Welcome to final instalment of the Lily Pad Sutra, exploring my many years cultivating meditation practice alongside location-independence — a combination I call lily padding. True to my Mettamorphosis pen name, this column will metta-morphose into a new format in January. Before welcoming 2019, however, I wanted to satisfy the curiosity of regular readers about what happened after September’s cliff hanger — Diving (Back) Into the Pool of Life— describing cultivating equanimity with no change for a change.
For anyone who hasn’t read it, at the start of 2018 I decided to rent a flat in Liverpool after seven years of location-independence. By August, my landlord asked me to vacate as soon as possible due to a surveyor finding serious subsidence in the building’s basement. In other words, yet another reality was dissolving quite literally beneath my very feet.
I sat with this totally unexpected new development: was it a nudge to return to housesitting? Or perhaps move somewhere else? There’s nothing like an imminent deadline to find myself end-gaming with the Dharma. My heart knows better, but sometimes my mind still wants answers . . .preferably yesterday!
To satisfy both my head and heart, I reverted to trusting the hot-hot cold-cold intuitive approach that had served me so well while lily padding, and answered any ad for flats to rent that felt “warm”.
Not a single one I reached out to was available.
I then contacted every rental agency in the city, only to be told to call back in October after they’d accommodated the imminent influx of university students . Some of the agents without scruples heard my non-local accent and, banking on my ignorance of the city, offered me vacant flats . . .in the red-light district.
When one agency did offer me a realistic viewing, I arrived on site only to discover the agent had forgotten the key. By that stage, all I could do is laugh. As we both stared helplessly at the locked door, I asked whether they might be able to describe the interior to me from memory. They sheepishly confessed they’d never been inside either.
Clearly the Dharma had other plans, so I continued to sit with not-knowing and tread very lightly on my current ground floor flat’s floor.
A local co-worker at the pet-friendly hotel I was temping at, at the time, noticed I was down, and asked what was up. I told her my dilemma and shared some of my funnier attempts to find somewhere new to live. This woman, whom all the other staff feared for her high standards and sharp remarks, listened patiently and simply said when I’d finished venting: “Get yourself a corpy house.”
Not at all the response I was expecting, especially as I didn’t even know what “corpy” was. When I laughingly asked her what on Earth she meant, it was her turn to laugh and explain that corpy was short corporation — she was referring to social housing. She went on to describe raising two children as a single mother when her landlord doubled the rent overnight without warning. There was no way she could continue living there, and was saved by something called the “available now” list.
All the housing associations in Liverpool “pool” a weekly list of their vacant properties in need of immediate filling. Within three weeks of having the rug pulled out from under her family, she was able to move somewhere safe and affordable.
The terms “now” and “pool” got immediate inner hot-hot nudges so, in the absence of any other options, I signed up and waited for the following Tuesday’s available now list to appear. I had no immediate luck, but a helpful housing officer told me to try again the following week.
I sat with the not-knowing, and remembered a funny compliment I received many years ago when I was learning to drive. My driving instructor turned to me one day and commented: “It’s so strange, you’re the only student I’ve ever had who drives better when they don’t know where they’re going. For most people, the opposite is true.” I shared his observation with my best friend (herself a brilliant driver), and she exclaimed: “That’s SO true! What people never seem to get about you is that being out of your comfort zone isyour comfort zone.” I would add that neither is true of just me, but perhaps of anyone who cultivates allowing the Dharma take hold of the steering wheel.
A week later, I was offered not the studio or the one-bedroom flat I was looking for, but a two-bedroom house with a garden . . . three streets away from the cat who’d originally brought me to Liverpool (described in Sowing the Seeds of Metta to Dissolve Fears of the Unknown) and the swimming pool I conducted my first mettaexperiment (described in Embodying the Bodhi Tree)! After a month of all manner of weird and wonderful dead ends, it felt confusing to walk into a completely new and empty space and have my heart feel an immediate yes. And for any fans of the poet TS Eliot, my mind immediately reminded me of Little Gidding’s most famous paradoxical lines:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
And so, a new chapter of lily padding I never could have predicted begins: the housing association is called Onward (creating positive spaces) and “owns” some 35,000 properties. Our rent is re-invested in maintaining them and supports community schemes rather than a housing market. A “just right” next step for the Dharma’s Goldilocks who’s tried on some fifty different living arrangements since 2010, determined to bloom wherever the Dharma happened to plant her.
There are many famous anecdotes about how Zen meditation influenced Steve Jobs’ life and designs. My favourite, however, is a more humble one: apparently, he and his wife discussed the “theory” of a sofa for some eight years before actually deciding on one. In turn, I’d like to thank all loyal Lily Pad Sutra readers who’ve enjoyed my own eight years exploring the notion of inner and outer “home”.And, to metta-morphose Saint Francis de Sales’s famous advice to bloom where we are planted: May all beings bloom where the Dharma Plants us.