Wasting a Moment.

It’s an odd comment, isn’t it: “There’s not a moment to waste!”

I’ve ‘wasted’ lots of moments this month.  August 2013’s remarkable beauty, particularly here in West Sussex, has requested that I stop and stare, contemplate, think, pray and dream.

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View from the swinging seat.

The swinging seat (or covered deck) in our enclosed, deliciously private garden gazing with wonder at some of the nine varieties of trees we have planted.

The bench seat in the back of my newly converted T4 VW camper (with the door wide open) looking out onto Bosham waterfront.

The two-mile-long beach on the Gower Peninsula having walked across the rocks of Worms Head.

Gazing down over Storrington from Chantry Post as my friend Derek and I shared lunch – these have all played host to me ‘wasting a moment’, or maybe hours.

And June had many ‘wasted moments’ too as I took the Camper to Orkney via Loch Ness and Inverness, then down the west coast of Scotland from Cape Wrath (what a name!), round the gorgeous Applecross peninsula, down through Yorkshire, a bare star lit field in Cumbria, home to Sussex again.

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Vital Spark hiding in a scottish harbour.

Alone. Quiet. Still. Gentle. Literally ‘thought provoking’ hours.

Wasted moments?  Of course not. These ‘wasted moments’ have been some of my most creative times, times of reevaluation, study,  times when crucial insights mushroom from an atom-sized spark in my brain, forming, growing, transforming.

And who decides what is wasted and what is not?  How can I ever know that the thoughts that came as I sat on the swinging seat were, in fact, wasted? Or the prayers I prayed.  How can anyone, in this infinitely complex world of unexpected, unintended, unpretended ‘coincidences’ know what is wasted and what is priceless?

The most creative and life-changing moments come from surprise connections. In the last week: a meeting in a motorcycle dealership; a conversation on a Art Trail (through 40 private homes in Arundel); another, sitting on a bank of wind-swept grass waiting for the tide.

Waiting for the tide.
Waiting for the tide, Worm’s Head, Gower.

Go waste some time.  It beats obsessing about efficiency and slotting people into already jammed diaries.  Ugh! How do YOU like being ‘fitted in’ to places?  Me too!  Yet the work still gets done, my contribution made.

So put aside the world’s demands for it to consume more of your life for a bit. Leave “Juggling your life” to the editors of life-style magazines and programme editors. Risk ‘wasting’ some time between now and mid October.

Be an example to the world of someone who knows how and when to STOP.  Step back from – or step out of –  the lemming- race and see what happens. Wait for the tide.

And if you meet a Kind Stranger? Well, you’re in for a very nice surprise.

The Kind Stranger: On the Beach

I was sitting alone on holiday in the sun when the Kind Stranger came to me next. I’d been weary and tired – they’re different, aren’t they – and needed to hear a reassuring voice.

The beach at Speightstown, Barbados.

But it was his shadow I noticed first. It cast itself across the table I was sitting at and I knew straight away it was him. Typically he was not visibly filling the vacant chair at my side, but we both knew he was there. If he had been visible to the naked eye as well as the naked spirit, he would have been leaning back, smiling, relaxed, maybe with his legs crossed, drinking a smoothie.

“Hi Andrew.” It’s great he knows my name as well as yours. “Thinking again I see.”

“Yes, I do a lot of that.”

He didn’t reply. It amuses me how he is perfectly happy to leave my comments and expressed thoughts untouched. He has no compulsion to express his own (priceless) opinions, or pronounce subtle judgements in the way we humans are so clever at doing. So I asked him a question.

“Do you think a lot?”

He chuckled, as if the question itself was a little absurd.

“I used to,” he said. “However, now I tend to live more in the moment, being less concerned about having a thought-out answer for life’s pressing questions. Sometimes they’re better left alone with their mystery intact. I tend to consider whether or not the question has a satisfying answer – whether it needs to be asked at all. Often people ask questions to provide them with greater security or greater power. I’m not short of either of those!”

He paused, then continued, “And sometimes people think thinking is a safer alternative to acting, living out their lives.”

“Thinking to avoid the risk of failing, maybe?” I ventured.

He smiled again. “Could be.”

We’re never rushed when we’re together, the Kind Stranger and me. I don’t think he does ‘rushed’. We just sat for a few minutes, and then …

“I think to puzzle things out,” I said, “to somehow grasp the complexities of life and understand them, to simplify them, to increase my knowledge. In Powerchange we say that people are hunting for MCC, meaning, clarity, and closure.”

“And does it work?” he asked.

“I think so – it helps people make sense of a jumbled world.”

“That sounds to me like a quest for peace of mind!” he laughed.

“Absolutely!” I returned. We both laughed and the conversation went quiet for a few more minutes. We just sat.

“Andrew, I love you, you know.”

“Yes, I do know. I feel very very safe with THAT knowledge. It definitely brings MCC for me.”

“I love you when you’re thinking and when you’re not. I love you when you have answers and when you don’t. I love you when you feel safe and when you feel scared, and as I’ve said before, you’ll never be outside that love.”

I cannot describe how good it felt to hear him say that – though I’d known it to be true for many years. Friendship this deep, this real, this accepting, cannot be confined to the meagre expressions of the English language. It is drawn in through every sense we have – and more.

As I sat looking out from my shady table over the turquoise sea, listening to the breaking waves lap the shore, in my mind I saw the Kind Stranger get up from the table.

“Come on!” he invited. “Enough thinking!”

“Where are we going?” I asked, then watched in horror as he walked out on the surface of the water.

Another question, eh!” He teased. “You’ll never know if you stay where you are now. Come on, follow me.”

I rose from the table, left some change for the bill, and took a deep breath. Some things you just have to do, so I stepped onto the water too. It took a few steps of practice faith – about twenty or so – and I sank several times, but I soon got the knack.

You do, don’t you?

GOD: Part 1. The Pretend Experiment

Whether you believe in ‘God’ or not, spending time thinking about him (I’m using the masculine because it works for me, not because I believe ‘God’ to be necessarily male) is good for you.  Official.   Funny that.

According to the latest academic studies of literally hundreds of neuroscientists worldwide and summarised in Dr Andrew Newberg’s latest book “How God Changes your Brain” you don’t need to believe in a Supreme Being, God, Jehovah, Allah, or some other divinity, for thinking about him to be beneficial.

Dr Newberg from the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues make a very strong case. Enjoy the read!  The truth seems to be that, neurologically, ‘God’ may be one of the most powerful words a person ever encounters, and that once the concept is in your head it won’t go away.

Personally, I’m delighted to be a ‘believer’. It works for me. I don’t put that into the same category as believing in Father Christmas – though in our house believing in FC is definitely beneficial on Christmas morning – or believing in Mother Nature, whoever she might be. It’s just that if I dig deep into my mind, heart, thinking, and soul, I can’t hand-on-heart, bring myself to say with any conviction that a single Supreme Being doesn’t exist. Reason? I think he does, and if he does, I want to be on his side and have him on mine. I hope you follow the logic.  However there are one or two conditions attached for such contemplations to be beneficial and not damaging.

The aforesaid God needs to be perceived as benevolent. No problem there, mine is.  Stick your head in Dr Newberg’s fMRI scanner and you’ll notice that contemplation of a God who is authoritarian, dictatorial, malevolent, vindictive, violent, critical, fearful, distant, angry or focuses on our wrongdoing (sin?) – any seriously negative thoughts in fact – will start to physically damage your actual brain within 20 seconds or so. I think the God I believe in would be very sad for me to do that to myself, wouldn’t he? So I like to avoid doing it; 19 seconds and no more. Only a benevolent God is good for you, not a fearsome one. That makes sense to me.

Another condition seem to be to believe that God is close. Many people perceive God as ‘out there’, separate and remote, an impersonal Force stirring up the stars.  But for us to properly benefit from contemplating this benevolent God we also need to perceive him as ‘in here’ – close, personal, even intimate. Today many people are perceiving God as a ‘living spirit in every human being’. Others may express their perceptions as a loving caring knowing Presence in and around them, wherever they are, whatever is happening to them.  From my teenage years, God has seemed close. Most of the time anyway!

So what happens if you honestly don’t believe God is real? Amazingly, you do not need to believe in the reality of a benevolent close God for God to be good for your brain. The evidence seems to indicate that just pretending (yes, pretending!) that this God – benevolent and ‘in here’ as well as ‘out there’ – is real, and living in that pretence on a daily basis for six or eight weeks, will change your brain structure in your favour. It seems you’ll be happier, more relaxed, think more clearly and your brain will become more integrated and function better … just pretending God is close and on your side each day! Who knows, you may want to continue the experiment if it turns out really good, or maybe refine it.

OK, so I don’t need to pretend because I am a believer. You might not be right now, and may need to pretend to get the benefits.

I know it’s very subjective and not very scientific, but do me a favour and let me know what happens. Newberg reckons you need to meditate, for twenty minutes a day for six to eight weeks, on this God who you imagine to be both benevolent and close.

Hmmm. Sounds like the Kind Stranger to me.

The Kind Stranger Chapter 4: A trip to the pottery.

Good morning!”

I’m getting used to the Kind Stranger sneaking up on me and surprising me.  Behind his smiling face is a playful sense of humour. Here I was getting on with my life, preparing breakfast in the kitchen. In he came, looking for me. KS is always welcome in our home.

“We’re going on a short trip today,” he said. “I’ve something to show you.”

By now I have learnt that he hears the deeper thoughts I have and responds to them without me needing to verbalising anything. I suspected this was another similar moment. It was.

But of course we didn’t need to get the car out and disappear down the road.  No, the Kind Stranger invited me to sit quietly with him, rest my mind, and wait. A few minutes later, I knew we were on the move, and soon we arrived at a village square.  You’ll probably have been there yourself.  It had an array of houses gathered around a village green.

“We’re going just over there”, he pointed to an old building with a light burning inside. We wandered over, he lifted the latch and we stepped inside.

We were in a workshoppy room, with pots everywhere, in various stages of completion. This, I realised was the village potter’s house, and I was unnerved to find that the old potter, working away at her wheel in the corner was oblivious to us.  I tried to talk to the old woman, but she didn’t hear me.  It was as if I was invisible to her. I slowly realised that I was.

I turned to the Kind Stranger to ask what all this was about when he put his finger to his lips to quieten me. He smiled. “Just watch,” he whispered.

I moved over to a workbench, pulled myself up onto it so I could sit more comfortably, and watched as instructed.

The Kind Stranger came and stood by me, and put his hand on my arm.  He often did this to reassure me and help me to relax. I felt myself take in deep breath and exhale slowly, feeling my shoulders drop and my breathing slow.

The Potter got up, moved past us, and unseeing, made her way to a bin of clay. Lifting the lid, she removed a lump of pure soft clay. Cutting a small amount from the lump the potter took it over to her wheel and began to carefully press it, mould it, and shape it. She took such care, and I was intrigued to watch her skills in action. Several times she stopped the wheel, and looked contemplatively at her amazing creation. It was absolutely beautiful. She had used her lifetime of skill to form a fine elegant pot that would undoubtedly be very valuable when it was finished.

Turning it slowly, she looked at each facet, checking it on the inside, on the outside, and smiled – a bit like the Kind Stranger did. Then, all of a sudden, she stopped. She had noticed a tiny flaw, a little impurity in the clay, hidden imperceptibly on the inside of the vessel. I expected her to pass over it, or take some spare clay and fix it somehow, but she didn’t. No, she gently put her hands around it and with the wheel spinning, crushed the entire pot back into a single lump of clay, and she began to make it again, a different vessel.

It hurt me to watch. I felt sad that such a nice pot would never be used by anyone or admired. Even though it was flawed it was still beautiful, still useful, still worth something. The mark was on the inside, not really visible, what was the big deal?  But I could see that to the potter it mattered. This was about her making the very most of the clay.

Something was happening inside me as I realised that the potter was not going to settle for second best. Of course, she knew that, in her hands, there was no need for any concern at all. She knew just what to do. This was clay of the highest quality and my guess is that she had paid a high price for that raw material. She had no desire to leave the clay flawed by an impurity and had no intention of moving on until that vessel was…

Exactly. The Kind Stranger  looked over at me and winked. We made our way out of the potter’s workshop, and soon we were back in my kitchen. I knew what this was about, and he knew I knew. It was about me, the value of my ‘clay’ and what I really needed right now. If I would allow myself to be …

I caught his eye. He smiled approvingly. Great. He had heard my unspoken decision.

The Kind Stranger. Chapter 2: The Second Encounter

Read the previous chapter? Then enjoy the second chapter of this amazing story…

It was the day after I met him that I first noticed a change. Now, as I think back, it is hardly surprising that it would affect my future life.  I had experienced something very special, and through the night I tossed and turned and wondered about it all. Was this really just a remote chance encounter, or was I missing something?   The Kind Stranger had singled me out for his attention. This was new to me – it had never happened before – well, not like this anyway. I didn’t know how significant it would be.

I felt both weakened and strengthened at the same time by that first encounter. It was the weakness that felt strangely good. My carefully constructed defences had softened. I had softened. I could sense myself more flexible, more open, and much more relaxed. For the first time in years I felt safer, stronger, in fact much stronger inside.

I decided to make a drink and sit down quietly. And that’s when I heard his voice again.

It felt so close, and it was not just in my head. It felt as if he was in the room with me, not physically, if you know what I mean, but definitely here. I put my drink down, and just sat, relaxed, attentive, waiting.

I know this sounds weird for a rational human adult, but to me it was as real as the chair, the drink, me sitting here, and I felt a wave of warm emotion as I heard the Kind Stranger’s voice again, as real as yesterday.

He was smiling still. You can tell when someone is smiling, can’t you. And this time his voice was quieter, more personal, almost intimate, but with that wholesome respect and trustworthiness I’d begun to associate with him. It wasn’t a whisper, just reassuringly quiet. Perhaps he knew I needed to hear him that way today.

“I said I’d come.” I heard him smile. “You can trust what I say.” How did he know that my trust in people was at a low ebb these days? “I’m here to remind you of the truth,” he said gently, “the truth about you.”

I wriggled a bit in my chair (I won’t admit to squirming!) and took a moment to settle myself. He waited. I took a deep breath, and as I relaxed he gently continued.

“From the moment you arrived on this earth as a human life until the moment you depart from it – and that includes now of course” (he smiled again) – “you have been, are, and forever will be of indescribable worth. The word I’d like to use is ‘priceless’. No amount of gold, diamonds, or any number of banknotes in any currency would compare with your worth.”

The Kind Stranger stopped for a moment to let his words sink in. They needed to. I had long doubted that I was worth anything much. Yet in his voice was a wonderful reliable confidence. He knew he was right, and in the deepest caverns of my soul I heard myself receive his words as truth for me. For the first time since I was a tiny child, I realised how valuable I really was. Priceless.

Overwhelmed, I felt my emotions well up. A single sigh, suppressed for so long within those deep echoey caverns, rose within me, and as I breathed it out, the doubt was gone. I knew the truth.

“I’ll be back soon.”  I think I may have felt his touch on my arm again as he left, though I could have imagined that.

I sat awhile, comfortably alone and at peace, consciously and unconsciously surrendering each part of my life to what he had told me. It would change everything.

Watch the video of Chapter 2 .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1i9AjJCXI_Q

The Kind Stranger

In Powerchange we have all sorts of interesting ways to help people have a better quality of life, and here’s a new exercise I’d like you to test for me.  It’s called The Kind Stranger and it works by readjusting your thoughts as you read it. Notice what it does to you emotionally over the next few minutes or days, and ‘leave a comment’ (above) so we can know how it is working for you.  If it ‘works’, pass it on to your friends – even Facebook it for me! Here it is …

You know those times when you feel ‘needy’- alone maybe, inadequate somehow, or unresourced? It was at such a time as this that the kind stranger turned up. It was a completely unexpected encounter, and one that changed me. He just came up to me, smiling, and although to start with I was a bit suspicious I quickly realised he was a genuinely good person, and his intentions towards me were healthy – pure – and good.

What he said was good too.  So very good.  He fed me, deep in my soul, and it was only later that I realised how much I had benefited from his kindness. “Excuse me,” the kind stranger said, “I hope you don’t mind me coming over to you, but I notice that you seem to feel alone and, dare I say it, in need somehow.” He disarmed me with his gentle tone of voice and obvious respect. His honesty was refreshing, although a little unnerving, and enabled me to be honest too. “Yes,” I admitted. “It is a bit like that at the moment.”

“May I take just a few minutes to help?”  He was so direct, and although I had so much to busy myself with, I knew I must stop and listen to him. We found somewhere to sit down, and he, this smiling kind stranger, addressed me personally.

“What do you need to hear someone say to you today?”

It was such a surprising line it took me off guard, and I could feel a lump in my throat. I wanted to get away, yet I knew this was important. He was obviously in no rush, waiting quietly for my reply. He watched me attentively – kindly – as his words sank in, slipping under my defences.  I mentally ran through a few superficial replies but knew I must be honest in return. I thought of the one thing I’ve longed for someone to say to me, but simply couldn’t voice it. It was lodged, stuck in my heart.

“That’s right,” he said.

Had he read my mind? I thought of some more.

“And those are good too.”

With a tender transparent authority the kind stranger told me clearly, gently, confidently, things I needed to hear. And something inside me change for ever.  How did he know? (For he certainly did.)

” May I put my hand on your arm?” he asked. Shocked, I reached out towards him, and he respectfully held my arm just above my wrist. It was such an important touch – firm, reassuring, filled with the rich tenderness of loving human contact. I loved him for it. Skin-food for my soul. I felt a deep confidence come from his hand  into my body.

“You know,” he said wisely, “we could meet right here every day or every week in person and I could say these things to you. It would be very resourcing and up-building for you. But I’ve got a better idea: I want you to listen to my voice now, saying and repeating these things you need to hear, deep inside you. Listen to my voice deep in your heart.” He paused as he noticed me do what he suggested. “It is me, isn’t it!” He chuckled, and continued, “And then, every day, even though I will not be with you physically as I am now, I want you to feel my hand on your arm like this and hear my voice reminding you of them –and all the other things you’ve forgotten that you need. Hear the words you needed someone to say to you when you were a child, a teenager, and at those other moments of your life when you felt alone, lacking confidence and direction. I’ll say them – listen out for me. You will hear my voice inside you and I will say them. They are the truth. And when you’ve learned how to listen to me, tell others about your encounter with me and help them to listen. So from today on I’ll be with you forever – and with them too if they want me!”

And he is. Whenever I sense I need him, he’s there… here. Every day. I feel his warm hand on my arm as I write, his confident touch relaxing me, feel his strong arm around my shoulders, hear his wholesome, rich voice, full of endorsement, encouragement, kindness and love reminding me of what I need to hear. I listen to him every day now, and he’s no longer a stranger.

Andrew tells the story personally on youtube – with one or two little extras…