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It's curtains for me!

Posted by Simon Parke, 15 January 2018, 11.32am

You find me considering my curtains and you can join me if you wish.

They hang on either side of my window, like yours.

I can’t remember how long I’ve had them, or how many times I’ve opened and closed them.

These are not things you record in your diary, not great events.

They’re just things you do, while thinking about something else.

So what is there to say about my curtains, which isn’t entirely obvious?

Sometimes I close my curtains to allow for darkness, forgiveness, gratitude and rest.

And sometimes I open them and declare for light, strength, hope and action.

Sweet closing, sweet opening – day after day, week after week, year after year.

You probably do something much more interesting with yours…

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The cheery 'Good morning!' dilemma

Posted by Simon Parke, 15 January 2018, 10.49am

I offer you the ‘Cheery Good Morning!’ dilemma.

Here’s the game: You say a cheery ‘Good Morning!’ to your neighbour and then get on with your day.

Later, however, you discover that your neighbour had just murdered their partner when you saw them.

So how do you now feel? Do you regret your cheery ‘Good Morning!’?

With hindsight, some people might wish they’d been more circumspect with their greeting, colder…more withdrawn.

Or perhaps offered no greeting at all. 

‘They certainly didn’t deserve a cheery one!’

Such people live in a punitive universe, rather than a gracious universe; they live in a punitive universe where grace and kindness must be rationed to those who deserve it.

This is the way of the world.

But the problem with the punitive universe is this: where do I stop?

Do I offer a cheery good morning to a lazy boss? Or to an emotionally distant mother? Or to a flakey work colleague? Or to a doctor with bad breath?

Just who deserves my cheery good morning? There’s so much failure in the world that needs punishing!

There’s the ‘Monster’ category of failure for people like Hitler. Does he get a greeting? Not many takers there.

But then, what about Winston Churchill? He delivered a few marvellous, mood-shifting speeches…but made some appalling decisions in his life, and after the war, was a depressed alcoholic - in charge of the country but incapable.

Does he get a cheery good morning? Should we really be condoning such behaviour?

Drawing the line in a punitive universe is problematic…there’s so much failure to punish.

Of course, the person who most needs your cheery ‘Good morning!’ is your good self…and I use the phrase with care, because you are good.

And it’s a fine day when we leave the punitive universe and enter the gracious; starting with a cheery good morning to ourselves.

Julian of Norwich, the 14th century anchoress, inhabited a gracious universe, in an unrelentingly punitive setting.

This was her uniqueness and her genius.

‘For I saw most truly,’ she wrote, ‘where our Lord appears, peace is received and wrath has no place. For I saw no kind of wrath in God, neither briefly nor for long.’

No rationed kindness here, no cold-shoulder or averted eyes…

So we’re thinking about our cheery ‘Good morning!’...and who exactly deserves it?

We’re wondering which universe we inhabit, the punitive or gracious?

We probably inhabit both in a day, if we’re honest – both before breakfast; and this is fine, as long as we’re aware…because they’re not the same.

And our ‘Gracious Universe’ world tour – the trip of a life time! - starts with a gracious universe within…

... with a cheery good morning to your good self.

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Is Trump sane?

Posted by Simon Parke, 08 January 2018, 5.30pm

Is Trump sane?

The new book by Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury, certainly presses the issue upon us… though it’s hardly a fresh discussion.

The question: ‘How on earth did that man get elected?!’ has been asked once or twice before, with clues of dysfunction more obvious than Wally.

Wolff’s book describes a narcissist – a low-boundaried individual, open to slight, with poor concentration and the need for everything to be about him.

When asked to summarise people’s White House opinions about him, he said, ‘Most of all, they say he’s like a child.’

Though perhaps child-ish rather than child-like.

He struggles to read a page of writing, with ADHD being offered as a possibility or ‘the compounded affects of age.’

(Trump’s father, Fred, whose photograph sits behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, developed Alzheimer’s in his 80s.)

Trump has fought back describing various tremendous episodes of brilliance in his life including the tremendous making of billions of dollars and a tremendous reality TV experience.

With his CV before us, he reassured us that he is, ‘Like, really smart,’ and ‘a very stable genius.’

This has all happened before.

Some of President Ronald Reagan’s aides also privately worried their boss lacked the mental fitness to carry out his job. Some considered invoking the 25th Amendment that would relieve him of power.

Reagan was 73 when he was re-elected; Trump is 71.

Though I don’t sense the sanity issue is going to affect him unduly.

Democracies don’t vote for sane people. They vote for people who will serve their purposes.

Trump is POTUS because of the anti-immigration lobby and Evangelical Christians…not because he is sane.

‘He is the most wonderful Christian man,’ as one evangelical leader recently told us.

Whether he’s sane is irrelevant. He’s pro-Conservative religion, he’s giving them the legal backing they want - and that’s enough.

Democracies are not pro-sanity. They are pro-interest groups, pro-vested interests.

‘If a jackal gives me what I want, he has my vote ahead of the Buddha.’

Trump will reportedly have a check-up this week, but he himself will determine what is made public, so we won’t learn a great deal.

(Unless it’s tremendous, of course. Any other finding by the doctor would be ‘fake news’, the sad ramblings of a loser.)

While clearly the team around him have a vested interest in keeping the show on the road. He is both their status and their pay-check.

Standing back a little, with half an eye on politics in this country as well, the question is not whether our politicians are sane.

Like ‘love’ it’s a difficult word to define.

They are all high-functioning in their way, so there are shards of sanity in them; they know how to make their way in the world, how to coax, calculate, bluster, demonise, manipulate, cover-up, charm, deny, repress and fawn.

It’s low-grade sanity, but that is all the vested interests of democracies ask for.

The bigger question of whether these people are healthy, whether they are well human beings.

That’s more for the dinner table discussions rather than the ballot box.

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Pretty vacant

Posted by Simon Parke, 08 January 2018, 9.49am

At the beginning of the year, I feel vacant.

Unsure as to who or what I am and whether I have a voice; and if I do, what is it?

It is not depression; it is simply the existential uncertainty which arises when I put some distance between myself and the world and its noise. 

And early January does tend to bring it on.

I lose confidence in my working parts, unsure as to my role.

I sense the space inside me; but I’m unsure how it will relate to anything.

(Even writing this is a commitment, an act of voice, I feel uncomfortable about.)

I do not escape into the mental making of plans; my interest in them has dwindled to nought down the years.

And the past won’t speak with me, because it’s already gone, and doesn’t want me sitting on its back.

So there is just this moment… this present loss of footing, unlabelled emptiness; a fragility of identity.

Pretty vacant…like the dawn of time.

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Mind Body Spirit

Posted by Simon Parke, 05 January 2018, 5.23pm

The self-help industry is very busy in the New Year.

‘New Year, New You,’ tends to be the slogan, whether it’s your waist line or your psyche.

And you can find these books in the ‘mind, body, spirit’ section in bookshops.

The good news, however, is that you don’t have to buy the books.

But do remember the words: Mind, Body and Spirit… for these three energies are going to be very important for you.

Indeed, they might save you.

Your body is the do-er, the force – your energy for engaging with the world.

Your mind is the assessor, reflecting, thinking things through.

While your spirit is the adventurer, the reconciler - in search of beauty and the beyond.

Mind, body, spirit – each differently wonderful; but like the three musketeers, each needing their friends.

If we’re just body, without the other two, we become heavy, lethargic, depressed.

If we’re just mind, without the other two, we become negative, critical, restless.

If we’re just spirit, without the other two, we become flighty, flakey, disengaged.

Mind, body and spirit – they are three candles we light each morning, three energies we greet!

‘Hello, my friend mind! Hello, my friend body! Hello, my friend spirit! Let us walk together!’

And let the day unfold.

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Taking leave of Christmas

Posted by Simon Parke, 05 January 2018, 8.31am

And so to the clearing away of Christmas.

With Christmas unwrapped, it’s time to take it down.

The cards…the decorations…the tree…the sadness?

Or maybe relief.

These friends for a season, this merry festive clutter, the naff and the glorious, now returned to boxes and stashed away in loft or garage.

Or put in large black bags for the bin men… whenever they return.

(No one’s quite sure. My neighbours disagree.)

The front room de-cluttered, the fairy lights unravelled and taken down, the nativity characters packed away, (we’ve lost a cow - it could be worse).

And the fridge emptying slowly - the last of the bread sauce, hiding at the back behind the cranberry jar…dismissed.

It’s difficult letting go… though freeing as well.

I’m struck by the emptiness around me, the nothingness.

Mary pondered these things; these passing things, the comings and the goings…and I do too, in a still moment.

It’s harsh and it’s sparse…though spacious.

A home lovingly and gratefully de-cluttered…room for the new.

Receptive again, you might say.

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Information breakdown

Posted by Simon Parke, 03 January 2018, 10.21am

I am not well today.

I find myself mistaking information for knowledge; I am clearly not well in the mind.

I have spotted the symptoms of this dismal pox.

My pinball mind devouring information as though I am made wiser by this transaction, cleverer about the world.

Yet one hundred pieces of information – no, one thousand – do not add up to one piece of knowing.

They add up to a disengaged and feckless nothing.

In trying to know more, I know an endless less, becalmed in frustrating shallows, and some way from meaning.

Aggghhh!

So today, wishing to be well, I make conscious retreat from the plastic info fountains; I cease my greedy, grabby and distracted drinking.

And through the doorway of slow, (so reluctantly approached) I access a different receptivity, a higher meaning, a deeper wordless beyond.

Through the doorway of slow, (it opens more easily with practice) my pinball mind calms to attention, and I seek to know just one thing well.

One person well
Or one picture well
One story well
One object well
One feeling well

And here, like a wide and sunlit valley, is a more expansive knowing, a deeper holding, a timeless now.

Here I cry more, but I see more; and the restless dissolves sometimes into joy.

‘We are knee-deep in a river, searching for water,’ writes Kabir Helminski.

It is my relationship to information that makes me unwell.

It takes me from myself; abducts me from participative knowing and leaves me in shit land.

When I notice this, (noticing is the best medicine) I try the doorway of slow and the deep seeing beyond.

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This fatal beach

Posted by Simon Parke, 03 January 2018, 8.48am

It’s a great honour to have my latest Abbot Peter mystery as Book of the Month for the magnificent Sarum Bookshop.

The Indecent Death of a Madam - which she calls ‘the darkest of the series so far’ - is here reviewed for them by Julia Taylor.

‘Stormhaven, the least TripAdvised bit of beach in Sussex, has another corpse; and the members of the Etiquette Society, who people the list of suspects, are down by one.

One of those still alive is a retired Desert Father.

In this, the darkest of his Abbot Peter murder stories, Simon Parke appears almost, if not entirely, to disconnect his principal protagonist from whatever ties he previously had with God, who is only mentioned twice throughout the book, and then not by Peter himself.

If Peter’s monastic past and presumed vocation are in retreat, if his outline is now more uncertain than in any of the preceding books, he is not alone.

Nowhere, nothing, is what they seemed at first.

Stormhaven is no haven against the storm, rather (Parke’s readers know by now) its very denial of the storm appears to attract them: who would suspect this deed, in this place?

Indeed the town’s worst detritus, the abandoned place of refuge – the asylum - ‘became a crime scene the moment they decided to close it down …’

Parke is, in his own words, an introvert: this is not a story written purely to entertain. The subtext is polemic and the choice of site for the murder is important.

Explicitly or otherwise, most of Parke’s characters have points to make: through their fictional existence he makes his own point.

The feeling in each of them - that the world needs him or her, to put it right - has its roots in their early years, leaving variously poisoned sap in judge, editor, retired Army officer – even Peter, even Tamsin, his Detective Inspector niece.

In the past is also the root cause of the murder itself: it was called Care in the Community.

Not an easy book – none of this series is particularly easy – but if you prefer a whodunnit to have depth, to be more than a clever puzzle, this is for you.’

Do you agree or disagree with Julia’s review?

So why not write your own and send it to me or post it on Amazon?

I’d love to see it.

 

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Imagine a door

Posted by Simon Parke, 01 January 2018, 7.05am

Imagine a door.

And when you have done this, imagine yourself opening the door.

It may be that you have to unlock it first, but perhaps it just swings open.

And so you walk through.

What do you find on the other side?

Whatever it is, you will be OK.

Every New Year is a door.

It’s a door from one space to another space.

In a way, it’s no distance at all, a few short steps; you hardly notice the difference.

And you bring yourself and your baggage with you, so don’t expect huge change.

We’ll stay real.

And simply push open the door, walk through, breathe in the new air – deep breath! - and start walking.

And know that every thought, every feeling, every incident and encounter, every outcome - it’s going to be OK.

This is the gravitational pull of wisdom for you this year…returning to that knowledge.

It’s not that you won’t have difficulties.

You’ll have plenty, and be tempted to give in, give up, cry ‘What’s the point?’

But help will arrive, some way and somehow.

Through and beyond fracture and dismantlement, you will not be overcome; and all shall be well.

And notice the primrose in the wood.

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Abbot Peter: The day after Boxing Day

Posted by Simon Parke, 29 December 2017, 4.29pm

‘I had my parents to lunch,’ says Sarah, taking off her coat.

‘That’s nice,’ replies Abbot Peter, in time-honoured fashion; a script written for him by polite society. He’d asked about Christmas day.

‘No,’ she replies simply but firmly. ‘It was as festive as a murder in the woods.’

Peter laughs, grateful to be so quickly free of polite society.

‘There’s nothing like Christmas day for exposing fault-lines in relationships,’ he says.

‘My mother would say the fault-lines are all in me.’

It is the day after Boxing Day – a day still searching for a name of its own - and Sarah, at Peter’s invitation, has driven down to Stormhaven from London; having met each other at the funeral last spring.

‘Well, you must sit down and I’ll put the kettle on,’ says Peter.  It would be good to get into the kitchen for a moment. And he’d bought some short bread for the occasion.

Sarah stands by the wood burner contemplating the miracle of fire. The Christmas tree glows in the corner, and carols play. It’s ‘In the bleak midwinter,’ her favourite.

And she is glad to be by the sea today; it clears the mind, blows away cobwebs, expands horizons.

‘Did Rosemary ever come here?’ she asks, as Peter returns with shortbread and two steaming cups.

‘Er, no,’ says the abbot, slightly tight in the throat.

Sarah makes a face.

‘For two people who were very close, you weren’t very close,’ she says.

Peter doesn’t know which part of that sentence to challenge; but it’s Christmas so he challenges neither.

And maybe Sarah is still grieving. Indeed, it has crossed his mind he may be hosting nothing more nor less than a pilgrimage of grief today; a return for Sarah to the place of Rosemary’s death; that difficult first Christmas…

‘She’s such a narcissist.’

‘Rosemary?’

‘My mother. I mean, she didn’t behave too badly this time; but it’s such a rare event, you can’t relax. I’m just waiting for the barb.’

‘That’s the trouble with Christmas. The headline is all light and hope - so when someone arrives and denies us both, it somehow hurts the more.’

‘So how was your Christmas?’ She’d like to get away from her own.

‘Well, I made it to the stable in the end, which was good. It occurred yesterday, when sitting here with some coffee. I mean, I was a bit late obviously – but earlier than the magi.’

Sarah goes quiet as the wind lashes the house.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever made it to the stable,’ she says. ‘I’ve made it to carol services, but never the stable. Is that bad?’

‘Bad? Hardly. No one ever helped you there.’

And then Sarah sits back and laughs.

‘I can’t believe it!’

‘You can’t believe what?’

‘I can’t believe I’m sitting here in the home of an abbot, discussing the meaning of Christmas!’

‘An ex-abbot. The mere wreckage of a once seaworthy vessel.’

‘But still – given my past, the things I’ve done, the choices I’ve made. Who’d have imagined it?’

‘Things change,’ said Peter, getting up to throw a couple of small logs onto the fire.

‘They do, don’t they?’ She pauses a moment. ‘Do you have any port?’

‘Port?’

‘I feel this is a port moment.’

‘It is, isn’t it? I think there’s a bottle of the stuff at the back of the cupboard.’

With the bottle found, (behind a long forgotten bottle of Baileys), and two glasses filled, Sarah leans forward, beaming.

‘Happy Christmas, Peter!’

‘Happy Christmas, Sarah!’

Their glasses clink together. Port at midday. It must be Christmas…

They drink, enjoying the instant warmth in the belly. Silence. Sarah’s listening to the wind and looking at the swirling yellow-tongued flames. It’s as if everything has been leading to this; this is what she feels.

‘I just think I’ve made it to the stable,’ she says quietly. ‘On the day after Boxing Day.’

Peter’s eyebrows rise a little, but he remains silent. Speech would intrude on the hopeful silence.

And then she adds, speaking to no one in particular, and maybe mainly to herself: ‘I’m glad I came. I almost didn’t, almost rang you with an excuse.’

‘Well, coming here was entirely mad.’

‘But I’m glad I did. And as you say, things change.’

A seagull’s cry pierces the peace.

(Their first encounter can be found in the most recent Abbot Peter mystery, ‘The Indecent Death of a Madam’. Abbot Peter’s desert years, ‘Another Bloody Retreat’, will be out some time in the New year. Watch this space…)

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