Examine for a while

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photo at pixabay

I have learned from long experience that there is nothing that is not marvellous and that the saying of Aristotle is true – that in every natural phenomenon there is something wonderful, nay, in truth, many wonders. We are born and placed among wonders and surrounded by them, so that to whatever object the eye first turns, the same is wonderful and full of wonders, if only we would examine it for a while.

John de Dondis, 14th century
quoted in J S Collis
The Worm Forgives The Plough, 1973, p170

Plenty of reason to have a good English moan about continuing rainfall today – or to sit down to a meditation session, having first noticed the magnificent, soaring canvas of clouds in every shade and hue of grey on high, and the all-the-more-glorious advent of sunlight from time to time, so that the potatoes in our kitchen garden are both moistened and warmed, beneath the chunter and fuss of thirty or so disgruntled sparrows who don’t appear to like rain much. Or meditation.

Open your eyes gently and focus upon just one wonder for a while, breathed the guide – in the fourteenth century. And I did – on this wet July day in the twenty-first. And as it turned out there was no moaning about the rain. Or anything else.

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Photos – and Virginia Baily

Amongst the lovely places on earth to host a literary festival the Theatre by the Lake –  (Derwentwater) in Keswick @tbtlake takes some beating. What we’ve shared of this year’s Ways with Words (brochure) has been perfectly superb.

There’s a person and a process, a “heart behind the art”, that I frequently find as engaging and fascinating as the work itself. That’s why reading the work of people we’ve encountered in person – no matter how briefly, no matter the context of the encounter – always has a special edge to it.

Today we bowled along expectantly to hear Virginia Baily

Turning Ideas into Stories

A trumpet, a golden ring and a steamy jazz club
in 1950s Rome: co-editor of the short story journal
Riptide, Virginia Baily uncovers the objects, music,
images and places that informed and inspired her
second novel ‘Early One Morning’ and discusses the
transformative elements that can turn ideas into
stories.

from Ways with Words (brochure)

And of course we bought the book! But now for the confession: haven’t begun to read it yet. Thus far, anyway, we can’t get past the gorgeous front cover!

Sometimes she used a photograph, Virginia told us, and she’d stare at it for a long, long time until the stories contained in it began to take root, to take shape. We were transported to Rome with Star Trek immediacy.

For a lover of the “poetry” in images, from the great artworks of the Masters, to careful photographic studies of our garden flowers, to iPhone snapshots, this was an Alleluia moment! Ah for the fruits of gazing upon something or someone for a long, long time.

Virginia’s talk progressed and the storylines, the process, the literary techniques were generously shared, appreciated and noted. One could hear everyone present mentally signing up for the “Early One Morning Tour”, shepherded by the author through golden streets (and golden fresh-baked pizza) of Rome some sunny day soon – the sooner the better.

We were captivated by quiet and emotionally involved account of the novel’s genesis, busting to buy the book, sit next to coffee-pot and stove and just dive in. But at that point we hadn’t reckoned with the front cover photo of the hardback book being one of the most exquisite imaginable. To place the book in one’s lap and gaze upon this golden image for a long, long time cannot be other than the most splendid preparation for immersion in the chapters within.

So, even before we’ve progressed beyond the cover we know that this author has succeeded in Turning Ideas into Stories and that hers will merge with ours – yours and mine. That’s art. That – is – art.

Thank you. See you in Rome Virginia!

Velcro or Teflon?

I’m a long-term devotee of Franciscan friar Richard Rohr’s many books and (enthusiastically recommended) daily meditations. He’s currently writing a series under the banner Alternative Orthodoxy and today’s piece hits a large nail squarely on the head. I hope that this “taster” will encourage readers (of all faith traditions or none) to follow the link to the full piece, and maybe go on to subscribe to the daily emailed Meditations.

Dan O’Grady, a psychologist and Living School student,
told me recently that our negative and critical thoughts
are like Velcro, they stick and hold; whereas our positive
and joyful thoughts are like Teflon, they slide away. We
have to deliberately choose to hold onto positive thoughts
before they “imprint” …

Neuroscience can now demonstrate the brain indeed
has a negative bias; the brain prefers to constellate
around fearful, negative, or problematic situations. In
fact, when a loving, positive, or unproblematic thing
comes your way, you have to savor it consciously for at
least fifteen seconds before it can harbor and store
itself in your “implicit memory”; otherwise it doesn’t
stick. We must indeed savor the good in order to
significantly change our regular attitudes and moods.
And we need to strictly monitor all the “Velcro”
negative thoughts.

Excerpt from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
Alternative Orthodoxy: Week 2 – Turning toward the Good
Thursday, February 18, 2016

This is game-changing stuff, I think, if we reflect a bit on the fact that the world’s contemplative and / or praying traditions have long intuited instinctively what sticks – and what doesn’t, what makes human persons feel positive, happy and fully awake – and what doesn’t.

Whilst some undoubtedly continue to think of prayer as ceremonial, or as a shopping list, or “Life” insurance policy, many, many others around the world have recognised, and are recognising the literally immeasurable benefits of savouring something ‘consciously for at least fifteen seconds’ so that ‘it can harbor and store itself in your “implicit memory”; otherwise it doesn’t stick.’

What a difference 15 seconds, or 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes-worth of conscious savouring could make to everyone’s daily life. How did humankind manage to get something so fundamental to personal and corporate peace and concord holed up in exclusive religious institutions and complex commandments for so long? Consciousness-capability is an already-present charism or gift, in and for everyone. Let’s teach our children that, early.

It’s truly no wonder that the great teachers – the Prophets, the Buddha, the Eastern mystics and Jesus of Nazareth, together with the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis in our own time, and all the other great bodhisattvas, gurus, natives and sages through the ages – have been a bit suspicious of religiosity. Each, in their own way, has pointed humankind to the obvious fact of our evolving and growing.

Loving “success” in the growing process will involve appreciating (giving worth to or worshipping), considering, contemplating, feeling, hearing, knowing, meditating, praying, remembering, seeing, sensing, smelling, tasting, touching, uniting and velcro-ing-in goodness!

The Other Kingdoms

Consider the other kingdoms. The
trees, for example, with their mellow-sounding
titles: oak, aspen, willow.
Or the snow, for which the peoples of the north
have dozens of words to describe its
different arrivals. Or the creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze. Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be. Thus the world
grows rich, grows wild, and you too,
grow rich, grow sweetly wild, as you too
were born to be.

Mary Oliver
The Other Kingdoms
The Truro Bear and Other Adventures

A blogging friend I admire shares my delight in the works of Mary Oliver and – on different continents – we’ve both been pondering her The Other Kingdoms, each especially attracted, apparently, by the same lines: Their / infallible sense of what their lives / are meant to be. Ivon’s piece is here. I wonder how many others have carried this poem with them through the hours of this past day alone? Poetry breathes a life of its own and is, in a sense, one of The Other Kingdoms.

Life is ineffably rich. Yesterday I contemplated the farthest reaches of the universe. Today, early, I meditated long upon the agility of the tiniest of wrens – fleet of foot, not just upon the wing; and later on the slant of the sunlight through the window at the gym; still later upon the bravery of snowdrops nodding cheerfully above frost-covered earth; later again upon a vase of Cornish daffodils come North! And upon the miraculous and perpetual developments taking place every day in the lives of my loved ones near and far, scattered family, and dear, dear friends.

And of course I pray for a healing touch upon the innumerable tragedies of the world – but, by poetry’s insistence perhaps, from a space within that holds on to what I can only describe as “love’s perspective” – an indefatigable faith that, ultimately, as Mother Julian has it, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and yea, all manner of things shall be well.” My baby grand-daughter is developing a fondness for little animals – “lambie”, and her family’s dog, and teddy bears. I hope she’ll come to know poetry’s other kingdoms, and

creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze. Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be.

And I reach out, hoping daily that such a sense might ever grow, and grow, in me.

A bit of Anam Cara then …

“So” (after yesterday’s post) “will you point me to a bit of Anam Cara then?”

And – of course – I can, and will. But anyone would do well to have a copy of the book on their nightstand – and audio recordings of John O’Donohue’s mellifluous voice become life-treasures. John died young, but not before he’d been able to write and record a legacy that can provide peace-filled gift enough to supply a lifetime’s contemplation and reflection. Yesterday I mentioned the poetic gift that David Whyte offers to the world. Another who comes to mind when I think of John O’Donohue is the revered Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, who now lives and practices at the Plum Village Monastery in France.

Here are a couple of sample paragraphs from John’s Anam Cara – which means “Soul Friend”.

The secret heart of time is change and growth.
Each new experience which awakens in you adds to
your soul and deepens your memory. The person is
always a nomad, journeying from threshold to
threshold, into ever different experiences. In each
new experience, another dimension of the soul
unfolds. It is no wonder that from ancient times the
human person has been understood as a wanderer.
Traditionally, these wanderers traversed foreign
territories and unknown places. Yet, Stanislavsky, the
Russian dramatist and thinker, wrote: ‘The longest
and most exciting journey is the journey inwards.’

There is a beautiful complexity of growth within
the human soul. In order to glimpse this, it is help-
ful to visualise the mind as a tower of windows.
Sadly, many people remain trapped at the one
window, looking out every day at the same scene in
the same way. Real growth is experienced when you
draw back from that one window, turn and walk
around the inner tower of the soul and see all the
different windows that await your gaze. Through
these different windows, you can see new vistas of
possibility, presence and creativity. Complacency,
habit and blindness often prevent you from feeling
your life. So much depends on the frame of vision –
the window through which we look.

John O’Donohue
Anam Cara, from chapter 4 – Work as a poetics of growth

The inner tower of the soul … what gorgeous imagery. It, in turn, reminds me of Rainer Maria Rilke’s “widening gyre” … but that must wait for another day!

Elements of belonging

Last evening I got lost in a reverie with David Whyte’s poem Working Together: master teacher of the arts of evocation and of invocation, his poems “haunt” me, hovering in and around me, in much the same way Mary Oliver’s do, or May Sarton’s, or William Stafford’s. Poets who become our favourites do so, I guess, because something of their form, heart, precision and soul takes up residency somewhere deep, deep, deep within us.

… may we, in this life
trust

to those elements
we have yet to see

or imagine

David Whyte
from Working Together
The House of Belonging

Though I knew of the late John O’Donohue’s sublime works (Anam Cara – soul friend; Divine Beauty etc) before I discovered David Whyte, I wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised when I learned that the two were the closest of friends. Each, consciously or unconsciously, writes blessing. The poetic voice of each – the sound, the timbre, the vibration – are heard once, never to be forgotten … may we, in this life / trust …

Some lovely video footage of John, writing at home, comfortably seated beside an Irish peat fire, has left me with a burning desire some day to visit The Burren [YouTube], perhaps to encounter the soul of the great man in the vast and ancient open spaces there, and maybe, by some miracle, to bump into his old friend David Whyte who, I like to imagine, still walks and remembers there from time to time … to those elements / we have yet to see …

But the actual going there, to The Burren, will not, I think, be necessary, even if someday achieved and delighted in. For the poetry of life has already done its work, and friendships I delight in – some of whom I’ve set eyes on, and some of whom I haven’t, have already been shown to be gifts and graces of that ultimate Oneness for which we instinctively reach. All that’s necessary each day is for me to meditate, remember or imagine.