Tuesday, 30 July 2013
I had to have two goes at it:this is because I am not prone to giving up. This stubborn adherence to the unlikely, the improbable and the hard to swallow is my one weakness. (Ho ho ho)
The 'it' to which I refer in my opening shot, is a book: " The New Earth: Create a Better Life" by spiritual teacher and winner of my Peter Pan look-alike award, Ekhart Tolle.
The first time round, I found myself, after just a few paragraphs, in 'hard to swallow' mode. I am not THAT sceptical, in fact just the opposite: it's scarily easy to lead me on and catch me out investing trust in the most outlandish propositions. I'll believe anything, and usually do.
I once gave myself a migraine ranting in full-on indignation at the television set over an EU regulation specifying the length and breadth of carrots, the piece coming complete with the presenter holding the mould into which carrot seeds were to be sowed, in order to ensure compliance. It was a hoax. it was All Fools Day, and I came top.
I'm not stupid, however, so I have to believe that intelligence and gullibility are not mutually incompatible. I like being a trusting softie, it keeps me smiling, and out of as much trouble as it gets me into.
Yes, I'm rambling. Let me take a sip of my tea and...
In the back of my mind sits 'Number 45' in my '99 Things' book. 'Write A Statement of Faith'.
I have been a Christian since the date of my baptism which was in November 1950, and as I was only six weeks old at the time, I like to think some kind of pre-bap agreement had me covered even earlier.
I believed nothing at six weeks, of course, and in the course of the following fifty years or so, I came to believe A LOT. Sometimes, I even acted on my beliefs, with a startling caveat. I never really swallowed hell. Or punishment of any kind. I nodded in the direction of it, and never wasted my breath opposing it, I just knew at a deeper level that a God who spends your whole life telling you he loves you, then throws you into a fiery pit because he caught you out doing something you didn't ought to have done, which he allowed you to do, didn't add up.
I don't know that the insights into the incomprehensible world of the Spirt that I gained from Ekhart are 'right' or 'wrong', I don't even know if 'right or wrong' works with the unknowable. I guess you just have to go with the intangible, but ever-present inner witness, that whispers a silent, 'Yes!' and warms your heart. You may not be comfortable with that concept, but you know it's there. Recognising its Presence is the beginning of awareness of your spiritual evolution that has nothing to do with hell, and everything to do with truly knowing who you are, and what your purpose is.
Ekhart writes that your purpose is to bring consciousness into the world. To walk through your day fully aware, totally present, not harking back to the past, or concerning yourself with the future. There's more, lots more, but that, I think, is enough.
Is he onto something really big? I don't know. How could I? I do know that a lot of what I believed for more than fifty years served no useful purpose whatsoever. So my Statement of Faith, when I get around to writing it, isn't going to be very long.
Saturday, 27 July 2013
Analyse yourself with ... Well, '99 Things To Do Between Here and Heaven' suggest the Myers-Briggs personality test, but I can't find a free version - so I would recommend giving the Enneagram a go.
There's the test and more, and more:
What's the point? In my experience, I found that standing back and taking a good look at myself, actually trying to find out what makes me tick, was the very beginning of a spiritual awakening. I haven't ordered my thoughts very logically, not being a Type Five, so I will present you with a jumble and let you make what you will of it.
Looking back on my pre-Enneagram days, I recognise that I was a sleep-walker, reacting to situations with varying degrees of irritation, using the superficial niceness of the ever-helpful Type Two to manipulate people and events to my own advantage. I did this unconsciously: I thought I was being good.
I'm not bothered by this particularly. Making the best of what's happening to us is what we all do. We just go about it in different ways.
The crunch came when I stopped to look, and I saw what I was doing. I was gutted. I'm not going to claim any great revolution here, I am just as capable of wheedling, self-serving, manipulative behaviours now, as I was then. The difference now, is that I am aware of them.
Awareness. Now there's a thing. Weird. I discovered within myself a different level of consciousness, - a 'new creation' in Christian terms. A Self that is both Myself and an otherness that silently, serenely, watches the game-playing child that wants to run my life. There is no judgement, no accusation, just a superabundance of knowing that comes with a continual up- welling of joy.
The game-playing still goes on, it's a true part of me, but it is losing its appeal. I'm not worried about me, but really, I do make myself laugh.
Thursday, 25 July 2013
17th August 2010. It was my turn to choose a book for the Church Book Club, and I chose, '99 Things To Do Between Here and Heaven', and Number 26 was, 'Blog'.
I am revisiting the Book right now, between writing paragraphs here, and wondering which of the 99 still undone, I might attempt. How about, Number 13, ' Bury A Time Capsule'? I would forget where it was. My colleague at Pauntley School, Liz Petley, buried one with the Reception Class, all of whom have now graduated from University and started families. When the kids, in the year 2000, came to dig it up, they couldn't find it. The school garden was peppered with holes. Looked like an invasion of ground hogs. I remember too, when the Blue Peter team dug up THEIR time capsule. They didn't forget where it was. Oh No! They had simply neglected to take the variations in the water table into account. It was hilarious watching Val and Shep trying to make a jolly item out of a soggy mess. I confess, I smirked out loud.
Besides, my 'office' is like a time capsule without the necessity of taking a spade to it. I pounce on long-forgotten items, hidden away, with squeals of delight. Most satisfying, though perhaps a little accusatory, the collections of things I needed for all those hobbies I didn't persist with. A Chinese calligraphy set, with How To Book, brushes in beautiful silk covered boxes, and ink sticks embossed with dragons. All far too lovely to actually USE. A basket full of fabrics, designs, and cut-out letters for banners I am never going to make. Dress patterns and sundries, including a sewing machine, not touched for years... Books of bracing walks and gentle strolls - unopened. Unwalked.
Stop laughing! You're just as bad.
There are things I am passionate about stashed away too. Field guides of the flowers I hunt in the countries I visit: The Jura and Julian Alps, The Troodos, Carpathian and Cascade Mountains, The Drakensburgs and Table Mountain. Each bloom faithfully recorded: each one a tangible memory of where I was, and who was with me, and what we were doing at the time... .
So no, no time capsule then.
I am giving serious consideration to Number 43, 'Plant a Tree'.
My garden is a haven for wildlife. Partly. My part. Flowers, grasses, and taller items of greenery sit about in a higgedly -piggedly fashion between fiercely manicured patches of lawn. I wouldn't cut it. I want to live in a meadow. Responsible for the practicalities that seem to be essential for running a household, my husband grits his teeth and tolerates my wilderness plots, whilst taking it out on the bits of landscape I reluctantly spare to common sense.
We survive the tension, we live with the compromise. And then something dreadful happens. Before I left for Redmond, he discussed painting the shed. Yes, it needed painting. I didn't see a problem.
Until I returned from my vacation to realise the loss of a magnificent pink buddlheia bush, that even now, should be providing sustenance for a flotilla of butterflies and random other far less interesting insects. My reaction will not go on record. It was not pretty. I became Mrs Basil Fawlty. Ray, who is an astute man, stayed out of range until I calmed down. Which was DAYS later. Wisely, he told me as a 'by the way' when I was still abroad, knowing I couldn't actually kill him at a distance of eight thousand miles.
Not a woman to be messed with. He knows this.
So yes, the pink buddlheia will be replaced, planted in a spot where it is least likely to be mown down.
I am taken with Number 45. ' Write a Statement of Faith'
I shall have to think about that one.
Wednesday, 24 July 2013
I am reading, slowly, The Immortal Diamond by Father Richard Rohr, my teacher, who has played a guest role here in the past. Richard knows, as I do, that I, like you, am both good and bad, light and shadow, blessing and curse. I just am. We just are. The sooner we allow this, as God does ( yes, really) without judgement or condemnation, we lose the impulse to judge and condemn others, and the world becomes, in that moment, a tangibly better place.
There are two passages that impressed themselves on me today, tonight, indeed, and I want to record them here, for you, perhaps, but for me, certainly, to mark the instant when a penny dropped:
The Spacious Soul ( p23)
There is something in you that is not touched by coming and going, by up and down, by for or against, by the raucous terms of totally right and totally wrong. There is part of you that is patient with both goodness and evil to allow them to gradually show themselves, exactly as God does. There is part of you that does not rush to judgement. Rather it stands vigilant and patient in the tragic gap that almost every moment offers. It is a riverbed of mercy. It is vast, silent, resourceful, and it receives and also lets go of all the comings and goings. It is awareness itself ( as opposed to judgement itself) and awareness is not as such "thinking". It refuses to be pulled into the emotional and mental tugs of war that most of life is - before it is over and gone. To look out from this untouchable silence is what we mean by contemplation. ... This is your soul. It is God -in-you. This is your True Self.
The Song Of True Self (p56)
Within us there is an inner, natural dignity ( You often see it in older folks)
An inner worthiness that already knows and enjoys ( You see it in children)
It is an immortal diamond waiting to be mined and is never discovered undesired.
It is a reverence humming within you that must be honoured.
Call it the soul, the unconscious deep, consciousness, or the Indwelling Holy Spirit.
Call it nothing.
It does not need the right name or right religion to show itself.
It does not even need to be understood. It is usually wordless.
It just is, and shows itself best when we are silent, or in love, or both.
I will call it the True Self.
It is God-In-All-Things yet not circumscribed by one thing.
It is enjoyed only when each part is in union with other parts, because only then does it stand in the full truth.
Once in a while, this True Self becomes radiant and highly visible in one lovely place or person.
Superbly so, and for all to see, in the body of the Risen Christ.
Once you have encountered this True Self - and once is more than enough - the False Self (ego) will fall away on its own.
This will take most of your life, however, just as it did in Jesus.
Those of you who know me, will have listened to me going on and on about the saga of Bob's Bed.
I have been trying for months to help Bob get the money from a charity for a new bed. Between us, we failed to get the papers filled in correctly, we missed each other at the Mission, we took the forms to the wrong place. It was a nightmare.
Last Monday, not yesterday, Bob turned up at the Salvation Army for lunch. He was agitated and angry. He was in pain. ( He suffered with Huntington's disease) he shouted at me.
"I want painkillers! You're not listening to me!"
"Sorry Bob, I can't help. " and I couldn't. I brought him his tea and fetched a second dinner when his first was cleared away in error. I was impatient with him, but I let it pass. I just did. But I wasn't sorry when he left, after petulantly throwing the bread he didn't want back at me.
Yesterday Bob died of an overdose. I'm told he killed himself. Perhaps he did.
Right now, I don't feel anything except relief that Bob doesn't have to suffer the horrors of death by Huntingdon's disease.
Bob isn't defined by his disease, or his petulance. I am glad that within him there is an immortal diamond, and that he knows it now.
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord
Let perpetual light shine upon him
May he rest in Peace
Sunday, 21 July 2013
I spent a magical afternoon yesterday with a significant proportion of my family, enjoying myself.
There was food, wine, Harry Potter, putting the world to rights, ('The government has no money, mum', 'Oh, OK, we'll let them all starve then, shall we?'), The Ashes, (Cricket match against Australia, Darlene. You know, five days long, with breaks for tea. We're winning.) and there was play.
LOTS of it. Hide-and -seek in a garden with only two places to hide, provided a bit of a challenge, but I'm a seasoned grandmother, and I rose to it. Rosie and I conspired together not to see one another, and Abigail did the counting.
A few days ago, I was rooting about in my 'office' when I came across this:
I've had it for more than thirty years. For thirteen years, it was posted in a prominent place in my school, and it was the most significant document in my possession. 'This is how we do it here.' It said, and we meant it.
That was then, and this is now. I glanced down the list, and it dawned on me that this stuff isn't just for kids! I think that grown-ups could transform their relationships, or form new and exciting ones, by taking a few of these on board:
27. Invite them over for juice.
28. Suggest better behaviours when they act out (Well, perhaps not THIS one... .)
30. Hide surprises for them to find.
44. Tell them how terrific they are.
45. Create a tradition together and keep it.
50. Find a common interest.
51. Hold hands during a walk.
58. Point out what you like about them.
96. Delight in their uniqueness.
120. Write a chalk message on their sidewalk. (A personal favourite... .)
124. Encourage them to help others.
147. Be spontaneous.
150. LOVE THEM NO MATTER WHAT.
The point I'm trying to make, is: When did you stop having fun? Good, serious, bare feet in the park, giggling in the sea, FUN.
I rarely boast of my achievements, but here's one I'm proud of.
I never have. Stopped. You know it.
Saturday, 20 July 2013
I was idling through Twitter yesterday, when I came across this link:
Oh, no! I thought, here we go again, more lust-driven twaddle about how to be better in bed. I don't need this, I am as good in bed as I want to be, thank you.
Already, in my first pronouncement, my bias is evident. I read all I can about the plight of women, (and I'm not retreating from my views as expressed earlier this year in, 'Ain't I A Woman.' ) but I have NEVER seriously made room in my thinking for the worldview of men. Never, not once, in sixty-two years.
'Maybe I should read this, maybe I will.' I thought, and I did.
I can't speak for other women, but I have, usually unthinkingly, treated men rather badly. I have contributed, sometimes, not always, to the anxiety, quiet rage, and feelings of powerlessness that were so eloquently described in that blog. I haven't, at the very least attempted to understand the true nature of gender differences.
For the future? At least I know a little more about the masculine ego and it's drivers - as described by a MAN. I can TRY to proceed with a little more caution and a lot more understanding.
Wednesday, 17 July 2013
I have invented - I think, though I haven't read much of Thomas Aquinas, and he may have got there first - the doctrine of Pre-Atonement.
What happens is this, you build up a store of good deeds, which you then draw upon,when the necessity arises, to cancel out those occasions when you temporarily forget yourself and do something naughty. I have appointed St Peter to keep the ledger, as I hear he has just been debarred from any further involvement with The Vatican Bank, and therefore, he has time on his hands.
Naturally, as I lead a blameless life, there is no occasion to test out the Pre-Atonement thesis. But then, I'm a Catholic and you can fall foul of God without even knowing it when you're a Catholic, so having a back-up plan is a good idea.
I am getting around to telling you all about the Parochial Pastoral Council meeting that I attend, and take the minutes for, which happened last evening, and at which I pre-atoned for a barrel full of very juicy sins indeed.
I have been taking lessons in 'Mindfulness', which means, for the uninitiated, that you concentrate on staying awake. Now any Parochial Pastoral Council provides an ideal training ground, and that after a dozen of ours, I reckon I qualify as a Zen master. Give me the paper. Let me take the test. I'll ace it.
My biggest obstacle is that I know what I'm doing. I can do meetings, strategic planning, project management, evaluation schedules ... . Such outrageous over-qualification automatically disbarred me from any active role in the running of the parish. So I take the minutes and gaze with blissful awareness in the direction of whomsoever is warbling on about the colour of weatherboarding, and I smile.
We made a decision. Don't run away with the idea that we didn't achieve anything. We chose which charities we're going to support. I was the only person to put her hand up for 'Mindsong' a charity that goes into care homes and sings to people with dementia.
'You must know something about this one!' The chair is grasping at straws. Having the people present to represent the charity they nominated, smacks too much of organisation.
'Not a thing!' I beam, mindfully, 'But I want someone to come and sing to me when I've got dementia!' Oh, don't laugh, I was being serious.
Do you want to know any more? I doubt it. So you can stop now. However:
Ida Underwood burbles on, pathologically incapable of sticking to the point, or even of making one. She skits from thought to thought with no evident connecting consciousness. She epitomises mystery.
And on, and on. I'm still mindful, still awake, still smiling.
A mild flutter over commemorating the Centenary of The First World War. ( We who follow the Prince of Peace need to be careful about this one.)
No decision made on the weatherboarding.
And a huge moan about how we never get anything done.
Oh! God! Help me.
Saturday, 13 July 2013
I snitched a document from that great storehouse of wisdom in the sky, that plagiarists paradise, the World Wide Web, and it was called, ' Fifty-One Types Of Poetry'.
I like lists. They appeal to the left hemisphere of my brain, which I indulge from time to time lest it's logical-mathematical qualities wither on the mind from criminal neglect.
So, from the top:
"ABC: A poem that has five lines that creates a mood, picture, or feeling. Lines 1 through 4 are made up of words, phrases or clauses and the first word of each line is in alphabetical order. Line 5 is one sentence long and begins with any letter... "
I loved this photograph. It succeeds in two ways: perfectly reveals a moment, as a camera doesn't lie, and it perfectly conceals a great and wonderful story. As all our stories are - even the sad ones.
As poetry is an evolving art ( my excuse) here are SIX lines... .
Thursday, 11 July 2013
Here am I, in the Sinai desert, with my dance troupe, at dawn, performing to the music of oud and drums. It is my fifty-first birthday. As I recall the magic of this day, I am reminded of my strength and my resilience and am full of laughter. I hope this comes through in the writing.
A Work of Heart
To write this poem,
I planted my feet,
Strong, bare feet,
Firmly, in the sand.
I raised my arms, then,
Dropped them, as I was taught,
To my shoulders.
Aligning my palms to the strengthening sun,
Alert, for the words
To drift, or bounce or slide
With the music.
I lifted my head and
For the deluge.
Quietly at first...
Trilling over my fingertips
Snaking down my arms
Shivering across my shoulders
Thrumming through my breast
Shimmying with my hips
Clapping with my hands
Stamping with my feet -
The poem came!
Tuesday, 9 July 2013
Kevin is an accidental nephew. He joined the family in May 2012, when my Jamaican sister-in- law fetched him to England to be with her, to complete his education, to have more and better opportunities... . I cannot say, , we never discussed the matter.
Sylvia was desperately ill, even then, last May, and in September she died.
So Kevin, recently reunited with a mother, who in all honesty, he hardly knew, found and lost her in less than six months.
One small tragedy perhaps, when the totality of human suffering is taken into account, but one that is having a profound effect on the life of this orphaned boy, and everyone around him.
My brother does his best. And he does well; he is patient, and kind - but he is fifty-seven years old, and has never been a father before. He too, is grieving, and the anger, resentment and pain of a twelve year-old boy is a huge load to carry.
Kevin loves school. He is bright, questioning and keen to do well, but he just isn't coping. Neither is the school. Nor is Mervyn.
So today's challenge is to go for that very difficult interview with The Head Of Year at Kevin's school, that will, in all probability, end in Kevin's permanent exclusion.
Added to the constant interrupting, the petty larceny, the occasional fight, Kevin has sworn at a teacher. (At least he didn't hit him. Kevin says the teacher called him 'a plonker' . Perhaps he did. Some teachers might,)
I don't know what I shall say, other than to repeat what I said the first time Mervyn and I were called in:
'There are five well- meaning adults in this room. Surely, between us, we can rescue one little boy?'
I had hopes then. Now, I'm not so sure.
Monday, 8 July 2013
God knows how. It's a mystery.
I expect you think I'm being metaphorical on the pendulum question. Poets have the write. But no. This post is not a plea for politicians to behave themselves, or family values to go this way, or that. It's about a remarkable timepiece.
Three years ago I bought a rather kitschy clock in Aberystwyth. It's a glass-fronted pretty little thing with flowers and songbirds etched around its face. I gave it to Kate as a house-warming present, but somehow in her going from here to there, and back again, the clock, still boxed, ended up in the spare room with a rich collection of my daughters' left overs.
Well, I like it. So I deboxed it, and hung it on the wall in my bedroom.
It's a stupid clock in some ways. It has birds and flowers, but no numerals, so timing is never quite exact, and the pendulum is purely decorative. Or has been. For three years the pendulum has hung stubbornly and uselessly down. In the beginning, I tapped, pulled, adjusted, swore, tinkered and, in desperation, bashed, but to no avail. The pendulum moved not a twitch. I gave up.
This is hard for me. I don't usually give up, and, believe me, this is not always a good thing. Eventually I allowed the pendulum BE a metaphor:
There are some fights you can't win.
Some things you just can't fix.
There's room in my life for the purely decorative
I reconciled myself to a clock with a pendulum that wasn't going to work.
Then a window opened, the sun shone in, and the pendulum began to swing.
Early morning sunshine struck the silver disc and reflected a shiny penny of light, which oscillated gently, left-right, left-right, on the wall over there > >>>. It was this movement that first caught my eye. It took me less than a second to look up that way < <<< to discover the clock proudly presenting me with a fully functioning pendulum. Left-right, left- right. Tick-tock, tick-tick.
That was twenty minutes ago. It's still going. I am thinking perhaps the slight breeze coming in through the open window is the cause. I don't know, I'm afraid to touch it in case it stops. Instead, I shall revisit my metaphors:
Never write anything off.
Sometimes broken things fix themselves.
There's still room in my life for the purely decorative.
Time to get up.
Oh! By the way, Kate - if you read this - you're not getting your clock back.