they exist alongside me and when I die, they will cease to ever be used again – hopefully. So maybe, after all, what we are, are unique, individual streams of conscious numbers in a world of numbers.

I leave you with the following quote from one of my favorite authors:

“The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.” ― Terry Pratchett, Jingo

Walking, emotions and lots of cows

“Facts are like cows. If you look them in the face long enough, they generally run away.” Dorothy L. Sayers

What a weird title to a post, you might think. But hang on for the next few sentences and you will get the connections. One of the favorite past times in England is going for walks in the country. The UK is blessed with lots of public footpaths, bridleways and tracks that traverse the countryside. We decided to take the dogs and walk a circular walk taking in a couple of villages near where we live. The plan was to walk to one village, stop for a light bite of lunch at a pub and then walk back home. About 8 km or 5 miles in total. Off we go and it is great. Across two fields, watching the birds flying about, the dogs chasing smells. Out in the sunshine. All is well.

Till we get to the field at the bottom of the hill. The path goes straight through the field and in it is a herd of cows. Now cows are inquisitive creatures by nature and dogs and cows generally do not mix. Especially if the cows have calves, they tend to get defensive and charge. However, these were young cows all facing away, munching on grass. My heart was in my throat as we walked around the edge of the field, furthest away from them. Images of rampaging bovines, tossed bloodied bodies, sprung to mind. Whilst at the same time, trying to control dogs on leads, watch the cows, avoid the large wet cow pats and keep walking to the far end of the field. We made it and my heart rate slowly went back to normal.

We walked, without further issues to the pub for the light lunch. Afterwards, we continued on our way. The very first field we came to, bingo, more cows. This time, all of them looking at us, most of them with horns. We were unified in our decision. There was no way we were going to go into that field. Diversion time. Checking the map – yes we brought one with us – we decided to traverse another field to try to get onto the path a different way.

Walking across another field and double bingo, there appeared another group of cows, this time led by a bull. A quick about turn and back we went. Our original route, plus diversion were now blocked. This meant a longer walk on a different path. It was sunny. We had water and snacks, so why not carry on? We did and after walking along a long track, we came to another field. And yes, there were more cows in it. By this time, we decided to walk along the edge of the field and away from the cows, in the direction we needed.

Did my heart race this time? No. Was I worried? No? I was cautious. We knew that if we kept to the edge of the field; you can jump over most fences; walked reasonably quickly; with the dogs on leads; the cows ignored you. That was the last field of cows we came to. We got home and relaxed with a cup of tea

Sitting this morning, I came across an article entitled: “What is an emotion?”. The final section of the article really struck a chord with me. The section is below:

More recently, scholars have wondered if emotions are “natural kinds” at all – that is, whether, in our brains, there’s a single category of thing to which joy, fear, sadness, etcetera, all belong, except insofar as we’ve decided there is. ………. Or perhaps, to adopt a perspective echoing Buddhist psychology, it’s not unnerving but deeply reassuring? After all, if there’s nothing to emotions except sensations plus thinking, it follows that nothing you could ever experience in life, no matter how terrible, will ever be anything more than a bunch of thoughts, plus a few physical sensations. And you can probably handle that.

Link to the article: The Guardian – Oliver Burkeman, What exactly is an emotion @oliverburkeman

I thought to myself. Those cows were not so frightening after all. We encountered four different groups. We were not gored, trampled, chased, or even moo’d at. The most they did was look at us, whilst slowly chewing grass. We were cautious, respectful and were aware of walking away from them. So maybe, the emotions I felt were just the sensations plus an over active imaginative mind.

If you have had encounters with cows. or other wildlife, would love to hear how you dealt with them.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.” Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Engage in the present moment, even when its raining

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

It is Monday morning and for a change I am not in the midst of the Monday “get up, get ready and rush to work” mode. Instead, like many people at this time of year, I am on holiday. The only downside is that the body clock still chimes the time and I am awake at my “normal” early morning time.

Having failed to return to the land of “zzzz’s”, I instead got up and made a cup of tea and contemplated the day. The sun is not shining, instead the rain is coming down in stair rods. It is lashing against the windows in the kitchen where I am sitting.

I sit and pause and listen. When was the last time any of us sat and listened to the rain? Mostly, we complain that we can not go out and do X, Y or Z due to the rain. I am sure that will be the focus of the conversation around me this morning.

However, I am of a different mind. As I sit here and listen, I began to realise that there was a song in the rain. There was depth to the sounds of the rain as it came down. The different notes as it struck the window versus the bushes outside. The slow background thuds of  rain drops hitting the rubbish bin. And there was the rain song.

I know many of you will be in cars driving, or on buses, or even walking. But where ever you are, just take a moment to listen to the rain song. It will bring you a moment of peace in this frantic and mad world we have created around us.

#Happy Monday where ever you are.

For a change, I leave you with a short poem….. enjoy.

April Rain Song
Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

Langston Hughes

Altruism: Our impact on the animals and the world, from Matthieu Ricard

“Human use, population, and technology have reached that certain stage where mother Earth no longer accepts our presence with silence.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

I want to start by asking you a question. When was the last time you read a book that struck at your soul. That resonated so much with yourself that you felt its impact? Physically and emotionally.

It is rare these days that something takes hold of you in such a way and for many of the activities we undertake, we surface skim through the activity and the associated emotions. Perhaps it is the society and culture we live in today. The hustle and bustle, the need to quickly passing onto the next topic; the next event; the next emotion.

Earlier this year I went to an event in London; hosted by the Action for Happiness charity; where Matthieu Ricard spent the evening talking about Altruismand the power of compassion to change both yourself, but also the impact on society, other people, the other creatures that co-exist with us, and ultimately, the world at large. At the end of the evening, I bought Matthieu’s new Book, “Altruism”. It is a massive book, with 700 pages of dialogue and a further 131 pages of references. Now, for those of you that know me well, you know I am am a voracious reader and can get through books like a bookworm in a library. Instead, I have read the book slowly and carefully, chapter by chapter, with a sense of awakening occurring along the way.

Of the many chapters in the book, there are two, that have affected me the most.

The Instrumentalization of Animals – a Moral Aberration
This chapter begins with the tenet that man has changed from a farmer to a factory manager in the start of the 20th century when it comes to the regard for animals. in the developed world, 99% of the animals we eat are “produced” in industrial breeding grounds.

“They are reduced to the state of products for consumption, meat making machines… and rank them among objects”

The descriptions of the slaughter houses are too shocking to repeat here. It reminded me, that when I was a small boy, my grandmother & aunt took me to Newton Abbot [a large town in south Devon] for a day out and happened to walk me through the local cattle market. That day, there was a market going on, and as was the custom at the time, when the cattle were being sold, they had a plastic tag punched through their ear. Obviously, without any form of pain relief and the resultant blood flow. I happened to see this and shouted at the person doing this that “it was not fair and how would he like it happen to him”. I don’t remember his reply, but the sight and sounds have stuck with me since.

The sections on destroying male chickens, pigs with the non-tails and calves that are deprived of iron to make their meat paler – because the consumer likes the colour; re-enforced the machine production view of animals.

So let’s extract some of the numbers.

Every year, over 1 billion land animals are killed in France, 15 billion in the United States and 70 billion across the rest of the world. 86 billion land animals. That is 163,622 per SECOND!

100 million animals are killed for their fur

Finally, 1 trillion or 1,000 billion fish are killed every year

The second chapter that made me even more aware of what our lives are doing to the world around us was the chapter entitled:

Backfire: Effects of the meat industry on poverty, environment and health
So what is the impact of the industrialisation of the animal kingdom? Why is it important to think about the impact of the industrialisation of the meat industry. Read the following facts:

Industrial breeding contributes to 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions linked to human activities, in second place and BEFORE transportation! The production of 1 kilo of meat produces 50 times the amount of greenhouse gases than to produce 1 kilo of wheat. Think of the last time you walked past a field of cows and got a whiff!

To produce 1 kilo of meat you need to use 10 kilos of food that could feed poor countries

60% of available land in the world is devoted to the breeding industry – 30% as pasture and 30% to produce the food to feed the animals

The breeding industry alone consumes 45% of all the water destined for the production of food. The production of 1 kilo of meat requires 50 times the amount of water to produce 1 kilo of wheat.

1 hectare of land can feed 50 vegetarians or 2 meat eaters

The world wide consumption of meat has increased 5 times between 1950 and 2006, twice as much as the world population, and the consumption will double again by 2050. I question whether we will physically have enough resources left on the planet. Tropical rainforests cover about 720 million hectares and are home to 50% of the biodiversity on the planet. Since the 1950’s, when the industrialisation of animal food production really kicked off, over 200 million hectares have been destroyed directly caused by the need to produce more pasture land for cattle.

So is eating all this meat good for you?

A study involving 500,000 people showed that 11% of deaths among men and 16% among women could be avoided by a reduction in red meat consumption. A separate study involving more than 100,000 people, daily meat consumption is linked to a increased death risk of 18% for men and 21% for women for cardiovascular disease and by 10% and 16% for death by cancer.And if that does not make you worry, then the thought that, due to the increase in intensification of farming methods and the increased use of pesticides, meat contains about 14 times more pesticides than vegetables,

The final quote that I would like to share is the following:

“If all the inhabitants in North America abstained from eating meat for a single day, that would allow the equivalent of 25 million to be fed every day for an entire year!”

Now before I finish, I like to say, I have been a meat eater all my life. At times I have relished the idea of a big steak and chips [fries to non-English people]. However, the book is making me think really long and hard about the amount of meat I eat, the type of meat I eat, and whether it is produced in a way that I feel is ethical to the animals. Does this mean I will become a vegetarian, maybe.

I leave you with the following quote…..

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

Extracts from: Altruism – the Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World by Matthieu Ricard, published by Atlantic Books ISBN: 978-0-85789-699-5