Robert’s good counsel

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Barcelona – click once / twice (or pinch) to enlarge

‘Sorry, I’m a bit pushed for time today,’ I said to my friend Robert twenty years or so ago. ‘I’ve got to think of something to say to a large assembly of the Women’s Institute tonight. Their invitation asks me to speak on ‘any subject that takes your fancy’ and I’ve come a bit unstuck.’ ‘Nonsense!’ said Robert (and RSC will know exactly who he is!) – ‘just go and tell them about one or two things that really light up your life.’

So for an hour and a half or so I told a large gathering of women my story about what it had been like to live and study for a month on the very edge of Bethlehem, wandering into Jerusalem in the early mornings to buy my daily newspaper, about the colours of the souks, the sounds of the calls to prayer, the scent and the sound of olive groves, of sunrise, and of sunsets over the Judaean desert, of ancient history, and of contemporary youths singing together in groups outside, in late evening warmth, eating ice cream.

Many further such invitations followed. ‘You speak with stars in your eyes and in the telling’ one kind soul told me after an evening during which I’d thought I’d wittered on too much. How often, since, I have thought of Robert’s ‘tell them about one or two things that really light up your life.’ How very often since then I have noticed the things that light up my life. And though aware that tonight you won’t be able to hear me, I can nevertheless show you – as quickly or as slowly as you decide – some such recent lights in Barcelona, Cataluñya, España … with stars – and gratitude – in my heart x

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Substance

I thought that the substance of poetry
does not lie in the sound value of the word,
nor in its colour, nor in the metric line,
nor in the complex of sensations, but in
the deep pulse of the spirit; and this deep
pulse is what the soul contributes, if it
contributes anything, or what it says, if it
says anything, with its own voice, in a
courageous answer to the touch of the world.

Antonio Machado
Introductory piece for Soledades, Madrid, 1917

It is this “deep pulse”, I think, this resonance, this courage to put one’s inner-self out there, responding deeply to “the touch of the world”, that has oft-inspirited Angela Locke, a poet friend of mine, with exquisite poems that “came to me complete.”

… so we turn and turn
the atoms of the world in the sea’s hand
in the wind’s hand in form and gravity
and fire
atom and atom
so we love and from our loving
from the drawing of the deep earth place
some god    some creator
some mathematician
draws down

the beginning
of the rose

Angela Locke
from Rose and Stone
Whale Language: Songs of Iona

And that is why I come before poetry in reverence and in awe.

To paint the ineffable

How are we to converse with one another when what our hearts and minds are in awe of (and in awe of often, and lifelong) is also ineffable – impossible, or at least well-nigh impossible, to describe in words?

I am wondering, and shivering – just now returned to our fireside from another cold-night contemplative standing beneath clear, domed and twinkling night sky. Warming, I lift the loved book from the fireside shelf again, turning quickly to Vincent Van Gogh’s great The Starry Night (1889) – and though familiar with it, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s poetic empathy speaks to me as though in a first encounter. Painters and poets and great, great prophets and parables: reaching, stretching, yearning – and sometimes, when least expected or looked for – suddenly communicating, dying, healing, rising, touching. Like prayer.

What laughter booms across the night sky
from the bellies of heavenly beings? Few hear it,
but sometimes the breath of heaven curls like a bard’s beard
and what has only twinkled begins to beat and throb.

Behind it all a drumbeat calls over the mountains.
The villagers think it’s thunder, those who are not asleep.
Only a few remain awake to see the starry, starry night
and witness what they can barely imagine how to tell.

Some nights the roar breaks the silence. One was there
when it happened, and saw, and tried to tell the secret,
and died young. How much of life he gave for this
we cannot know. We only know that something precious
as nard was poured out at the foot of these hills,
the blue, the yellow bought with solitary tears.

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
The Color of Light

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.

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.

Great intangibles

… may we, in this life
trust

to those elements
we have yet to see

or imagine,
and look for the true

shape of our own self,
by forming it well

to the great
intangibles about us.

David Whyte
from Working Together
The House of Belonging

David Whyte speaks authoritatively, and with gentle voice, rather like that of Colin Amlôt, one of my school-teachers over forty years ago, whose aim, he said, was “to teach you everything you need to know,” (to pass the examinations in his subject) “whilst asking you to remember, at every stage of your lives, that there’ll always be vastly more that you don’t know.” He signed my youthful Autograph book with an exhortation: “Read widely. Think deeply”.

May we, in this life / trust / to the elements / we have yet to see / or imagine

These words, part of a poem written to mark the introduction of the Boeing 777 jet, pray that WE might take flight – forming (our “wings”) to the great / intangibles about us.

And – as so often with a David Whyte poem – I find myself able to respond (to him, as to Colin Amlôt) with only the one word: AMEN (or “may it be so”).