When everyone had gone
I sat in the library
With the small silent tree,
She and I alone.
How softly she shone!
And for the first time then
For the first time this year,
I felt reborn again,
I knew love’s presence near.
Love distant, love detached
And strangely without weight,
Was with me in the night
When everyone had gone
And the garland of pure light
Stayed on, stayed on.
May Sarton Collected Poems 1930-1993
W W Norton, 1993
May Sarton died on the 16th July 1995 – but continues to speak to my soul, and sometimes for it, almost daily, though we never met. She could not have imagined this communication. I first encountered her writings around the time she died. But friendship thrives in many ways, and times, and inter-continental spaces – and the gift of shared experience by way of carefully penned words is, for me, among the greatest gifts of all.
At times I feel I can see May Sarton at work, gift and wisdom brought forth from both depth and shallows, from indulgence and sacrifice, from being understood and misunderstood, from great joys, and searing pain. And experience the lamplight, and the desktop flowers in her study, and share the experience of love known in the quiet, golden light of Christmas contemplation, in the company of a blessing-enriched pine tree.
Excited children are playing beneath a beautiful Christmas Tree. Cheery blond boy. Energetic little redhead girl. Both like cake, family, friends, and being warm inside when it’s cold outside. I close my eyes.
Between Christmas jingles on the radio, there’s prime-ministerial talk of war, bad government, and refugees. Is this 1916, ’36, ’56, ’76, or 2016? I often close my eyes, in a bid, perhaps, to sharpen hearing.
However, the sounds are much the same. I can’t put a date to them. I am here and now, there and then. We all are. The abiding sounds of conjecture, fact, hope, play, and report thread through time and family.
The lights twinkle whether my eyes are open or closed. There’s cake, and I am glad and grateful for larger Silence that carries our words, hope, growth, and timeless mystery in the palm of her universal hand.
Responding to tonight’s tragedy, Berlin Police requested via Twitter that streets be kept clear for emergency services and that people ‘do not spread rumours.’ Good counsel. For as though the incident is not tragic enough, some of the stories we rehearse in our heads are worse.
Tittle-tattle poisons. Abetted by constant media chatter, swept along by an inchoate racket, we struggle with disconnected stories we tell ourselves. Fearful, we know we are living under par and seek quick answers. For the umpteenth time, we imagine apocalypse come upon us.
We must learn to quiet our rumours. Enter the universal gift of meditation – stilling over-active ‘monkey’ minds. Mental chatter is often no more than unconscious shrieking – ungoverned swinging from one thought-branch to another. Conscious observation is required.
Meditation to the rescue! As we learn simply to observe the fantastic tales authored in our heads, we equip ourselves to deal with the actual stories of life. Quietly watching the ticker tape of thoughts that do not require reaction or response preserves energy for those that do.
Meditation trains us in the practice of discernment. Imagined stories teach our brains to live in life’s real stories – but it is only the actual ones we need to act upon, not the ticking ticker tape. We are not required to know, still less to act upon teacher’s passing thoughts on her way to class.
We need not waste energy with rumour. Meditation keeps mental streets clear so that we deal better with real life. Anyone, anywhere, here and now. Universal – neither guru nor joining fee required – meditation affords the gift of quiet consciousness, and befriends it.
Can even a little peace be breathed into human existence today?
Can a willed intention for light amid the darkness of the present world’s confusion and fear, grief, haplessness and hopelessness make the slightest difference? Do my prayer, contemplation and meditation heal or illuminate anything beyond my soul at all?
I don’t know.
Only that I must pray, contemplate and meditate. The not knowing facilitates kinship with the millions most desperately in need of peace-light (and food, drink, safety and shelter) tonight. And I have a pervading feeling that if hollowed-out humanity were ever able to surrender some of its ‘knowing’ to accepting and tolerant living, we might yet thrive and grow within the embrace of Wisdom – way deeper and beyond the confining walls of religious houses and capitols.
Wishful thinking? OK. But today I heard a seven-year-old girl bombed out of her home and frightened beyond any measure of decency, thanking those who have shown an interest in her story. Yes. I wish. I wish. I wish.
The know-all will make nothing great again, at all.
Winter cold and wearying wheezy chest seem to have become annual guests. I smile as I’m reminded of Rumi’s invitation to welcome all. A bit fed-up on the one hand, I’m thankful for time to meditate deeply on the other – spiralling into the light.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Recycling in the UK has had a bad press this month. I read I’m not as good at it as I once was, and need to live in one of four counties to pass muster. Boxes and bags are out. Ubiquitous and ugly wheeled bins host the nation’s best-ordered recycling efforts.
Mary Oliver writes of the social self that might be cycling life through ‘twelve little bins’ – the hours of the clock – more concerned with keeping pace with the ‘regular’ governor of time than with whether or not it gathers ‘some branch of wisdom or delight’ along the way.
Containers play their part, like the hours. But both the regular and the irregular – coupled with an ability to reflect and to ask ‘what am I doing and why am I doing it?’ – are essential elements whatever we’re talking about, wherever we are, and whatever we do.
Just for joy – an occasional series entitled Everyday Art – a little record of some of the beauty I see in the world about me every day. Sometimes this is seen in the art and photography of others. At others the photos or drawings will be of beautiful sights I saw with my own eyes. Everyday Art enriches life daily. I’ll enjoy revisiting it from time to time.
Friends notice I have a bit of a thing about art studios and cabins, reading nooks and elegant workspaces. And Apple. The exquisite minimalist beauty of a MacBook ranks highly in my appreciation of ‘everyday art’.
I wonder how many of us have stories, or could write fiction, centred on particular architectural or other precisely designed detail?
Must have been busy! How many bringers of ‘tidings of comfort and joy’ are worn out before the great festival is even underway? This one has a bit of common sense and knows a thing or two about pacing …
Many, many thanks for each and all, friends and family, with whom, over several days, in different ways, in various places, we have shared glad reunions. Beneath the same bright moon and stars tonight, we find we’ve brought a bit of each of you home with us. xx
Happy round-table breakfast conversation between eight good friends this morning, followed by an atmospheric westward drive through North Yorkshire fog, aware of the occasional looming of the bones of ancient abbeys and long-lost husbandry in their granges.
RDT’s funeral at 1pm where his smile beamed over hundreds who loved and admired him as much as we did. And two of his eloquent grandchildren made everyone proud to know them.
Another hundred miles southwards. Another meal. Another friend – who’s the more special for putting up with us when we’re sleepy – a not uncommon state of affairs these days.
Another couple of hundred miles tomorrow. Long looked forward to visits with more friends, and on to my parents before, late in the day, I set a match again to our log stove at home. And there, all being well, I shall fall asleep in my chair, where dreams will thankfully re-echo a whirlwind few days.
We’ve been high up on the Yorkshire Moors this afternoon and admired the resilience of people who manage daily life in very isolated parts. Doubtless, life here is easier today, aided by transport logistics, machinery and fuels. Still, while the moors are spectacularly beautiful in their rugged way, they’re demanding, too. Long held knowledge, filled out by experience, on a grey late afternoon in December.
I understand children these days may now post a letter directly to Santa Claus by way of Royal Mail. The kindly gentleman must have increased confidence in his distribution systems. When I was a boy we assumed at least a 50% possibility of ‘Dear Santa’ notes being lost halfway up a chimney – and must, therefore, make allowances if Christmas morning brought something other than we’d politely requested. This development in communications is all the more impressive because it is apparently unnecessary to send such letters ‘tracked’.
Light with glad purpose shone from an
echo in the firmament. This
one’s for you as you wait here to
do homage to eternal word
within, and rest awhile to hear
the writer’s modest voice and art’s
vocation take honoured seat that
pen sets and honestly repeats
for community here above
Rydal’s poetry. The bowl heals
as it calls and the tone is home
within the heights of a reborn
One of our special and treasured friends has died.
You know who you are, and would not care at all for any fuss to be made. But we want to say thank you, dear friend, from deep within, for lighting up the world. We never saw you without your glorious smile, or a glad or encouraging word for or about someone. These gifts opened people and the flowers in your garden alike. Thank you for your gentleness, goodness, patience and love. We, in company with your beloved family, will celebrate your life in our every remembering of times shared. Thank you. With much love.