Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Bookings are open for Batchelor/Higgins/Lambert secular dharma retreat

Hi everyone. Just a quick note to let you know that bookings are now open for this retreat. In-person places are limited and it's likely to be popular, so I'd recommend booking early.

We're making remote attendance possible too, for a very reasonable fee, for those who can't or don't want to attend in person. If you're a member of a sangha, you may want to consider attending together remotely as a sangha.

Details and registration here.

Warm regards


Thursday, December 29, 2022

More info on our secular dharma retreat

Bookings are not open yet (won't be for a few months), but we've developed the retreat theme now. You can check it out here. I'll keep you posted. 

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Practice amid turmoil


As our hearts go out to the Ukraine people, this article is a reminder to keep our practice 'switched on' and stay alert to the human tendency towards 'us and them', even as we express that compassion. 

Amid the heart-warming expressions of solidarity, I think about the many Russian people who are protesting against this invasion - at great personal cost. Imagine deciding to protest against something your government is doing, knowing full well that you will be thrown in jail. Would you do this? 

There are also reports of Russian soldiers at a loss as to why they are there. When I try to put myself in their shoes, I can't help but think they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Compassion follows.

Putin's behaviour must be stopped. But can we stay alert to 'othering' and resist the temptation towards in-group/out-group thinking? 

(Click on the image or click here to read the article.)

Monday, January 24, 2022


Yesterday the much-loved Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, passed away. As I read about it I saw this quote from him (in Elephant Journal).

Some religious folk look down on secular spirituality, seeing it as sad that we somehow miss out on 'the divine'. As if reality, right here, right now, was droll and mundane - not amazing enough.

However this reality right here, right now, is truly awe-some if we stop skimming past it and look. This world, this universe, nature, our society, our body-minds, are stupendously mind-blowing phenomena. When we truly comprehend that, there is no lack of wondrousness, of spiritual uplift. 

It's not surprising. Us humans are wired to stop paying attention to the familiar. It's a natural tendency that helped keep our ancestors alive. 

But now that we're safe, it's time to un-do that habit and consider the possibility that the drive for transcendence of this life, here, now, is a sign that we've missed the wondrousness right before our eyes. Practicing mindfulness helps us see afresh.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Reacting against work - mindful choosing versus reactivity.

The Dharma is about the whole of life and work is no exception. 

I know what it's like to be stuck in a job I hate. I know what it's like to have a boss who makes my life stressful, to work long hours and feel like someone else - my employer - owns my life time. I know what it's like to work in a culture that doesn't fit my values. It sucks.


From very early in my career I was aware of the not-quite-real persona I felt obliged to adopt in workplaces. I tried to be brave, to be authentic. Sometimes that had positive effects. Sometimes it got me into hot water.


I've been self-employed now for 20 years. But until recently, I felt like I was a bit of a freak. It seemed like few others saw how much the career over-achieving cost. The idea of waiting until I retired to be fully present to my life prompted a mild sense of panic. 


But most of my friends and work colleagues just kept on trucking, spending so many hours and so much head-space on their work, that all they had time for outside of that was the essentials - meeting the must-do obligations with their families, maybe doing a bit of exercise, jamming in social engagements where possible - all at a million miles an hour. Being 'busy' was worn as a badge of honour.


When they took their annual holiday (IF they took it), they'd spend the first half of it catching up on sleep or drinking copious amounts of alcohol as a reward for working so hard.


At 41 years of age, I took a three-month 'sabbatical' to step off the hamster wheel; to do......nothing. When I spoke of this, a few were envious, but many reacted with horror. The idea of doing nothing sent them into a spin. Three months went so quickly, I wished I had a year. I haven't worked full time since. And this experience is what led me to invent PAR (People Against Rushing).


Fast forward a decade or so and much of the world is emerging from a forced sabbatical courtesy of COVID 19. There are the beginnings of a widespread realization that the old way isn't so great. Many people are realizing the benefits of slowing down, enjoying the simple things, and simply being present to their lives and the people in them. 


I'm in a bit of disbelief. I seriously never thought this would happen! People are coming over to the PAR perspective en masse!!


However there's a danger lurking that's always present when we've been inhabiting an extreme. The danger is that, instead of mindfully choosing a different path, we can react mindlessly to the realization that things are so out-of-whack. 


Important realizations often unleash a lot of energy. Often it's the energy of grief at some kind of loss (e.g. how much of my life I've spent on something that never felt right), and that can then fuel reactivity - a mindless, automatic, emotion-fuelled reaction to discharge the unpleasant feelings.


One of these it seems, is a new Anti-work movement. At the heart of it is a positive realization that the space in our lives devoted to work is out-of-whack somehow. This insight is a great development, especially if your rights as an employee (or human being) have been trampled on or neglected, or your workplace culture is toxic. It's a good thing for employees to have power in the employment market. 


But as always, mindlessness is not helpful. And if we don't respond mindfully, we let the swing of a pendulum from one extreme to another dictate the course. 


I can see a couple of potential problems if we react rather than respond here. First, if what we want is for the world of work to operate with decency and respect, we need to align our own personal conduct with this principleGhosting potential new employers at interviews, or not turning up after accepting a new job as the article describes, is not using our power to improve the work world. 


The other problem I can see is rendering the whole idea of work as undesirable. One of the aims of the anti-work forum discussed in the article is to imagine a world “with unemployment for all, not just the rich!” and it envisions a world without work. What this pendulum swings right over, is the fact that work can actually contribute greatly to our flourishing as human beings. 


Besides material security, work can help meet our needs for belonging, engagement, achievement, connection, and contribution. These are all factors in a flourishing life. And many have realized this as it's been taken away during lockdowns. 


In the book Ikigai, the authors studied Japanese people living some of the world's longest and most satisfying lives. One of the recommendations was to 'never retire'​. 


Now, of course, if you're in a toxic workplace or brain-numbing job, your work won't be helping you flourish and change might be needed. But can you use, in a mindful way, the COVID-induced insights you've had about work's role in your life? 


Can you respond in a way that grounds your life more fully in your values, and what you know about human needs (for a quick assessment of your life on the Nine Human Needs, or a full Life Assessment click here)? Perhaps work-life integration is a better goal than work-life balance that pits the two against each other?


What insights have you had about work's role in your life due to the pandemic? And how are you going to use these insights to cultivate a more flourishing life? We'd love to hear from you - drop us a comment here!


Warm regards


Friday, November 19, 2021

Can you see your lenses? Or are they guiding you blindly?

This is me in an eyewear store. We were buying glasses for my husband Matt. On our way home he asked me: did you see any glasses you liked for yourself? My answer: no, coz I was looking for men's glasses.

I saw hundreds of pairs of women's glasses that day, but I didn't remember any of them. Why? Because the lens I had on what I saw was: men's glasses, geometric shapes, dark colours. 


There's no way our minds can process all of the data that comes in through our senses. So these lenses (through the mechanism of attention) filter how we see.


This happens with all of our senses, but it also happens with our minds (which, interestingly, the Buddha treated as a sense). These filters primarily take the form of beliefs and views.


The Buddha, was very wary of views. He was often asked his views on things like the existence of a soul, the beginning and end of the universe etc.. His response: silence. He wouldn't be drawn into such topics and indeed warned against getting tangled in a thicket of views. 


But to function in the world, we need to have some views. The questions are:


Are we aware of them?

What impact are they having?

How aligned with reality are they?


I'm not exaggerating to say that views can be lethal! Think of the people dying of COVID 19 right now because of their views about vaccines; the heart-breaking plight of women in Afghanistan because of the Taliban's views about the inferiority of women; every war that's ever been fought.


These are obvious and extreme examples, but we engage in micro-harms every day because of views.


That might be views about conflict that lead you to abandon a friendship rather than work together through a disagreement.


It might be views about life being a level playing field that lead you to judge harshly people who are unemployed.


It might be views about what makes a person worthy of love that lead you to starve yourself while desperately trying to look like a magazine model, or over-achieve at work and lose touch with your loved ones, or over-please others while leaving your own needs out in the cold.


Our lenses can cause a great deal of harm, and we often don't even see them which means they are in the driver's seat of our experience and we don't even know it!


Cognitive psychology has known for a long time that our thoughts shape our experience. The 'cognitive bias' trainings that abound in the corporate world these days are an example of attempts to be more mindful of our views and their impact on things like employing, developing and promoting people.


When it comes to personal growth, the practice of mindfulness is essential to help us see our own lenses, which allows us to then perceive more accurately what's going on - to see all of the glasses in the eyewear shop. Essentially, this is what the Buddha's awakening was - a clear insight into the way experience works, relatively unfiltered by views.


As we get better at this, we can declare the filters we're looking through and this helps us avoid locking horns with others in the thicket of views. An example of this is the preface of my book The Buddha for Modern Minds where I attempt to declare my lens on the dharma (the Buddha's teachings) so that people can see it in that context.


Seeing our lenses also helps us to question and adjust them so that they become more in line with reality. This makes us more free, compassionate and kind. We're more able to respond rather than react to our world because we see more of the picture, not just our own angle. We unhook from our emotional attachments to (often over-simplified) views and see the struggle that is being human.


What are the main views you use to filter the world? Ideas about what should happen in the world, or how people should behave are often a good clue. Do you know many of your lenses? If not, try asking someone who knows you well. It's often easier to see others' views than our own.


Here's a little challenge: identify one of your views and ask yourself what impact it has on your life. Then see if you can test it against reality. Which glasses in the eyewear shop are being filtered out? 


Until next time.