February 28, 2011
I am unwell, but not in a 'feel sorry for me' way.
I just have illness passing through, and its spring when it relents.
Lowering myself slowly into the hot bath and feeling my chill bones embraced. Does it get better than this?
And though the coughing is painful and sore, when it ceases to push at my guts, its a sort of heaven.
I feel my heart about to stop as I lie in the bath - is this too hot? Unwise? But then it carries on, picks up, like it has more miles to travel,which is somehow incredibly gracious.
I'm writing this while I have the strength. I didn't half an hour ago, but maybe the medicine is helping.
Its grey outside, but there's alot of heaven here. I begin to sweat when just now I shivered.
Important things must be passing through, but I haven't a clue what.
I have nothing to offer, which is perhaps the greatest freedom of all.
Just everything to receive.
I'm hoping no one rings. Answering the phone is such an energetic activity. Last week I was running miles and miles over the white cliffs around Brighton - last week, but forty years ago now.
In the meantime, I have my eyes on some strong coffee and chocolate. I felt sick a while back but that feeling has gone.
I worked from home on The Day today, sending in my piece on the difficult lot of gay sportsmen. My body just survived long enough to complete all of that, and then like a wild horse, had to have its reactive way for a while.
But as I say, coffee now. I'll boil the kettle, pour it and shuffle back to my seat with some snickers bar - hunter gatherer, aged 90.
February 25, 2011
A rather bookish sort of blog
It's World Book Day next Thursday, and I'll be visiting a Sutton Valence school to talk about...well, books I suppose.
So in preparation, I was just looking at the best selling books of all time, and was surprised by what I found. Taking the Bible and the Koran out of the equation, the top 3 were, in reverse order 3) The Hobbit - Tolkien; 2) Lord of the Rings, Tolkein and at a prose-perfect No.1, A Tale of Two Cities - Dickens.
The Tolkeins have sold around 83 million and the Dickens, 85 million. I confess I've read none of them, but always remember the famous first line of Dickens' book: 'It was the best of times, and the worst of times...'
Its one of those lines that survives because its always true; the sawdust and the glitter are ever with us.
Of the more modern books, 'Charlotte's Web' is still just ahead of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' - 45 million sales against 43.
Meanwhile at the 30 million mark, 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' has finally caught up with 'The Very hungry Caterpillar'. And they're leaving behind 'The Wind in the Willows' whose wonderful sales of 25 million is now struggling to keep up.
In the best selling book series category, however, Potter is king with over 400 million sales overall. CS Lewis' 'Narnia' series can boast 120 million, trumping James Bond's 100 million, which is also the figure for the 'Twilight' series. I suspect that might out pace its rivals over the next ten years, but who knows?
Of course, sales are one thing, influence is another. The top hundred most influential books would be a very different selection probably; but also impossible to judge. The Bible has probably been more influential in world history than say 'The Hungry Caterpillar'. But who wins out of Plato or Karl Marx? Freud or Darwin?
But that's enough of lists and impossible questions. Instead, we pause now to give thanks for all the good books we've read down the years - think of them! Those which have entertained us and those which have shone new light in dark corners; those which have gripped us and those which have warmed our cold, softened our hard or dismissed our pain with wonder.
Your favourites may not be famous...or even particularly good. But they were good for you. They just met you at the right time, and gave you a much-needed and very particular hug.
For myself, I'm an achingly grateful fan of 'Lost Christianity' by Jacob Needleman and 'The Secret Pilgrim' by John Le Carre.
And then today, just before I sat down to write this, someone asked me what were my favourites of the books I've written. Ooh, it's a hard one!
But if my arm is twisted - all right, all right, I'll tell you! - I'd probably name four - no, five! Van Gogh and Jesus in the 'Conversations' series; The Beautiful Life, now 'The Journey Home'; 'Shelf Life' and 'Another Bloody retreat'.
By and large those aren't my best sellers...its just how I feel.
February 24, 2011
If only life was that simple.
Yesterday I recieved a very interesting offer from a two year old, she was perched on the toilet and I was standing in the bathroom waiting for her,
'You can come to my house'
Me~ 'that would me nice'
'You can come in the car with Mummy, Daddy and Daisy'
'You can hold Mummy, Daddy and Daisy's hands'
Me~ holding out my hands 'have I got enough hands'
She looks at me as if I'm a bit simple and nods 'yes, you have'
'You can come to my house and sleep in Mummy and Daddy's bed'
Me~ 'Where will Mummy and Daddy sleep?'
'You, Mummy, Daddy and Daisy will sleep in Mummy and Daddy's bed'
Me~ 'Is it a big bed?'
She gives me a big enthusiastic nod 'Yes, it's a very big bed'
If only life was that simple.
February 19, 2011
A longing granted
Like St Paul of Tarsus, Thomas a Kempis was a patchy writer, manic depressive, moving from wonderful highs of exhilarating glory and insight to dull and turgid lows of judgemental spite.
But when he got it right, he got it very right, as he did when he said: 'God often grants in one brief moment that which he has for a long time denied.'
I'll be thinking of this truth on Monday 21st, when my daughter will finally acquire something she has spoken about, longed for and laughed over for years - and its all so exciting its probably illegal.
I hope its that it's that sort of a Monday for you...or maybe that sort of a Tuesday...or maybe its that sort of Saturday today! Oh my goodness, really?!
And as the longing dies, the adventure is born.
February 17, 2011
Because life is change
This time last week I made an entry in my journal, saying how blessed I felt by the wonderful people I have in my life and the beautiful experiences I have recently been granted.
Ahh I hear you saying, dangerous to say how good life is, as something will always come along to knock you down.
And of course you are right, because life is change and this week due to restructuring in my work place, my job title has been deleted and I now have to apply for one of the new roles. This is the second time in four years I have been in this position and it is far from pleasant.
People who I have worked with for years are suddenly verbally attacking each other, as they feel their own security ebb away, people suddenly do not care who they put down as long as they stay up.
It is not kind, it is not friendly and it is certainly not peaceful.
I came home from work yesterday feeling very hurt as some of the remarks made had felt like daggers in my back.
Indeed we all can behave very strangly when we feel threatened, so I tried very hard not to allow some of the remarks to take hold, but before I could let go of them I had to acknowledge that they had been quite personal and had caused me pain.
Having done this I was able to start to let them go, I was able to think back with a smile on my journal entry, because all the things I felt blessed about, are still very much in my life, and for a brief moment I had forgotten this as I allowed my new situation to overwhelm all others.
I don't know what will happen with my job but I will trust the path I walk, because whatever happens I know I am held in big arms.
Today at work I was able to talk with one of my colleagues who herself is feeling very insecure, I was able to listen to her pain and speak my own, I was able to forgive and tonight as I arrive home I hear the words 'All shall be well' and I believe that whatever happens they shall be.
February 16, 2011
A gradual light
They do say the light of awareness dawns slowly.
There was the new Christian who wrote to the Inland Revenue:
'I just can't sleep at night, so I'm enclosing £100 which I forgot to declare.'
He then added a P.S.
'If I still can't sleep, I'll send you the rest.'
February 14, 2011
Valentine's Day - a massacre
This was a piece I wrote that appeared today in 'The Day', an online paper for secondary schools and colleges.
I can't often say my blogs are topical but, hey! Give me a break - this one is. Just.
Anyway, here it is.
BE MY VALENTINE! MAYBE, BUT WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
Retailers love Valentine's Day. It's the first big business opportunity since Christmas, and the chance to shift huge quantities of chocolates, flowers, cards and underwear.
Some supermarkets even sell 'Valentine's Day tuna sandwiches.'
But amid the 'Kerching!' of the tills - and they can be heard worldwide for this is now a truly global festival - the question becomes ever more pressing: what's it all about?
It's not about St Valentine, the man who gives his name to the day. He was a 2nd century Christian who was executed by Emperor Claudius II, with no hint of romance in his life.
Indeed, it was not until the late Middle Ages that the day was first linked with romance in England. Geoffrey Chaucer, the writer most famous for 'The Canterbury Tales', wrote: 'for this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh to choose his mate.'
The day was becoming associated with the idea of courtly love.
Shakespeare has Ophelia speak of Valentine's Day in Hamlet, while in 1797, a British publisher produced The Young Man's Valentine Writer, full of pre-written verses of a sentimental nature for the young lover unable to compose his own.
Valentine's Day is supposedly all about love. But surprisingly, some say it has little to do with it. 'Love has too many meanings for this narrowest of days,' said one commentator.
It's certainly true that we love in different ways, and we could name eight here. There's Affectionate love, for instance, towards familiar figures in our life, perhaps family; or Friendship love, based on companionship and shared values.
Then there's Romantic love, rooted in emotional connection, and Sexual love, stirred by physical beauty and desire.
Pragmatic love is more unemotional. It has a list of things it wants, and seeks a partner who'll provide them, while Obsessive love is an unhealthy preoccupation with one person.
Game love has no desire for intimacy; the fun is in the conquest, while Charitable love is love which gives selflessly to another, seeking nothing in return.
DON'T BE SO CUPID!
Though a few governments repress it as a culturally contaminating western tradition, almost every culture celebrates Valentine's Day in one way or another.
In Saudi Arabia the Religious police frequently ban anything red in shops on this day; but then again, in Pakistan, red roses are very popular, and flower sales go through the roof in Egypt as well.
Some think it's a strengthening day for relationships or at least a harmless piece of romantic fun.
Others say that by focusing on romance, it distracts us from the deeper truth of what love is.
'Love is the flower you've got to let grow,' said John Lennon. But is Valentine's Day helping?
February 11, 2011
The scientist and the acorn
And you find me this morning beneath a rather grey sky, listening to some piano music, and contemplating the story of the scientist and the acorn.
The scientist discovers the acorn but doesn't know what it is. And then he sees it crack open and die, which of course is a terrible pity.
'How can I improve this acorn?' he ponders. 'How can I give it longer life?'
He gets to work and with chemical analysis of the material inside the acorn is finally able to isolate the substance that controls the condition of the cell. Eureka!
And now, lo and behold, he's able to produce an acorn which lasts longer; an acorn that never cracks.
A sad story of course, because through the crack in the acorn is the oak tree.
And through our cracks, so vigorously sealed, a small voice unheard and unheeded.
The small child we abandoned in order to become pretend adults...
February 09, 2011
On being in it together
It was a wonderful question.
The Chancellor George Osborne was being interviewed. He's the one, referring to the financial crisis, who said 'We're all in this together'.
Aware that Mr Osborne is reckoned to have personal assets of around £4.5 million, the interviewer said:
'So what are you personally cutting back on at the moment, Chancellor? At home, I mean.'
George froze for a moment - it was of course a ridiculous idea - and then spluttered into 'bluster' mode, saying we shouldn't personalise it etc etc and the moment passed.
But it reminded me of that classic pledge from the strong to the weak:
'We are with you. We are with you for as long as the mountains stand; for as long as the sea meets the shore, the sun rises in the East and the stars shine! Or until next Tuesday, whichever comes the sooner...'
We are in this together; but some are more in it than others.
February 08, 2011
Now there's a wonderful thing! Two of our more regular bloggers - Marzena and Shelliz - have birthdays on consecutive days.
As we read below, Marzena celebrated yesterday, and Shelliz celebrates today. Happy Birthday to you both!
And perhaps as the years pass, there is a sadness to each birthday, a letting go of something. I always think of Robert Frost's poem 'Reluctance', which records a winter walk, and leaves 'huddled and still no longer blown hither and thither.'
And his final verse:
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
But like a ship leaving the harbour - free from the ropes that bound and tied, and now heading out to sea - there is also the adventure of a birthday as Marzena reminds us. An adventure into the mystery.
Many moons ago I wrote a poem which I then put to music. I can't offer you the music here - and for that you should be grateful - but I can offer you the words.
So to Marzena, Shelliz and all February babies:
Sweet mystery who loves my jagged edges
Sweet mystery who hugs my broken glass
Sweet hope holds close my shattered pieces
Sweet mystery beyond my human grasp.
Sweet mystery so close amid my crying
Sweet mystery who hears my asking soul
Sweet hope which like my heart keeps quietly beating
Sweet mystery, sore wounded, wounds enfold.
Sweet mystery, I've chased you to exhaustion
Sweet mystery I've sought to pin you down
Sweet hope you've been evasive to my searchings
Now sweet mystery, I'm waiting to be found.
February 07, 2011
My half century
I have printed out and put on my kitchen wall Simon's top ten (from recent blog). It looks good and reminds me now and then what's what, to put it so inarticulately..
Today is my 50th birthday. The sands of life are running out, but there are still some grains left ( one hopes), and verily - what's not to like? It is great being fifty! I shall not attempt here to list all the ways in which life gets better as we get older (although true, going on about the subject can be boring, and people think: "who are you trying to convince", so I won't), but one truth staring into my face so blatantly today- and smiling - is this: The adventure is never over!
Someone has said that "happiness writes white", meaning that true creativity comes out of inner unresolved conflict, i.e unhappiness. I don't know if that's true, but certaintly my long silence here recently on the blog is direcly connected to feeling ridiculously and undeservedly happy. But I shall check in now and then, and keep you posted.
After all, nothing lasts, even if the adventure is never over!
February 01, 2011
One of many 'top tens'
I was recently asked by a magazine to do a 'ten things life has taught me' piece.
I wrote everything you know well already, so please don't waste your time here. Time's precious and there's a danger your toast will burn and an egg is way too hard after three minutes boiling. Quick - back to the kitchen!
But for a beginner like me, and with time on my side, it all seemed strangely fresh, so here we go:
1) Life is difficult. Sometimes things go well for me, but most days bring problems large or small. I am learning to allow and accept difficulty as part of life, like day and night. What is the problem telling me? I like the story of St Francis meeting a slug. 'Ah, Brother Slug,' he said. 'What message to you bring for me today?'
2) Everyone's an explorer. Columbus set off in search of Asia, but failed - he only found America. But this is the thing about exploring; you don't know what you'll find. The best explorers seek truth, treasure whatever they find, but know also that the adventure is never over.
3) How you travel is where you arrive. Some people are in a mad rush for 'answers', thinking there must be something out there which solves everything. The wise, however, attend only to the journey, looking ever more deeply into their daily experiences. A journey of such awareness is a constant arrival.
4) Make a friend of impermanence. Much unhappiness is caused by my insistence that certain things last forever; it helps me feel secure and in control. But only impermanence is permanent so we learn how to let go gracefully.
5) The road side dandelion is under-appreciated. Sometimes we are so busy with our plans that we notice nothing else, which is a shame. As the poem says, 'What is life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?'
6) Abandon all labels because they make people less human. How could any label capture you? Once we label someone, we devalue them; and once they are devalued, we feel more justified in hurting them, as history shows.
7) Stay present. The practice of mindfulness is concerned with bringing our consciousness into the now, the only healthy place to live from. As I put it in one of my books, 'Yesterday is stale bread, tomorrow is no bread, today is fresh bread.' Those who live in the moment are wonderfully present to people and circumstances; those who live in the past or the future are in a dream, emotionally absent and unavailable.
8) My thoughts make me mad. There's a difference between having a thought, and a thought having us. Our monkey-minds have thoughts all the time, but sometimes we are kidnapped by one, and poisoned by its convincing illusion. When we are mindful, we notice our thoughts but do not identify with them. As the Swedish say, 'Thank you for coming, thank you for going.'
9) The path is kind and can be trusted. When we don't trust the path of life, we become negative and a cul-de-sac of rage or complaint. I've discovered trust late and travel all the better for it. When I lose it, I don't travel so well.
10) Remember the wave. If a wave is to rise high, another wave will need to dip, and vice versa. So there are no celebrity waves; for each individual wave is a communal activity. And of course in the calm they are all one and all made of the same wet.