July 27, 2011
Hitler therapy from WW2
I was talking to an elderly woman this morning.
Since discovering that I sometimes write books she is badgering me to write her life story.
I said it would be a great honour, if she could find a publisher; with the rent in mind, it's finding a publisher that tends to inspire hack writers like myself more than the actual subject matter.
But Georgie's story is one I'd love to tell and as preparation, I asked her what would be the highlight of her life if I did write it up. Without a pause, she said, 'My time of evacuation.'
In 1940, when she was three, she was evacuated to Hitchin fom London. She remembers every item of clothing she wore as she and her brothers and sisters were dispersed around the town. She went to stay with her aunt and uncle - 'my head just reached the top of the table' - and ended up living with them until she was 11. 'I was much happier there than at home,' she said.
Not that her uncle and aunt weren't strict. She had to go to church every Sunday, and it was obviously 'High' church because she remembers choking on the incense.
When she was naughty, 'and I did have a bit of a devil inside me' she said, she had to go and sit on the stairs, which were closed off from the front room by a door.
If the stairs didn't work, then it was the walk down the garden for Georgie:
'If I played up too much, they'd tell me to go down to the bottom of the garden and shake Hitler off my back. They'd watch from the window, and I'd have to walk to the bottom of the garden and when I got there, literally shake Hitler off my back. Then I'd go back inside again.'
Hitler can be blamed for many things, but probably not for Georgie's tantrums.
Still, scape goating has an ancient if not honourable history, and it seemed to work for a young girl in Hitchin while her London home took the bombs.
July 25, 2011
Buddhism vs Christianity
I recently wrote a piece for the Church Times on the relationship between Buddhism and Christianity, and someone asked me to blog it, so why not? Here it is:
Some were applauding me, others were troubled to the point of anger. But all wanted to discuss the same thing: the relationship between Buddhism and Christianity.
I'd been talking about mindfulness, which is the ancient new kid on the spiritual block in the west. Mindfulness is best defined as 'awareness of your present experience with acceptance' and this radical teaching lay at the heart of Buddha's message. But are Christians allowed to be mindful? Or should we bracket it with fornication and flee from its presence screaming, with faces turned?
We'll need to get beyond the labels. If we're still at the bed-wetting stage of saying 'Buddhism - euughh!' or 'Christianity - agghh!' then we're going to struggle. But if we're able to reflect without hostility on the roots of these two spiritual heavy-weights, then good things await us. Buddhism is less a religion and more a psychology; the hard-won fruit of the world's first self-scientist. Buddha asked: 'Why am I unhappy? With bravery, he went on to dismantle everything in him which worked against happiness and at the heart of this was all that took him from the present moment.
While Buddhism mines truth from the inside, Christianity, as the contemplation of God in Christ, gathers it from beyond. Buddhism is about preparation, Christianity about revelation. Buddhism majors on awareness, Christianity on divine encounter. Buddhism is inner precision; Christianity, exuberance and abandonment. Buddhism says: 'Clear the ground - flowers will grow.' Christianity says 'The garden's beautiful - enjoy!' And even three lines into this paragraph I was thinking how much the two need each other.
20th century figures like Thomas Merton and Anthony de Mello enjoyably explored this relationship. But no one wove the two so effortlessly together as Meister Eckhart in the 14th century. Buddha's teaching on nothingness was also fundamental to Eckhart's faith. 'In true obedience,' he said, 'there should be no 'I want this to happen or that to happen', but only a pure going out of what is our own.' Buddha could not have put it better and nor would he have felt the need to try.
The nothingness of Buddha or the self-emptying of God in Christ? Beyond the labels there is the search and the search finds connections which stir life into our jaded religious forms; for it's the overwhelming norm that Christ is hijacked and made dull by our neuroses.
A bishop recently warned one of his clergy away from self-knowledge as 'self-sacrifice must be the priority'. It's true that Jesus, like Buddha, asked us to say goodbye to ourselves; but you can't say goodbye to someone you've never met. Attempt it, and their rejected ghost will stalk you for the rest of your life.
To contemplate Buddhism and Christianity is to contemplate soil and flowers; though just who's in charge of which becomes increasingly hard to discern and ever less important. It's no contest.
(For those who fancy exploring him a little further, my 'Conversations with Meister Eckhart' is published by Whitecrow books, and available on Amazon in hard copy or kindle.)
July 23, 2011
I'm not a great reader of books.
Indeed, I only read them on holiday really and tend then to opt for historical fiction.
So this year, in the company of the big mountain, I was in 14th century England and France with Cornwell's 'Vagabond' and in 16th century England with Sansom's 'Sovereign'. Both ripping reads, with due attention paid to the social, religious and political settings at the time.
I also read Zafon's 'The Angel's Game', set in a turbulent Barcelona in the 1920's. He writes beautifully, with some excellent characters and dialogue, but the narrative all got a bit fanciful and surreal for me which left me a trifle unsatisfied. I don't mind someone with their head in the clouds as long as their feet are on the ground.
Of course, I spent a fair amount of enjoyable time working on my own book, 'Solitude' which I'm concentrating on over the summer.
But my favourite words while away came from another writer, anonymous, who actually lived in the 14th century:
'Of God himself, no man can think. He may well be loved, but not thought.
By love God may be grasped and held; by thought never.
So smite upon that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love.
Come what may, do not give up.'
Sometimes its the few words which are the best ones.
July 22, 2011
You wait weeks for one mountain, and then...
Well, well, well - I hadn't seen Anna's wonderful mountain blog below until I'd blogged.
Her mountains are taller than mine, but hey, this isn't a competition.
It's just the place to be if you love mountains.
And if you like to rock.
A different mountain
Back in England again - ahh, dear Albion! - and the mountains of Rhodes are replaced by a mountain of e mails. I prefer the former, to be honest, in their sparse and austere timelessness but while they pay contemplation they don't pay the rent.
And I return to deadlines, of course, which don't really exist on holiday, apart from the occasional bus to be caught. You really don't want to miss the bus as in temperatures of 40 degrees plus, you might die of thirst waiting for the next one.
But I found good silence in the mountains, which I will endeavour to retain. As Emily Dickinson observed, 'The words the happy say are paltry melody. But those the silent feel are beautiful.'
July 21, 2011
I am a keen walker and appreciate why people past and present have had a thing about mountain tops. The old testament has lots of stories about encounters with God on mountain tops - Moses being handed the commandments, Abraham's sacrifice of his son (God provided a ram at the last minute), Moses and the burning bush. The new testament tells of a number of important events in Jesus' life happening on mountains. His famous sermon on the Mount, the transfiguration where Jesus takes a couple of disciples up a mountatin where they are dazzled by God. The holiness of mountains has continued in the Celtic tradition
I was lucky enough to go to Nepal this year to walk in the Himalaya. The sheer magnificence of the mountatains made me weep as I stepped off the small plane in Lukla (or perhaps it was the relief that the plane had safely landed on a short runway on a very steep mountain side). Our destination was Everest Base Camp.
When we reached our destination after 14 days of trekking, there were gathered groups from all over the world intent on one thing - climbing to the roof of the world. Chomolungma - the Tibetan name for Mount Everest - means mother of the earth. The local Sherpa people in Nepal are Buddhist and hold the mountains in great respect believing them to be the dwelling place of gods. Indeed until the last few decades locals would not climb the mountains for fear of disturbing the gods. They may have been onto something.
Those who venture to the summit enter the death zone and the way is littered with the bodies of climbers from previous attempts. Standing at the foot of the mountain, looking up to the summit with its trails of wispy cloud. I could feel at peace, inspired by the beauty and serenity of the mountain. The reality is that the wisps are created by the jet stream with winds over 100mph. The temperatures drop to below -30 degrees C. That is a summit where I would fear to tread. A place to be left for the gods to inhabit.
July 05, 2011
Richard Craig reports back
Richard Craig was at my talk last night, and blogged about it far more coherently than I spoke.
He starts with a very persistent questioner in the question and answer session afterwards. And then goes back to reflect on the talk.
Enjoy his blog.
Thank you, Richard.
A sort of fan
I was giving a talk last night in St James, Piccadilly.
I like the space.
Spoke to alot of people afterwards, which is always a pleasure.
One woman waited a long time to tell me that she read a page from 'One-Minute Mindfulness' every night.
Ah! I said.
She then went on to tell me that some of the early entries made her very angry and she had to put/throw the book down.
I asked which passages made her angry, and she said it was the ones about anger.
So I celebrated the fact that that she could come and tell me how angry my book made her. I felt that was entirely healthy, and she said she hadn't been planning on saying it and yes, she was now quite pleased with herself.
She then said she hadn't expected to like me, and I was now half-wondering why she'd come.
She said she hadn't expected to say that either - that she hadn't expected to like me - so we had another celebration because she was now doing things she hadn't been allowed to do as a child.
Never have I enjoyed meeting a person who throws my book on the floor and doesn't expect to like me quite so much.
July 02, 2011
The chemistry lesson
I'm just sitting down to prepare some thoughts for my talk for 'Alternatives' at St James Piccadilly on Monday.
I've been strangely reluctant to do this, endlessly moving it down my list of 'things to do'; and even now I'm blogging instead of doing it...
'Perfect Preparation Prevents Poor Performance'. That's what my daughter's drama teacher used to say. And there's truth there.
But there's also an untruth, certainly with talks, because if a talk is a performance then there's the smell of death about it.
Maybe I don't want to prepare because I don't want the whole thing to become too manicured, too slick, too clever, too smart.
The little voice within each of us has been smothered by such things for years; I wouldn't want my words to be another professional killing.
I'll prepare but not too much because the words must serve the moment, rather than the moment serving the words.
The words may entertain briefly, but at heart, they will be fragile things, language which dissolves instantly to allow a new inner chemistry to emerge.
Yes, beyond any words of mine will be the secret and unimaginable chemistry; hopefully no smothering of our little voice, but a clarity of seeing and encouragement to sing.
The evening will be defined by the chemistry.
And all of us, self-scientists.