Saturday, 4 February 2017

Plato comes back in time for new babies

Blissful baby smiling
I have no real right or qualification to talk about meditation and philosophy as a chicken-keeping, dog-walking, sometime parent and grandparent, not having had a job of paid work since I started in this domestic state, with no degree in philosophy and the only degree I do have, a poor one in English.   And yet about 50 years ago I woke up to two things.  First, that life, although giving many moments of happiness, is full of suffering and as life progresses along, this becomes clearer and clearer.  Walking along the street of any small town, you see it, old people suffering from the ailments of the old, young from all sorts of other things. Visiting people in hospital, it is writ even larger, joy and suffering are there hand in hand.  When I was a new mother  I met a woman who became my great friend I was struck by her beautiful way with children and her calmness. Luckily she was a neighbour with children the same age as min and it is no exaggeration to say that she woke something indefinable up in me, she woke my innermost person.  And we also had a determined and extraordinary vicar in our local Church, determined that we should wake up to what he had to offer through his own faith.   I hadn't met people who were motivated in any sort of spiritual way.  I still have a lot of waking up to do but in that beginning of waking up, I knew that there was a truth and many people had found it, great and amazing people but ordinary and determined people so there might be a chance for me.  Now, I have been writing a lot about babies and clearly I have been spending a lot of time around one new tiny one which has given me a chance to observe babies closely. It is clear that babies live in two worlds, the world they have come from and the world they have arrived in.  The world they came from is maybe what we call heaven, it is that heavenly blissfulness that babies bring which make us fall in love, a purity which we can't resist.  But they have come into this world and to keep that vision alive is much more of a challenge.  But you see, I didn't deserve it but see what happened to me and what might happen to anyone.

Bettany Hughes and Socrates
I followed my new friend into a School of Philosophy.  I didn't really get a lot of it but I knew I liked being there, I liked the people and felt strangely at home.  The years passed, all of nearly 50 and during that time gradually gradually I began to wake up.  I met people who had studied ancient philosophy, I started to meditate, I discovered that whatever God was, he or she had sent person after person into the world to make this Truth known.  One of them was Socrates and he is getting really popular again. Have you listened to or heard of Bettany Hughes  or maybe watched her on BBC 4 recently presenting Genius of the Ancient World talking about Socrates?  And of course it was Plato who wrote down what Socrates did and what he meant.  Socrates brought philosophy at its highest level into an Athens which was degenerating.  The Athenians, being threatened, put him to death but Plato  made him live just as Bettany Hughes makes him live for us.  She has said that if she had her way "there would be a philosopher sitting round the table on every committee and in every boardroom,only then, as well as discussing the what and the how, would there be someone to ask the why? Why are we doing this? Is it for the common good?" I think she is right and my goodness we need one  or two  now.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

out of the spaceship and home

Meditating with the teeny tiny one
All those weeks of spaceship life with monitors and tubes is just about over and one teeny tiny baby is now almost a normal size and coming home to a perfectly prepared baby room at her own home!  I know it is perfect because today, her mother and I shifted, sorted, hung pictures, jumped on cardboard boxes and generally made a haven for any baby forced out into the open rather early looking for a home.  And when I visited, she was handed over to  me, sleepy and perfect for whatever I wanted to do with her.  Her Mum didn't mind when I said that we wanted to meditate together so we did.  A bit unconventional, cosy, not sitting up straight but here is the best gift for both of us.  Me to meditate with her and her to have someone meditate with.  We will both probably forget it but let me say now that it is meditation that defines my life, it is meditation which has kept me steady in the face of difficulty, of uncertainty and of pain.  It has steadied me in the face of joy and although I would like this teeny one to have all the joy that life can offer, I would give her meditation to cope with the ups and downs which come with the life package.  Go Baby Bea, Go!  

Monday, 30 January 2017

Find your inner Donald Trump and deal with that!

what are you saying to us?
Except those who love him, most of us have been appalled by the Trumpery which has gone on since he became President of the USA. The first and most extraordinary untruth of the figures for his inauguration must have made even a Republican voter gasp a bit.  The last 48 hours have seen policies unveiled which indicate that his America First Policy means Americans like him, Americans who have been Americans for long enough to forget they were ever Irish, Scottish, English, Armenian, Israeli, Afghani, Iranian, German, Swedish let alone of one or other religion.  The awful rightness of being Right in every sense is writ so large that we feel we must say this is wrong.  It is!  But, it also asks us to look at our own walls and barriers, our own likes and dislikes and see how unreasonable they are.  If we are vegetarian, do we hate meat eaters?  If we don't smoke, do we hate smokers?  If we are socialist, do we hate conservatives?  Is our own identity and allegiance based on hating someone else or just a way of life?  
Here is what Father Laurence Freeman says about a state of  mind which I really really wish I, you, and everyone could aspire to.  This is his Thought for the Day and I hope it might help you and if you know Mr Trump, perhaps it might be something you could pass on to him too.

The connection between the historical Jesus and the Inner Christ is the most interesting and mysterious and exciting connection in my life, and to feel that I’m connected to that makes me feel connected to everything in this world. Through that connection, I can feel and love the truth in every religious tradition, and in individuals who manifest the essence of that tradition. And I think that means that to be a Christian, for me, is a process, not just an identity. It’s a process, it’s an evolution. But it does mean, to be a Christian, that there is no competition. Jesus did not compete with other religious leaders, then why should Christians compete or pretend to be superior to anyone else? That would be un-Christlike, not like Jesus to do that.

(Jesus and Buddha, Meditatio Series 2013A, Laurence Freeman)

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Missing them is just an idea!

A cook's heart! 
From time to time I get the feeling of missing someone and it doesn't come from my head, it comes from somewhere inside, the place where I think I am!  When that feeling comes it sets me off towards the larder and thoughts of cooking!  A bit daft when that person or persons aren't there to cook for.  However there are benefits for others who might take their place at the table.  The most interesting thing about this chain of events is that the one constant factor is the I which does all these things.  It both misses and then cooks and then does some other thing, eats or chats or goes gardening.  This just shows that the feelings which go with each link of the chain are passing, always changing and therefore not to be taken too seriously.  In the quest for enlightenment, detachment is said to be the key and to lead to bliss but it sounds so difficult and possibly a trifle dull!  It doesnt sound as if you do much cooking for a start but I would like to experience what might it really mean?  It clearly doesn't mean to stop loving the people who you once had in your household and who you once cooked for, because you will always love them, they were the ones who taught you to love (and cook!).  I think it means that you take the lesson of love that it delivered and let it include all families and people.  By the way Mr Trump I don't think it should mean closing your borders to people you don't think belong to you, it should really be an opportunity to find ways of removing the borders in your own heart.   But here is a good discipline for me in detachment, to love Mr Trump too!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

cleaning up the grandchildren

All in age order and all cleaned up.
Looking out at the world
As the days get lighter, so the dust shows more! Nowhere does it show more than the shelf above the cooker where  bits and pieces of china collected from here and there live There are various cards which have been poked in between them and a couple of tiny Ganesha statues for blessing.  How could Ganesha do any blessing through the combined layer of rather greasy wooly dusty stuff which cover him so he gets a good wash too.  Behind these now clean bits of memorabilia are 9 of the grandchildren, painted by Tom, then copied and put into this great long frame.  They are in age order and the two newest and youngest haven't made it yet, Benji the crisp-eating Grandpa lookalike and Beatrice, recently allowed out of her space ship and into the arms of her mother and father first, then her godmothers and her two grannies.   The grandchildren in the picture get a good spring clean and I can see each one of them more clearly and although each of them is now at least 3 years older than when they were painted I think of each one, one by one.  As I wash their faces through the glass I send them the Ganesha blessing. He is the remover of the obstacles which fall across all our paths.  As Ganesha has also been cleaned, I feel sure that he will be in the mood to help them.  I add the two missing ones to the wish list and then head off to visit the now slightly less teeny tiny baby in her special baby unit and while I have her in my arms and no-one is listening, I sing a few remembered ancient prayers starting with the perfect prayer.  I sing her the prayer of the wise : May All be Happy, May All be without disease, May All creatures have well-being and none be in misery of any kind.   And then I say the Lord's Prayer and I'm sure she smiled! She knows that every granny wants the best for every one of her children and grandchildren even if she is a bit old-fashioned.  See below Beatrice and Benji, here is a good old-fashioned pastime, crabbing down at Ramsholt, you'll be there this summer too and Grandpa will tie the bait on the string to catch them.


Crabbing at Ramsholt Dock

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Bad boys lead the good girls astray, it was ever thus

OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY
BAD BOY BUTTY
You may think I am straying from my usual serious  subject matter by taking on this boy/girl aspect of nature but I was reminded and much amused by watching my bad boy Butty dog leading the adoring Jack Russell girls astray this afternoon.  Off we go, up the hill to the ridge which looks across two or even three counties with everything coloured by a pale blue mist as if it was a watercolour.  I am so entranced by the view that when I let the dogs off the lead, I take my attention off them and zoom, that bad boy Butty is off with the girls following. I whistle and call their names, I see them from time to time as they come round a corner, I am looking out for the fierce keeper who doesn't like dogs running over the ground at this time of year in case he sees me out of control and them streaking around the acres.  But with my philosophical self, I am reminded of how the bad boys or the good boys being bad boys tell the good girls that it is absolutely fine to come out to the pub, to the party, to the club and no, of course their mothers won't find out and even if they do, they'll get over it.  I think I am reminded because of the very slight fear that comes when the dogs go that something bad might happen to them.  Then I think how lucky it is just to be observing all this bad boy stuff and although I am the owner of the dogs, I am not the parent of the boy or girl, oh ho, not me, not anymore.  So, our new baby just out of your space ship and dressed in whatever lovely garments your loving parents are putting on you, unable to tell them you would rather be in a black babygro and that you don't want your hair brushed, one day that bad boy cousin of yours, (nothing personal Benji or Max and Sebastian or Archie) will say, come with us over the hills and far away to the pub, party or club and you will skip out of the door.  I expect your mother will ring me up and then and say should she worry.  What will I say? Probably yes!!!! but I will also say that this will pass and one day even you, tiny new child will be a grown up remembering how you tiptoed out of the door while no-one was about with your high heels in a bag. 


                          



Friday, 20 January 2017

Desert Grandmothers and Grandfathers

St Catherine's Monastery, our home for a week

To get ready to go to the desert with Grandpa, I have been reading about the Desert Mothers and Fathers and the way they lived and what they taught.  We are only going to the Desert for a week but they lived a whole and totally dedicated life there.  The real truth of how these ancient devotees lived was that they became solitary, they weren't seeking anything other than to be at one with  God and that required their total commitment.  Not for them, just a week's retreat with the chance to call home on the mobile phone;  not for them just a Lenten give up of crisps, wine and chocolate, it was living the whole life of the total renunciate, no going back home for them, the desert was home.  

I am looking forward to a chance to try a week of living in the monastery and it being a week dedicated to being in the atmosphere created by the monks who live close to the lives of the early desert Mothers and Fathers and I hope that somehow we will imbibe by osmosis some of the devotion borne of the disciplined life lived in that place.  You might wonder why, when we could be spending a week at Sharm al Shaikh having a pleasant time round the pool, eating crisps, sleeping late, reading books and doing what most people think is restful, we have chosen to have our holiday in a monastery on the Sinai peninsula.  It is because we realise that learning to be alone and content with whatever is actually happening at this moment is not easy but we feel it is important because there will come a time when crisp eating, swimming in big blue pools, sleeping long and reading books aren't going to satisfy.  Having started the January diet and waved goodbye to visitors and given up alcohol, we can already feel ourselves looking around for something to fill the gap left by those lovely pleasures,  looking for something to distract our attention from just simply being by ourselves alone.