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She showed me her long list of expectations, excitedly telling me all the details about how her next partner should be like. It sounded to me like the advertisement ad for the ‘oh so perfect’ man, except I have never met anyone who fit the entire bill. Have you? Several years later she was still on her own, and dates were far and in between. Expecting perfection is the perfect recipe for isolation.

Recently, a man walked into my office. His girlfriend had broken up with him. The reason? She couldn’t take his constant criticism anymore. In his sobering state of heart-brokenness, he did realize that he had been nagging at her incessantly. He said: “I threw daggers at her. I wanted her to fit my model of perfection- so I could feel better about myself. I was controlling, afraid of real intimacy. It was so selfish, and we both were unhappy.” It’s true, a flower won’t blossom when we pick all the leaves off, or worse- when we step on her repeatedly or expect from a flower to bloom all year long in the perfect color and with just right fragrance for us. It might work with a plastic flower. But none of us are Barbie-dolls or heroes from the movies.

In our western culture, people often expect perfection from each other and themselves. We don’t want to see death, sickness, old age. Or a pouch belly, wrinkles, or the raw vulnerability of simply being human. The tears of sorrow, the moments of weakness, and our loveable unique oddness we tend to hide. Or we go to the next improvement club. It’s called a lack of acceptance for what we deem as imperfect, but what is part of life. How would it be if we apply some good doses of acceptance toward ourselves and our partners, children, and friends? We certainly will experience more joy and love with each other. How do we apply the magic balm?

For a start, if you have one of those ‘manifest your perfect mate’ lists, erase some items. And add: “I am welcoming a true human being into my arms.’ Of course, you don’t want to put up with addictions, destructive behaviors. But you can include that your prospective mate may have a grouchy or sad day. Or that she may be older than you expect. Or?

~ Appreciate the good and unique qualities the other already person has. Including your own.

~ Practice including human weakness, shortcomings or so-called imperfections with a smile and twinkle.

~ Focus on and enjoy what is already perfect in this moment. It might be simply the softness of kissing each other. Or the laughter of your child. Warmth shared with a friend. A caring cashier at the check out counter. Pay attention to these precious moments.

Practice that, and I assure you that you will experience the perfection of being in love each moment. That’s what turns the light on in you. At that moment your mate, your child, others in your life will feel far more accepted by you. And then they will more likely meet you to share and enjoy love together!

 

Copyright Nicola Amadora.

“For such a time as this we were born!”

People are waking up and many heed the call to turn the ship for all of us. In a time of turmoil in our world, when things fall apart, or we feel shocked about outcomes we did not anticipate, we may ask: “How did this happen? What can be trusted in life? And what can I do?”

Recently, I met a lovely woman who was very upset when she spoke:” What can I trust, when the worst people take over and ruin it for the rest of us…When the most vulnerable suffer the consequences of actions taken by those who don’t seem to care? And what can I do to stop the destruction toward nature? I feel hopeless, overwhelmed, sad and angry too. It makes no sense. And by the way, where the heck is Buddha, Allah, Spirit, the Goddess or God in this?” I too have tasted this despair. Such questions and feelings often arise, when we are confronted with injustice, betrayal, cruelty or insanity, whether in our personal life or on a global scale.

In such a time as this, it is more important than ever to remember who we are and act from that. Deeper than all appearances is a river of benevolence, the flame of compassion, of love and wisdom in us – that, which causes us to care, to evolve, and engage in a present, connected and wholehearted way in life. I experience this benevolence in trees, animals, and in people, even if it’s covered up or we feel disconnected – it is always here. This power and intelligence is far greater than any circumstances we face. In this we can root, trust in and act from – for it is the truth at the core of life. It continues to flow throughout the ages, it shows up through the hands and feet of those who dare to love no matter what, and it is revealed when we se with innocent eyes. This innate goodness is beating in your own heart right now. This river beyond time and space, yet so intimate and near, is what connects us all right now.

And here we are held and loved, even if the world as we know it falls apart. Take solace and refuge in that, for it helps us to show up, to stand strong in our vulnerability, and it can guide us wisely through turmultous times. This benevolence is accessible when we pause and connect, when we ask and listen before we act: “What action is of greatest benefit for all?” We often don’t know. But taking a moment to lean into silence and listening with openness to the deeper intelligence that connects us with all of life, we will know how to sail the ship even through the biggest storm. And in that moment – by turning toward truth and taking fierce, loving action – you are the Buddha, God, a wise one,…who makes a positive difference for others too.

When I lived with Thich Nhat Hahn in Plum Village in France, he told me a story:

“Vietnamese people were escaping the war with little boats across the sea. But in the ocean, the pirates were just waiting for their victims- to plunder, to kill, to enslave or rape each one of them. One monk was rowing the boat with a group of women and children, when pirates showed up. He asked himself: “What is the most compassionate way in this situation? Should he let the pirates take the women and children, therefore be true to his vow of non- killing? Or should he try to protect them somehow with his bodily strength; or simply pray, but be thrown overboard? His answer had to come fast for he had only little time.

In stillness, clear guidance arose from his wise heart: If he could kill the pirate from a place of infinite compassion- meaning without hatred, anger, pain, projection, rejection, judgement, separation or violence- he would save the pirate from terrible karma, he would stop greater harm being done and protect many people and those most vulnerable. He trusted this would be the wisest action to take. And in case he was wrong, he vowed to take on all negative results from his actions. When the boss pirate jumped into his little boat to capture the women, the little monk chanted the great mantra of compassion – and swiftly killed the unsuspecting pirate with his machete- in one fierce stroke it was done.”

Now, I am not suggesting to take a machete to kill folks that are seemingly different than us, even if you might feel righteously mad about their behavior:)) But we can affirm our interconnectedness by remaining open to people’s humanity when we have to take action to prevent greater harm. Challenging situations invite us to respond wisely, rather than react from fear, anger or pain. We can practice to relax into stillness, take good care of your own mind, body and feelings, and ask ourselves: “What action or word is most helpful in my situation, in this relationship or in our world? What can I do to turn the ship?” From here respond to others and situations, even when you are triggered, freightened or the waves rise high.

Hey, and if you fall overboard, or your ship breaks into pieces – you are not alone, one of us is out there on the great sea to lift you up. If pirates come to claim your boat, have the guts to make a stand. And sometimes you just have to let loose, cry, howl, laugh, kick up your heels and dance. It helps. Let that light of yours shine strong, leave a blazing trail so others can see their way too. And may you trust the wisdom deep in your heart and act on that. Unabashed, courageously and – together with many of us. And know, even in the greatest turmoil you are always held in love.

Wishing you strength, courage and much joy as you sail in life. With Love, Nicola

Here is a gift for you or a friend on this path. I am delighted to share my new Meditation CD with you. Order CD at Amazon. Or download for iphone and computer here: Meditations for Life 
And what else is cooking in the kitchen? Marvelous events, retreats and training you might feel inspired to join! Visit www.nicolaamadora.com

Many of us are part of this inspiring movement…One that livelove spreads incredible acts of genuine love. Do you want to join or are you already in the gang? There is so much goodness in the world and in you too, it just isn’t always noticed or appreciated. Like the folks with whom I stood at the consulate in San Francisco to help end the slaughter of whale-breachingdolphins at the Cove, or the elderly clerk who asks people ‘how are you’ and really means it, or Jamie who left a note of appreciation every day for a worn out coworker, or my friend Claire who raised funds in her little store for 11 orphans in the Congo in one week, …

 

There are so many unsung heroes and heroines who, in a small or big way, ignite our hearts and create change. But, sometimes we can get down with the state of affairs in our world, when we see the darker side of humanity and love is just a word.

motherbabyRecently, I held a sweet 11 year old girl in my arms and stroked her soft, brown hair, while she wailed like a river that had been waiting to unleash and spoke what she had held back for far too long:” I just don’t understand, why do I have to learn about wars in school? Why do I have to remember the dates even, when all this suffering in the world just doesn’t make any sense? Why do we make slaves, and some white people think they are better than black? Don’t people understand that we are all humans? Don’t people understand that the earth belongs to all of us and the animals too to share? We should have lessons in school on how to create peace and learn compassion!”

connection4Have you asked these questions too, or still do? Well. She was in the midst of it and sobbing from the bottom of her heart. What she said though arose from her innocence. An innocence, which is not naïveté’, one which lives in each of us, but we forget or bury it inside. So often we disconnect from this pearl of truth, this simple, yet profound knowing in our hearts – when we feel hurt, when we feel alone and lost in a world too confusing to understand. Something closes down. And then, of course we act in ways that do not make sense. How do I tell her this?

hugs3-copyInstead, I simply held her, letting her know that I am here with her. That’s often what we need the most, when we face suffering too great to bear alone. No smart words or concepts are needed then. After the tears had subsided, I looked into her big brown eyes and said: “I get how much it hurts. And it is nonsense what we humans sometimes do, when our hearts are shut down, and when we forget what is true and what really matters in life. It’s infuriating, because you care, hm?” “Yes!” She burst out loud. “How about we share with your teacher or the school some of your brilliant ideas? I think they gotten stuck and need a bit of help…” She perked up, laughed, and was inspired to bring forth change. Just like that.

She simply needed to be heard, seen and met. And then she could move from tears, to love, and act.

nature2One way or another, we all experience suffering. There is no three key formula to end it in one shot (sorry, the marketing frenzy has gotten out of hand, if they told you that). But, there is a way to relate with what arises in you and in the world. You can turn toward the pain, the anger-whatever shows up-to feel fully, stay present and allow yourself to open. Truth shines forth through the cracks of our hearts, and if we follow curiously this pulse of aliveness, this natural intelligence, a way emerges, leading us into greater love, compassion and peace.

Moment by moment, choose to be present, lean into love and act from here- whether you meet challenges or joys. For, connected, we know how to act in sane ways and we become a beacon of light – one that lifts and illumines even the darkest place.

mt-shasta-group-retreatI know, summer is long gone, but I still remember the retreat I guided on Mt Shasta, and how beautiful people’s faces looked at the end. Like, veils had been lifted and connection, happiness and love just was naturally here. It actually always is. And it is calling in this very moment to turn toward what is alive in your heart and live it fully, come what may. Shine that light of yours into this world, for we need you here!

May you travel with courage, ease and grace, wherever you are on this wild and beautiful journey of life. With Love, Nicola

I entered a café yesterday. Dead silence. Has something happened? I looked around, the tables were occupied by people of different ages, each starred at a computer or phone screen. Not one engaged with another. The cluttering from the barista was a relief to hear, she turned on music to fill the deadness in the room. Did I just walk into a sci-fi film? Nope. This is the modern world I was told.

I went out for the evening in San Francisco and came upon one of the oldest cafes and bookstores. Pictures of people, the smell of old books, coffee and pastries engraved in the walls, I could feel the richness of life present in those rooms. People sipped tea and actually talked with each other. A couple snuggled on a worn couch, their kisses looked delicious and wild. Two students butted heads in a heated argument, sounded like politics to me. A grey haired woman was softly playing guitar and a gentleman in style and suite wrote his screen play. Aliveness, love, creativity was flowing naturally here.

It reminds me when I was on a boat to meet my whale friends. Beneath the clear blue sky we travelled not far, suddenly two humpbacks rose from the water only a few feet away. Life, in full splendor and glory. What a magnificent sight to behold, I was in awe and moved to tears by the sheer sacredness of it all. When a school of dolphins joined and played in utter joy in the waves around us, most people’s faces lifted into smiles and cheers (best facelift ever). Connected and open we experience happiness. We are in Love.

But, when we are in a state of separation from the spirit of life, our selves and each other we suffer. We might escape into the mind, disappear from our bodies and the earth, we feel discontented or depressed, negative, isolated, anxious, lost, closed down and overwhelmed. Our relationships get tangled into complicated knots and walls are built. Misery arrives in its many disguises and deadness can spread like a silent disease. We may try not to feel any pain or joy, nor hear the beckoning of soul, and fill desperately the gaping hole with endless substitutes. Computers come in handy, but they cannot give life or real connection.

What helps us to remember who we are, and open into the source of life? What supports us to be present and really connect with each other? What enables us to meet challenges with courage and celebrate life with gusto? What allows us to respond from love with all of our human vulnerability?

There are many ways that lead us home. A kind hand from a friend, waking into the preciousness of life in the blink of an eye, feeling the soft fur of your cat or dog, listening to the wisdom of our heart, practicing acceptance toward what we experience in this moment, reaching out to resolve a conflict into understanding, a good belly laugh, sobbing buckets when sad, seeing sunlight pierce through the clouds, putting your nose into a bouquet of flowers, sharing words and deeds from love…

It is my honor to offer a hand across the bridge for you, our relationships and leaders in this world. With a twinkle and a smile,
Nicola

The train was crammed. I crouched together with the local Indian people, pigs, chickens and fleas on the floor for 2 days. There were no benches in 3rd class. I was just 18 years old, thirsty to discover what real spirituality meant, as I travelled on my own from Germany to Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India. For many years I had wanted to work with Mother Teresa in the slums. I was very impressed with this remarkable woman, who started with a penny to serve the poorest of the poor, and dedicated her whole life uncompromisingly to God and humankind.
After my arrival in the city of Joy and Hell, I walked at 4am toward the nunnery. The sun was just rising over the city. What I saw shook me. Everywhere on the sides of the streets people lay sleeping only covered with ragged loincloths, some were washing themselves in muddy rain puddles. Many were skinny to the bones. Some were severely crippled. They had nothing.
As I walked into the nunnery my heart was pounding. I went up the stairs toward the prayer chapel and met a small woman. I asked her where I could find Mother Teresa. She held out her hands and I burst into tears. With a warm smile she simply said: “Welcome. It’s me. “Her obvious love, simplicity and purity touched me deeply. For several months I worked alongside the joyous nuns and Mother Teresa. Every day we went to the slums to offer food and medicine. I saw that even though these people had nothing, they shared their little bit of rice with each other. They were there for one another and had faith. The hunger and illnesses had left marks on their faces, yet their eyes shone with an inexplicable joy. Who really is poor I wondered? We in the West with our excessive wealth, isolation from each other and loss of soul–or they? We have a different kind of poverty that may be harder to heal though, than the one in India, where basic necessities make life possible.
A little 5 year-old girl in the orphanage, where I worked offered Mother Teresa her only toy to take to the children in the slums. I could see how precious this doll was to her and yet how happy she looked to be able to offer her gift. Mother Teresa did not want people to give from their abundance, what they did not need, or a left over. What matters, she always said, is how much love is put into the giving. That is where joy is found.
When I entered the house of the dying, I felt enveloped in a real sense of peace. The sisters tended so lovingly and respectfully to the ones close to death. They felt loved, may be for the first time in their lives. It was hard for me in the beginning to wash oozing wounds and to face all this suffering. How could the sisters bear to live and serve in the midst of the worst of human suffering? What was it that made them capable to do this work daily with such apparent love, joy and dedication? I remember, whilst praying beside Mother Teresa in her small chapel, when she said to me as if answering my unspoken question: “My lover is Christ and he is in everyone. In serving the poor we love, feed, wash, and clothe him. In giving love we are loved. Treat everyone like you would treat Christ.”
There was a handwritten paper pinned on the wall of the chapel, which read: “When I was homeless you opened your doors. When I was naked you gave me your coat. When I was in prison, you came to my cell. When I was lonely, you gave me your love. Searching for kindness you held out your hand. When I was happy, you shared your joy. “Every person, often the ones closest to us, is offering a gift–a chance to love.
This humble and strong woman had changed my life. Mother Teresa is more than a Christian saint. Her life of true compassion can speak to all of us with a profound and universal message: to simply act from love every moment of our lives.

Published article in Connection Magazine (2001)

May these true stories awaken in you what is wild, free and connected with all of life. I have had many incredible encounters with wild animals, like meeting a mountain lion and cub, having an anaconda snake around my neck, communicating with a bobcat, running with wild mustang horses and others. It is possible for all of us to communicate with the wild and to live in kinship with all of life. When you are in nature, are centered, silent in the mind, present in the body, with an open loving heart, the wild will talk to you–if you are willing to truly listen.

THE ANACONDA SNAKE AROUND MY NECK

I travel on my own deep into the Amazon jungle of Ecuador. I had not planned this trip at all, but was strongly drawn to find the ingenious people of the rainforest who still live in a natural way with the earth, so I could learn from them. In the poor village the roads end, I meet a river guide and within the hour I am on my way. A small boat takes me unto the wide river and we glide for hours upon the water, further and further into the jungle. Sounds, songs I have never heard before resound from all directions. The howler monkeys are laughing and in silence I almost hear these enormous plants growing. Eyes peer through the shadows of the leaves. The jungle is intensively alive, full of wonder and unknown. My skin though is prickling alive with mosquitoes, which find my sweet blood so very tasty. Sweat is pouring down my body. I feel the strong urge to put my head and arms into the water to cool off, but my river guide waves frantically: no, no, no. I look to where he points to: crocodiles are close bye and ready for a meal. I am not going to offer my hands up, no matter how much compassion I may have.

I am lucky, the river guide and his friend invite me to their tribe in the heart of the jungle, once I shared with him about my search and purpose. We talk little, only one of them speaks broken Spanish, so myself. They teach me less through words, but through the way they live, and how they relate with each other and nature. Once we are welcomed into the tribe, I am offered to live in a tiny hut made from leaves and I sleep on the bare earth. I become part of their community, prepare the meals with the women, learn about natural medicines from plants, which and how to use them, watch the men hunting. They need the meat for survival and always offer their prayers beforehand and offer gratitude to the animal that had given it’s life. All is done in deep respect toward nature. They are strong people and know how to live in harmony with the natural environment. It certainly isn’t comfortable, but a simple and connected life. Everything is so much slower here than the speed I am used to in the busy world where I come from.

One day, knowing that I would need to return soon into ‘civilization’, the one who speaks a little Spanish, motions me to follow him. He tells me, that the tribe wants to offer me a rite of initiation through the medicine man. Ok, I say. I do not know what they really mean by that. I walk with the men beneath these mighty trees and their endless thick roots, until we reach an opening, where the sun shines through. It is so hot and wet. They ask me to stand with closed eyes and begin chanting, songs I had never known, but the sound stirs something deep in me. Heavy barefoot steps come closer. The voice of the shaman tells me that this is a moment of life and death. If I succumb to fear I could die. Then he asks me, if I was ready. Well, I shrugged my shoulders, if I died here it would be alright (I didn’t have a child then) and there is little that scares me (except big hairy spiders, which I encountered plenty, even in my bed).

I would be fine really, or so I think. Sure, I motion to him, ready for anything.

From behind, he lands an enormous weight unto my shoulders, which sinks me unto my knees. He asks me to open my eyes. Shock jolts through me, Holy mother –it’s a humongous snake. A full grown anaconda snake at that. My shaman laughs through his brownish teeth and says she hasn’t eaten, if I freak out she would certainly strangle me to death and he would not be able to unloosen her. First I think he is making a bad joke at my expense, but then I realize rather fast what he speaks is true. Her head comes toward my face and she hisses with her flicking red tongue intensely. I am terrified out of my wits. To make matters worse, with focused motion she is moving in closer and closer toward her prey- my neck. Instinctively I put my hands there to protect myself. Naïve, for that would make no difference whatsoever.

Now what do you do, when you can’t stop your fear and it will certainly lead to what you fear the most? The only thing I can remember to do is to breathe and breathe again into my belly. Then into my feet and the ground. I breathe deeper, consciously relaxing in the midst of terror seems counter intuitive, but it is the only thing that works to calm my shaken nerves. I am not too fond of snakes, especially one as close to my skin as this, but I open my heart anyway to connect with this big, long and hungry snake. Sweat is dripping from my forehead. I can’t waste time on fear, indeed, this is a matter of life and death. I keep relaxing, opening and grounding. It’s working, slowly she drops her head lower and lower. When I am calm and centered she rests her head unto my belly, her body wrapping around mine. I stroke her slithering skin with a genuine sense of friendliness, and she closes her eyes. Getting used to her presence and weight I walk with her; all the while she rests on my shoulders and belly peacefully. What an awesome power this snake carries. The Anaconda Snake and I are many hours together, our connection is strong when I return her back into the wild. The medicine man smiles and nods, apparently I have passed my initiation well. The tribe has a feast that night under the stars. Something is deeply changed in me. I am not the same person who has come into the jungle, as when I leave. A greater power has awoken in me. It moves through all of us, like the snake, it is the energy of life. The power of creation itself is not to fear. I can only surrender to that and let it live me, all the way.

MEETING A WILD BOBCAT

I walk on a path through an open and wild area on the California coast with my 11-year-old daughter. She too has a deep connection with the animals. As we stroll along hand in hand, we see the high grass in the field moving and stop in silent mutual understanding, present, watching, sensing. Who is there? What is moving between the grass blades under the bright midday sun? Whoever it is clearly comes closer toward us; soon it is so near we can see the back of a large brown furred animal. As we watch, quiet with anticipation, out of the grass and onto the trail emerges a most beautiful, gracious bobcat. I motion to my daughter to slowly sit down. I too touch the ground and wait, as the cat leisurely strolls toward us.

She approaches, looking straight at us, and only an arm’s length away, she lays down before us. She isn’t injured or ill, but healthy, strong and at ease. I’m thrilled to meet this wild creature so intimately, but hold my excitement at bay, to not scare her off. She calmly looks at us, catlike; completely relaxed and alert, she stretches out, as if for a nap. A most beautiful, unusual friendship circle has formed between us. We give her our full attention and she communicates to us; telling us how to be at ease and walk through life with natural grace.

When our communion is complete, my daughter and I silently thank and bless her. The bobcat gives us one more look, as if to say good-bye in her own way, then gets up and strolls away. We wait a few moments watching her in awe, before we leave as well. I will never forget her face, the natural grace she exuded. What a way to walk through life like that.

FACE TO FACE WITH A MOUNTAIN LIONESS AND HER CUB

Our adventure that day isn’t over. After encountering the bobcat we meet two other wild cats: A little further down the trail we see a mountain lion mother with her young cub walking toward us on the path. At first I rub my eyes, it seems otherworldly what I am seeing. As I realize that I am not dreaming, I should feel fear and turn back, but my daughter and I keep walking forward hand in hand. We cannot stop or turn away, as if a greater force is magically pulling us toward the golden lioness and her cub, who are stately walking toward us.

Suddenly, at the same moment, the four of us stop. We are woken by surprise when we realize we are facing each other only from about thirty feet away. My daughter is mesmerized; so am I. At lightening speed I check with my body senses: Is there any danger from the mountain lion? I can sense none from this proud and magnificent animal, who is standing in open sunlight with golden shimmering fur. Her lean muscles vibrate with strength, ready to pounce if must be. But she relaxes in our presence. As if in silent knowing, she is recognizing me as a mother. Both of us are leading our young. She isn’t hungry apparently (well, that would be too late now anyway). We watch and feel each other out, we all just look at one another with an open curiosity. The meeting is profoundly intense, and surprisingly relaxed.

My daughter is at ease, so I suggest that she connects and communicates with the cub. The dignified lioness and I have a “mother to mother” talk. She teaches me much in these amazing minutes, where time stands still. She shows me what living from true power really is. My daughter seems to make friends with the cub, as if this was the most normal thing to do. She does not put her experience to words, but receives in her own quiet way gifts from the cub and I think this furry young lion bundle feels my girl’s blessings too. Then our meeting has comes to a natural ending. And the bond we formed continues on in the beating of our hearts.

We bow as the great wild cats turn and slowly walk away. A magnificent sight to behold, we both will never forget.

COMMUNICATING WITH ANIMALS AND LIVING IN HARMONY WITH CREATION

The heart knows the universal language of all creation. The wild animals understand it. When you are connected to the heart of creation within and around you all wild creatures will resonate and you walk in oneness with all of life. It is like breathing air, simple and natural. We are interconnected after all. When I meet the wild animals; they seem not threatened by my presence and come often close to me. Why? I do not know. Just, that my heart is one with them and I can communicate with them. I love them. It is nothing supernatural, rather most natural for me. More like–of course, how could it not be so, since we are the same life, just different expressions?

Being in harmony with all of life isn’t complicated. It is in us. We just need to pay attention to it and live like that. The wild is dear to me. There is not much left. Can we stop the destruction now, protect instead what is so precious and learn to live in harmony with the gift and magnificence of creation? It is up to all of us.

A word of commonsense caution: If you want to get to know the wild animals better and learn to commune with them, begin with deer, birds, squirrels. Don’t go for a wild cat, bear or snake unless you are really solidly connected and have plenty of experience and skill. Listen to your own nature and theirs at a safe distance. It will open up worlds for you and benefit all beings. Enjoy!

In 1989, when Thich Nhat Hahn was not yet well known, I came to his monastery in Plum village, to learn from this Buddhist monk, Zen master and spiritual teacher, about living mindfully in every day life. I had read one of his books: “Peace with every step” which inspired me, because of its simplicity and the practical message about kindness and being present.
When I arrived at the village, at first I saw nothing but sunflowers. I had to smile and felt warmly welcomed already before I entered the sanctuary, where monks and nuns lived peacefully together. The first sign I saw said:” Smile. Breathe. You have arrived.” I slowed down in my steps, became aware of my breath and indeed that got me smiling again. The air was soft; summer in southern France is beautiful. Everything at the monastery looked simple, with a touch of sweetness and care even in the old stone buildings. The big bell outside rang. Already time for dinner? No. Odd, everybody stopped what they were doing, whether it was chopping wood, walking, talking or cooking food. All was still for moments, just consciously breathing–“Being Present. Being Peace.” The bell sounded three times and then everyone went back to their activities with mindfulness. This happened every hour. A simple practice with a profound effect. It even stopped me talking.
Already after one day of being here, I noticed that my mind slowed down, that I actually was aware of my breathing and much more present in my body, with the surroundings and the people. I saw peoples faces more clearly, heard the birds singing, could smell the different flowers…A whole world opened up for me, one that had always been there, but I had not been aware of it. All felt so much more real. It was like coming home to life, to myself. “Simply being here” became my main mantra.
I needed it especially for Sundays, when we had a lazy day. Nobody was supposed to work. Imagine that in America? It was a day for resting. Just being. Just here. Sounds easy enough. Not for me. My German work ethic got seriously in the way. People lay in the grass, watching the clouds pass bye and seemed to enjoy themselves. I got restless instead, because there was nothing to do. I wasn’t used to that. It took many Sundays before I looked forward to a lazy day and enjoyed doing nothing mindfully. Try it, if you like for a whole day.
My favorite times were the early mornings. I would always join Thich Nhat Hahn on his mindfulness walk. He would walk slowly, present with every step he was taking and smiled. It made me smile and warm just to be walking beside him. We would stop for moments to consciously breathe together and to take in all what is nourishing about life. I found there was so much and it was always simple–like a flower blossoming, the wind swaying a blade of grass, the warmth of the sun touching my face…”Breathing in–present moment, breathing out–it is a wonderful moment” is one of Thai’s main practices. Simple and profound. For the past is gone, the future has not arrived. What is really here is the present. And that is the gift. Worries had no chance to survive. People’s wrinkles smoothed out. Being fully here felt like the only true and actually the best place to be. Where are you when you are not present? I think I missed out on a lot of real life, when I was somewhere else than in the Now.
I remember how Thich Nhat Hahn related to the children, who loved to flock around him. Even a little 4 year old would walk slowly beside him, holding his hand. Children are naturally more in the present. They loved being with him, because he too was fully present with them and he brought joyousness, gentleness and kindness that called everyone to him like bees to honey. He truly saw them and was there for them. He began his dharma teachings always with a story that even small children could understand. To be honest, I loved his stories best and remembered them most. One time he taught about real love. He told the story of how a friend gave him a gift to show his appreciation. It was a Durango fruit. Thai related how he wasn’t fond of Durango’s. (When I had been in Indonesia, I was offered one and to me it tasted horrible). He spoke about the importance of looking deeply and seeing what the other person, whom we want to express our love for, really likes. And not to base it on what we like. It means to go beyond our selves and really see another. In that way we can better love others. I guess some people like Durango fruit. Just check first though!
He taught by example, less than by endless words, really embodying peace. There is no separation between enlightenment and being human in his way of living and teaching. Sometimes I have encountered a form of spirituality that cuts off from our basic humanity and thereby becomes another form of violence, which is cold and hard. His teaching embraces the whole. It touched me, when he taught about how to relate to our feelings. I had a lot of them and was particularly curious about how to be with them without getting swamped. “May I take good care of my pain, my anger…” which meant you turn toward your feelings like a kind mother or father and tend to them with friendliness and presence. You may already be feeling a sense of friendliness, when reading this. That friendliness was extended to the people who lived here, those who came to visit, the creatures and the land.
One evening we all joined at the river. An honoring ceremony was being held for those who had died and suffered in the Vietnam War. We chanted songs in Vietnamese and lit candles, which were placed into tiny woven baskets. Watching all these lights in the night, lit for many people, floating down the river, singing with the nuns and monks made the truth of our interconnectedness with all beings come alive for me. Suffering must not be swept under the rug, indulged in, or risen above, but needs to be met with compassion. In the morning and evening meditations we practiced: “Looking deeply and being present” as a basis for real compassion to flower.
Living with Thich Nhat Hahn for several months and learning closely every day from him, taught me to be present in life and it helped me to discover peace. I have used the practices in my parenting, relationships and work for many years. To this day I find them very beneficial. I am grateful for his simple teachings, which can be applied everywhere and in every moment of our lives. May it continue to benefit all beings.

There is a great river connecting us. A song is singing throughout all creation, waiting to be heard. An ancient knowing is alive in the very depth of our heart, speaking in a language that trees, birds, whales,.. children and some of us still understand.

This secret of life arises in stillness, openness, and in intimacy with all we meet. It embraces our deepest pain, our unhappiness, and delights in the joys of being human. This loving presence resides in each of us. Here love, God, truth..whatever name you use..is realized.

And how do we live, lead, relate from this sheer brilliance in our beautiful and tumultuous world? Connected, moment by moment, with presence, skill and heart. And dancing, from one act of love to the next:))

With joy, Nicola

Several years ago, on a sorrow filled Valentine’s day, when I just did not want to see a kitschy hallmark card nor the color pink, I thought of all the people who feel lonely, have no date, are left out of chocolate, treats and adoration. I had to do something. So, I made cards with simple messages like these: “You are precious and loved, even when your world is upside down”, words we all need to hear from time to time:” You are beautiful, just the way you are”. I hid those tokens of love in grocery stores among the veggies, in bookstores among the divorce/grief/self improvement books, and handed them to folks on the street. Giving them to the homeless people was the best, they received the cards with such joy, it made my heart leap.

A movement is growing, more people every year leave traces and treasures of love on the streets.

Want to join next time or right now? Don’t need to wait for Valentines Day. Pin one note on the fridge for your mate, put one under your kids pillow, sneak another one into a co-workers bag, hand it to the tired cashier or find your own places to hide these secrets most people want to see and hear. A scientific study states, that 90% of people in their work places feel not appreciated and valued. They also discovered that the number one factor for a happy marriage is: for every critism five times more appreciations is given. How would it be, if for each judgement you have about yourself you appreciated yourself several times over? Plants and animals respond to it and grow far better too.

Why? Because this simple, yet powerful practice of appreciation connects us, it reminds us of what is true, it opens our heart and allows love to fill the space.

Enjoy! With Love,
Nicola

In a place, where you lost all hope
In a time, when you have no faith
In anything or anyone anymore.
When all seems hard and dark
And you have broken down
And can’t take another step.

When you do not know
Where to turn
Or what to do,
When no one is there
And you are all alone.
When nothing helps,
And you are at the utter end.

In the hour of greatest need
A shimmer of light shines through-­
A hand reaches for you
It is love coming for you.
Even when you cannot see

I am here for you.

I come and find you
No matter where you are,
No matter what is going on
Or how far you might have fallen,
I come and lift you up
Into the greatest embrace there is:

True Love.

Poem by Nicola Amadora. Copyright: you can use it if you include my name as the author.

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