MY good friend and Zen teacher, Paul Haller, flew in this week from San Francisco to deliver teachings and workshops.  He also opened our new Blackmountain Zen Centre, which is now moved from Donegall Street to Donegall Pass.

It's always a pleasure and an honour for me to spend quality time with Paul as we tour the city and he sees our forever changing city. For instance, our new transport hub over by the Boyne Bridge, and we visited his old school St Comgall's which is now a state-of-the-art conference/business centre. He was super impressed by the decor and design. Unfortunately the impressive Joe Austen wasn’t present at the time of our visit. 

It’s great to see the growth of our city through others' eyes, which unleashes within me a gratitude and a deep, deep connection. For me it’s all about connection, whether it be the new transport hub or connecting with your community, family and friends, and especially reaching out to those on what are called 'the margins'.

Paul’s theme for the Zen Centre this week was 'Instructions to the Cook' by Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen. And how lucky were we to have visit us this week none other than Belfast's favourite cook/chef Paul Rankin? 

Instructions to the Cook is all about how we cook our lives and how our lives are cooked by life and our life experiences. It’s about how we use our own ingredients – kindness, compassion, tenderness etc – for the betterment of ourselves and others, and especially our city.

For anyone who missed the memo, we just had World Poetry Week and on Friday I was honoured to be involved in the open poetry session up in the Gairdín an Phobail in Whiterock Close.

The two Pauls joined me for this emancipating experience of a poetic apothecary invented by the transformers of mental health, New Script. We listened to poems read by local actor Barney Gadd, followed by inspirational poems from local members of New Script. We learned the power of poetry and especially the power of words. When it was my time to read a poem or two, I had to echo what New Script had taught me and that was, 'If hurt people hurt people, then healed people heal people.'

Personally, speaking as a someone in recovery, I know first-hand that this is true. Communication and connection are the foundation for growth. Remembering the power of words and how they impact on us, how they affect us, but most of all how we communicate with ourselves. We need to talk too and listen to others. To be honest, if I was to listen to my head I’d be locked up; we need others to help us on our way as much as they need us. 

So let’s start cooking up new ideas and new ways of living for the better of all. Let’s create a new menu for living and invite everyone to the table.