I have blogged before about cretive bock or self confidence crisis…..and If you depend on your creativity for your living, then your most valuable piece of equipment is not your computer, smartphone, camera, or any other hi-tech gadget.
“In a modern company 70 to 80 percent of what people do is now done by way of their intellects. The critical means of production is small, gray, and weighs around 1.3 kilograms. It is the human brain.”
So what are you doing to maintain this precious resource? You probably give it plenty of stimulation – books, movies, music, nights out, interesting conversations with offbeat people.
What works for me is daily meditation. Every morning or early afternoon I spend 20 minutes sitting on a mat, focusing on the sensation of breathing, doing my best to be present and aware, and trying not to get tangled up in my thoughts. It makes all the difference for the rest of the day. And I’m convinced it makes me a better visual artist. I also listen every day to meditation music from my iPhone while I am moving around or shooting.
Meditation is a doorway between our inner and outer worlds. Between “reality” (the seemingly solid world that we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch) and an elusive “something else” we sense beneath, between and beyond what those five senses can grasp.
Meditation offers enormous benefits for everyone, and a set of particular benefits for those who are engaged in a creative activity like writing.
Focus. Concentration is essential to outstanding creative execution and performance. The simple act of focusing on your breathing day after day, will gradually improve your powers of concentration.
Patience. Meditation can be incredibly boring. For once in your life, you’re not trying to do anything or think anything, just sit there and pay attention to your immediate experience. And you will encounter all kinds of resistance to doing it. Zen priest Steve Hagen says, “If you can get past resistance to meditation, nothing else in life will be an obstacle.”
Calmness. At first, you’ll be surprised, maybe even horrified, to discover how busy your mind is – a non-stop stream of mental chatter. But if you stay with it, you should gradually find that your mind settles down as the months go by.
Clarity. Like calmness, this can be gradual and intermittent to begin with. But you are likely to notice moments and even periods of mental clarity, when you see things clearly and your mind is sharper than usual – which makes problem-solving and decision-making easier.
Creates conditions for Insight. You’ve probably had the experience of suddenly realizing the solution to a problem, even though you haven’t been consciously thinking of it. Or you may have experienced a moment of inspiration, when a new idea flashes into your mind unbidden. If you’re practicing meditation regularly, expect this to happen more often.
Perspective. When you spend time just being present and observing your breath, thoughts, feelings, and moment-to-moment experience, you start to realize how trivial most of our daily worries really are. Even in the midst of the daily grind, you can let go of the small stuff, and keep the big picture in view.
The kind of meditation I practice is a mixture of concentration (Samatha) and insight (Vipassana). Samatha practice is simply about focusing on your breathing, in order to develop concentration and calmness. It’s the best place to start, given how busy and unfocused our minds typically are. Vipassana is so simple it almost sounds like doing nothing at all – it’s about being very aware and present to your immediate experience, noticing your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the sounds and sights around you.
To learn how to get started, read the Introduction to Insight Meditation by the monks at Amaravati monastery.
Or you can try to listen to one of the Mantra and chant, The one below is westernized and commercialed version but the traditional has been one of my favorites for a long time, Here
By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
Paul of the Wulfruna Sufi Association tells about Ramadan in Sufism. Read about the significance of fasting, the symbolism of the rose and the importance of prayer and meditation.
Ramadan, the month when God revealed the Holy Qur’an, is a time of deep reflection and contemplation for Muslims. Considering past accomplishments and where our life’s journey is leading. Ramadan is a good time for us to make changes for the better, an excellent opportunity to turn over a new leaf, shedding any old bad habits.
Walking in the footsteps of the prophets
“O you who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain concious of God” Holy Qur’an (2:183) Asad
“Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant – the Ten Commandments.” Exodus (34:28) NIV
Muslims aim to be walking in the footsteps of prophets and saints. While Ramadan is unique to Islam, most religions have their traditions of fasting. We spend much of our lives concerned with mundane activities, work, meals, television, fashion. Without even realising it, time passes, often wasted on nothing special. Fasting helps us to regain self-discipline and self-restraint.
Realising the difficulties of others
An important role of fasting, is to help us realise the difficulties and suffering of others. Caring for those in need is so important, charity is the third pillar of Islam. One important benefit of fasting, is we learn what it is like to feel hungry. Once we realise this, hopefully we will show more compassion for those in need, for those who have no food to break their fasts, or cannot afford to buy it.
The rose blooms amid thorns
Sufis are people striving for an inner, personal experience of the Divine. Seeing the basic practices of Islam as only the first step to this higher goal. To allow one’s soul to grow and ascend, one needs to strive against the bad characteristics of one’s ego. In Sufism, the rose is symbolic of our soul. As like the development of our own souls in this world, the rose blooms amid thorns.
Seeking to lose themselves in the Divine
While all Muslims are on a quest for inner peace, Sufis seek to lose themselves in the Divine. Fasting is an important stepping stone on this inner spiritual journey. Sufi saints perform the greatest form of fast, while others go without food, they exercise the fasting of their mind. Put another way, they do not think of anything except God.
Prayers and meditation
Sufis consider their existence in this world as only the seed, for their existence in the next world. In a similar way to how small acorns grow into mighty oaks, we reap what we sow. In addition to their daily prayers, various forms of meditation are practised by Sufis, enabling them to become more conscious of the Divine.
“unto everyone who is conscious of God, He [always] grants a way out [of unhappiness], and provides for him in a manner beyond all expectation” Holy Qur’an (65:2-3) Asad
God has promised great rewards for those who fast. One of these occurs during the last ten days of Ramadan. During the night of Laylat al-Qadr, for one who has fasted perfectly, God sends an angel to personally meet this person, and grant them any wish they desire.
Fasting is an enormous blessing, it is a great way of improving one’s self discipline and physical health, yet at the same time conveys immense spiritual benefits.
How do Sufi practices differ in Ramadan?
“The question you bring up is interesting because it indicates to my mind that you make a separation between Sufi and Muslim … I don’t make that separation,” . Sufis are Muslims; they practice the five pillars of Islam, which include fasting in Ramadan.
Out of the five pillars, fasting is the only one done purely between an individual and God. It is done in secrecy and privacy. “Fasting is a form of hijab; Allah gave every being on earth protection. The birds he gave wings, the porcupine he gave needles, the skunk he gave a scent … to man he gave zikr Allah, and in Ramadan we remember Him more and more,” he says.
Restraining oneself from eating, drinking, love making, sinning, anger and striving to be good builds patience. Sabr (patience) is mentioned in over 90 places in the Quran. In one verse in Surat El-Baqarah, it clearly states, “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you, as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn patience.”
Sufi iftars are traditionally communal. Many gather together in a zawya with a sheikh present. They first drink water then pray the maghrib prayers followed by a communal meal. Then they pray the tarawih and in between they sing praises to the Prophet Mohammed.
In Ramadan extra prayers are done not out of habit but out of genuine conviction. Sufis feel this so strongly they want to do more. A Sufi makes sure he does all the tarawih prayers although they are not obligatory.
In Arabic Ramadan is spelled with five letters and Sufis believe that each stand for something that defines this holy month. R for ridwan, Allah’s satisfaction; M for marhaba, Allah’s love; D for deman, Allah’s protection and security; A for ulfal, Allah’s friendship; N for nour, Allah’s divine light and the essence of creation.
The Galata Mevlevi Music and Sema Ensemble, under the direction of Al Sheik Nail Kesova, brings to audiences around the world the beauty and spirituality of the Sema, the Mevlevi whirling ritual, and the tradition of Mevlevi music. The Whirling Dervishes of Turkey were proclaimed as a Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005. The “Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” Programme was launched by UNESCO in 1997 to raise public awareness about the value of the intangible elements of heritage and the need to safeguard them .
For more than 700 years, the Mevlevi brotherhood defined the spiritual life of the Ottoman Empire. Sufism, and especially the Mevlevis, gave birth to well known poets, musicians, theologians and politicians. Travelers to the Orient noticed the Mevlevis mainly because of their “Sema“, the ritual whirling dance. The brotherhood of the Whirling Dervishes became familiar worldwide as the symbol of oriental mysticism.
The Galata Mevlevi Music and Sema Ensemble is very much part of the so called avant-garde tradition of the brotherhood. Sheik Nail Kesova has composed a number of liturgical pieces for the group. In collaboration with Asian and western musicians and orchestras, they have created new interpretations of traditional oriental and mystic compositions. Perhaps one of the most important activities of the group has been to continue the tradition of the Mevlevi Order to educate young, talented musicians in the sophisticated art of classical mystic music, in addition to bringing the haunting beauty of the whirling ritual, the Sema, to people throughout the world.
More images are in my Galleries or at Getty Images
$1.2 trillion: How much Americans spend annually on goods and services they don’t absolutely need.
This Easter weekend, Americans will spend a lot of money on items such as marshmallow peeps, plush bunnies and fake hay, begging a question: How much does the U.S. economy depend on purchases of goods and services people don’t absolutely need?
As it turns out, quite a lot. A non-scientific study of Commerce Department data suggests that in February, U.S. consumers spent an annualized $1.2 trillion on non-essential stuff including pleasure boats, jewelry, booze, gambling and candy. That’s 11.2% of total consumer spending, up from 9.3% a decade earlier and only 4% in 1959, adjusted for inflation. In February, spending on non-essential stuff was up an inflation-adjusted 3.3% from a year earlier, compared to 2.4% for essential stuff such as food, housing and medicine.
To be sure, different people can have different ideas of what should be considered essential. Still, the estimate is probably low. It doesn’t, for example, account for the added cost of certain luxury items such as superfast cars and big houses.
- Number of the Week: Americans Buy More Stuff They Don?t Need (blogs.wsj.com)
Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.
Henry David Thoreau
I have blogged before about my challenge to 100 things. While I still own more than 100 items…if you take off the equations my work stuff, items I jointly owned with my wife….I am getting very close!
A minimalist lifestyle is the one that is free of complications, clutter,confusion and distraction. Its where you have taken your life and streamlined it to make it the most efficient it can possibly be. It is also more of a process than a destination, minimalism is something that you will need to continually work on as many other factors in life are constantly going to try and complicate things for you. Why ? because the rest of the world has not stumbled onto this way of thinking yet. The vast majority still believe that if something is more complex and complicated then it must be better, rather we as minimalists prefer to look for elegant simplicity as the deciding factor of quality.
Minimalist living, in simplest terms, is to live with as less as possible, mentally and physically until you achieve peace of mind. The concept is simple but achieving it is hard. Just look at the the room where you are now or at the desk you are sitting on: how many items does it contain? Is your desk surrounded by papers, notebooks, books, pens and pencils?
What about your closets, living rooms and bedrooms? How much joy does all this clutter bring you? What clutters you physically also disables you mentally.
While I am no expert at living minimally, it is something that I practice. I know how it is when I started and I believe will free you of the excess baggage that nothing else can bring.
What should be your first step? Get rid of excess. Go through your closets and pick out all the things that you don’t need any more. Donate all clothes to a charity of choice. I promise you, this might seem tiring but at the end of it all, you will feel ecstatic for not only helping yourself, but helping others. I will be writing about how to make this process a bit easier.
What was once considered ‘cheap’ (with a negative connotation) is now expressed as ‘minimal’ and ‘smart’ thanks to this economy.
10 Things I do not own
Television, DVD player, Stereo system, remote controls, Entertainment center or TV stand ( No need for it when you don’t have a TV), Car (Ok I live in Venice…quite easy), Bookcase, Coffee Maker, BBQ, Magazine Rack, Video Games………
5 Minimalist Quotes I love
1. “In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple.”
2. “If you want to become full, let yourself be empty.”
3. “If you want to be given everything, give everything up.”
4. “If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.”
5. “When there is no desire, all things are at peace.”
- Minimalist Living (lowercaseliving.wordpress.com)
- A Practical Guide to a Minimalist Home (stopandbreathe.com)
- My Favorite Minimalistic Living Blog/site
Everything is open
Nothing is set in stone
You’re driftwood floating underwater
Breaking into pieces, pieces, pieces
Just driftwood, hollow and of no use
Waterfalls will find you, bind you, grind you
So I’m sorry that you’ve turned to driftwood
But you’ve been drifting for a long, long time
Father Christmas wearing boots to cope with seasonal high water walks along Riva degli Schiavoni in Venice.
The Christmas of most of the old Italian writers as well as Dickens and even Hollywood movies is all about family, friendship, compassion and goodwill for all , it is about the “Christmas Spirit” that stands for core religious values. On the other side The Christmas that you see every day is about demanding or try to sell expensive gifts, selfishness, eat as much as you can, getting drunk.
I hope you belong to the first category but whatever you choose a Merry Christmas to all my Catholic friends!
A usage of one of my images in Vanity Fair Italy
- The spirit of Christmas… (thewayoftheweb.net)
- Christmas Spirit — it’s what you make it (scottpaterson.org)
- The True Spirit of Christmas (socyberty.com)
“True love is unconditional and everlasting, it is established over time and validated with memories of the past.”
There was once a Sufi story of a man crying on the side of a road, praying to find true happiness. When God sent an old man to inquire of him the reason for such tears, he replied that he was lost and that his life had been wasted in the pursuit of true happiness. The old man asked him to describe the shape, size and dimensions of these objects so desired and that perhaps, he might be able to help him to find them.
The man answered that this was the very problem. He did not know how to describe them, to which the old man replied; at least now, we know why you are lost.
The moral of the story is that many of us are like this man, pursue our fancies through a veneer of sophisticated ideas, arguments and imaginings through veils of uncertainty. But, if we take the time, stop and listen to our heart and ask sincerely – every cloud will part and guidance becomes evident.
- Adam Phillips on the happiness myth (guardian.co.uk)