Monday, 30 July 2012

Opinions

Some of you may remember that a little while ago I wrote on this post the following:
 . . . this quotation from Thich Nhat Hanh:
“In Buddhism all views are wrong views.  When you get in touch with reality you no longer have views.”

Such an interesting and thought-provoking observation. But wait?  Is that a view?  I mean, what I just said.  Am I expressing a view about . . . er . . . his view . . . or the view of Buddhism?  I mean isn’t “When you get in touch with reality you no longer have views” what in normal parlance we call a view?  That is to say, it’s an opinion (I think) about the way things are.  Reality, surely is too large and too kind of dense for any one human being’s mind to encompass it – surely?

A Quaker friend, Bruce Arnold, who blogs here at Letters From The Street, commented on that post (very helpfully) as follows:
“That thing Thich Nhat Hanh said: it's not just an opinion, it's a description of the experience of sunyata. Here's the thing, though: it's only true while actually in that experience of samadhi or nirvana. The rest of the time, in ordinary mundane consciousness, it is a worthy cautionary tale not to take our views too seriously. Also, attachment to views prevents the experience of sunyata, so for those on that path, it is necessary to have that non-attachment, as part of the yoga of the path.”

There was too much in that comment to respond to in a comment box, so I said I’d write a separate post taking up the things it brought to my mind, which fall into two categories – about opinion and about attachment.

Thinking first about opinion – I find myself getting tied into knots about this, because when I say “Such and such a thing is true”, I believe myself to be expressing a view or opinion.  This is so (in my opinion!!) even when the assertion appears to be a matter of universal agreement.

For example, I might say, “Buttercups are yellow,” or “A jay’s colouring includes areas of vivid blue;” and I might believe myself to be not expressing opinion but stating incontrovertible fact.  Not so, it turns out.  In my early twenties when I read a lot of Rudolf Steiner, I learned from his writing that buttercups are “in fact” precisely not yellow.  They are every colour except yellow – yellow is the colour they reject.  That’s why they look yellow to me (and you).  Because they’re not.

Then, only last week I learned from reading the very interesting book by Helen Hoover, A Place In The Woods, that furthermore a blue jay isn’t blue.  That birds have no blue pigment in their feathers, only brownish-grey that looks blue to me.

When we come onto matters of spiritual philosophy and human relationship, statement of fact becomes almost an impossibility (in my opinion), because the experiential is per se subjective, even where it is a matter of common agreement. 

Some years ago a dear friend who’d been having a rotten week greeted me with the information that “the devil had been really attacking” her.  Then she paused and thought, adding the possible amendment: “Unless it’s the Lord trying to teach me something.”

A Christian of deep and experienced practise not being able to tell the difference between God and the devil suggests to me that discrimination between one spiritual state and another may be a subtlety almost beyond the human intellect, and we are rash to believe ourselves capable of statements that can be categorised as bald truth in this area, given that we can’t even tell what colour buttercups are.

In one of his books of neurological case histories (I would give full details to credit it, but I can’t remember in which book it occurs, I no longer have the books, and an online search is not tracking it down for me), Oliver Sacks wrote of a young man who joined a religious group which valued sexual abstinence, gentleness and docility, and long hours of sitting in meditation – all of which healthy young men are likely to find difficult.  This particular young man achieved spectacularly, making such apparent spiritual progress that he was revered as especially saintly.  After this went on for some time, it was discovered that in fact he had a brain tumour, and his apparent spiritual acumen was a symptom of his illness – masked by the desirability of these characteristics in his chosen milieu.

In my own life, I have been told every now and then that my preoccupation with simplicity is a manifestation or symptom of my depression, a re-routing or displacement of an unavoidable aspect of my personality – and possibly illness – into the more acceptable persona of aspiration or discipline or, at least, choice.

This reminds me in turn of a friend who served as a church officer in a congregation I pastored at one time, whose efficiency was so terrifyingly focused that I began to suspect that it was, despite its undeniable usefulness to the church, pathological.

When I read the comment Bruce had left on this blog, about Thich Nhat Hanh and sunyata, samadhi and nirvana, the first two of those terms were unfamiliar to me, so I went off to look them up so as to make sure I’d got a proper grip on what he was saying.

Sunyata, if I’ve now got this right, is a Sanskrit noun taken from the adjective śūnya, which means “zero” or “nothing”.    So sunyata is about a condition of emptiness, the nonexistence of the self.

Samadhi (again if I’ve got this right) is a higher level of consciousness achieved by long practise of meditation – a stilling and focusing of the mind to the point of being in effect one with the focus of meditation – eg, God.

And nirvana is the state of blissful union with the divine.  The word means “blown out” and therefore implies a state in which the separate individual self or ego has been annihilated or become irrelevant.

I see how, in such a condition, views of any sort would have been transcended, made meaningless, left behind.  I see how, experientially, a person immersed in religious practise might enter such an experience of transfiguration.  And I see that attachment to all things of this world – possessions, relationships, achievements, being right, status; everything – must be eliminated or left behind in order to enter this transcendent state.

But.

I have an uneasiness here – not a mere niggle, a profound uneasiness. 

If my friend couldn’t tell the difference between God and the devil, and the religious sect couldn’t discern pathological symptoms from sanctity, and those close to me know well that the headf**k that is my constant companion is probably as responsible for my hunger and thirst for simplicity as any attraction to holiness and Reality with a capital R – well, this is a minefield, innit?

For any one of us for whom the world of the Spirit is more real and more compelling than career or wealth or relationships or anything else in life, there is a huge danger of mistaking our weaknesses for our strengths.

Those of us who can not only detach from anything or anyone but actually have trouble attaching to anything and anyone, run a much greater risk from being admired than from being pitied.  The minute we start to express and believe the opinion, the view that we are right – that we have left behind the ordinary human territory of views and opinions and moved into some exalted field (Rumi’s “field beyond right and wrong”) where we’re so transcendent that our point of view is no longer a point of view because it’s morphed into absolute truth – then we have left health behind.  In my opinion.

The safety harness of every aspirant to scaling the heights of the holy mountain is the remembrance that I might be wrong: that as long as I am human I cannot be capable of more than the view from here; everything I think is my opinion.

There is no danger in this.  There is no danger in saying that when Thich Nhat Hanh tells us “when you get in touch with reality you have no views” that is of itself a view, an opinion.  It may seem insulting to his wisdom and advanced spirituality, but even so, it is a safeguard.

There is, on the other hand, great danger in scaling the heights without that safety harness, in believing that one has reached the state when “I might be wrong about this” loses meaning.

As Bruce said in his comment: “Here's the thing, though: it's only true while actually in that experience of samadhi or nirvana. The rest of the time, in ordinary mundane consciousness, it is a worthy cautionary tale not to take our views too seriously.

But my uneasiness extends beyond the question of where views stop and samadhi begins.  I am also uneasy about making the attempt of complete detachment.  I, who find detaching easy, fascinating and compulsive, know full well how destructive it can be.  It is, as I once heard someone say, like a suicide without a body.  When God finished all that he had created, he looked upon it and pronounced it good.  That included Adam and Eve in relationship with each other and interwoven in the living tissue of creation.  It was, in part, the very business of attachment that he pronounced to be good. 

It’s a complicated thing because Thich Nhat Hanh also teaches with wonderful insight and wisdom on how “the Environment” is the wrong way to describe the Earth – we are Earth.  As he so wonderfully puts it, we “inter-are”.  There is no separation.

It is perhaps helpful to look at the whole thing as St Paul did, and think of the analogy of the body.  Though there are many organs, there is only one body – the eye cannot say to the ear, “I don’t need you”.   So we belong to one another inextricably (not just human to human but the whole of creation); we each have our individual part to play but separation implies just dead meat.  On the other hand, anyone who has suffered from adhesions knows that they are seriously bad news. 

So attachments – adhesions, are when we try to cling, to impede the movement and flow of life, to create stasis.  For our health it is imperative we learn to let go, to permit change.  Yet we do not cut loose. We do not attempt to become the world’s first free-range kidney (or whatever it might be – you may see yourself more as a pancreas).

Dears, I could go on about this all day and still not manage to make myself clear!!

In summary:

1) We are made to belong – we inter-are with all creation.

2) It is unhealthy to cling, to try to limit or possess others, or imagine ourselves as owners rather than stewards of the Earth.

3) Change happens.  We have to learn to let go.

4) Problems arise when things accumulate.  We have to learn to keep life simple to avoid trouble.

5) Pursuing any spiritual path calls us into simplicity.  Letting go is part of simplicity. 

6) Though we let go (non-attachment) we still belong (inter-being).

7) Though we come to see that a view is only a view, we remember that as we are only human, that also is a view.  So long as we are human, views R us.

8) The aspirations of religion – towards non-attachment, simplicity, self-denial, discipline etc – were made to discipline and channel our turbulent human energy in the direction of goodness and grace.  If it’s easy, get help because you’re ill.

9) An essential characteristic of health is when an organism is in balance. The wise relationship of belonging and non-attachment is found in creating balance.  Sometimes the balance (or lack of it) is more apparent to others than to ourselves.

Finally: I hope in saying all of this I have offended no-one.  If I have offended you I’m sorry.  I can hardly open my mouth without offending someone these days.  It is possible I should be wiser to keep it closed.  If you disagree with everything I have said here, I am not offended and you should feel free to say so.  It is all, after all, only my opinion.

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365 366 Day 212 – Monday July 30th

Er - that's Day 212 of this.


A mirror.  The less I look at myself, the happier I am with my appearance.


365 366 Day 211 – Sunday July 29th


A ghastly little bag from a chain store.  Supposed to be a convenient accessory that would go with everything and be useful for every occasion.  It turned out to be especially useful for boosting the income of my chosen charity shop.  Now I look more closely at this photograph the bag seems to be smiling at me in a sinister fashion.  Who in their right mind would keep a purse which did that?

365 366 Day 210 – Saturday July 28th


Much harder to part with.  Really handy tongs made for handling sugar and used by me for handling incense charcoal.  But I have stick incense these days, because it needs less paraphernalia.


365 366 Day 209 – Friday July 27th


A dreary polyester skirt, bought in an attempt to look normal.  Ha.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Is it hot enough yet?


Friends, if you care about the Earth – or even if you don't care one bit for this beautiful Earth, but you do care about yourself – you’d do well to read this article by Bill McKibben.  In it he explains that the business plans of the fossil fuel industry will (not can) wreck the planet – that they’ve already got enough carbon in their reserves to drive the heat past anyone’s definition of okay.

It probably means taking a tea-break to read this, because there’s five pages of it.

I’ve read it all through, carefully. 

It confirms what I concluded a while ago – that commercial and political interest will destroy this Earth, and the spreading slime-mould of Mammon will choke the life out of us – unless we, the people, personally and individually change.

We have to stop.  We have to make a change.  We have to learn to live simply, buy locally, give up jetting around the world in aeroplanes just to sit in the sun there instead of here or admire the architecture in a foreign city.  We have to return to an altogether more primitive lifestyle.  We have to learn to be – can you believe this? – unselfish.

There is no-one else to do it, no-one to blame and no-one to help.  It’s us or nobody; our choices, our path, our call.

As Stephen Gaskin said:
You are this season’s people.
There are no other people this season.
If you blow it, it’s blown.

The future is simple, vegan, local, and wind/solar-powered.  There is no other future.  The road we’re on runs out into a quicksand.

The only hope left to us is if we, the people, are willing individually and personally to accept the sacrifice of change, and encourage each other by travelling together for the sake of hope and life.

I know how weak-willed I am, how lacking in determination, how self-indulgent and undisciplined.  I know that by myself I cannot walk the way of life - I've tried for so long and have a string of failure extending behind me trailing back decades.

You my friends, and most of all, you my family - we really need to do this now.  To give up the fuel-guzzling, water-wasting, packaging-hungry, unnecessarily international habits into which we've slid, and do this seriously now.  Please will you walk with me.   

And whoever will or will not, I ask you God my Father, for the sake of all that you blessed and called good, please will you give me the grace to take this path anyway, for the love of the green and growing things, and the miracle of life that you made.

If we don't do this, by the time the Wretched Wretch leaves college, there'll be nothing left to look at but a war in a dust-bowl.

Please.

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365 366 Day 208 – Thursday July 26th



Went with the display board I posted as yesterday's item given away.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

I recommend this book


This morning early, rainbows were chasing each other across our kitchen floor.



The sun was well up by the time I discovered this.   I’d been in bed reading one of my favourite books.

I have only a very few books left – less than twenty, apart from the ones I wrote myself and ones like the Bible and the hymn book, the Book of Common Prayer and the books of Steve Erspamer’s art I use for the church admin documents.  So this book is one of a treasured few.

I do believe it was remaindered.  I remember quantities coming up cheap on Amazon one time.

But if you ever have the chance to get your hands on a copy – don’t let the opportunity go by.  It’s wise, it’s funny, it’s clever, it’s profound, it’s enchanting and delightful.

David Whiteland’s Book of Pages.



He was also responsible for the hilarious Fudebakudo (the Way of the Exploding Pen). 

Right now I see on Amazon UK they have some second-hand copies of Book of Pages starting at 1p.  Don’t miss this, friends.  It’s such a wonderful book.

Amazon UK Book of Pages here.
Amazon dot com Book of Pages here.
Amazon dot com Fudebakudo here.
Amazon UK Fudebakudo here.

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365 366 Day 207 – Wednesday July 25th



Oh, this was a folding display unit.  I got it for the book stand for the launch of The Hardest Thing To Do.  We had fun that evening, but I wouldn't be repeating the exercise.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Beautiful



Yesterday late evening, as the sun was going down, this shard of light appeared on my bedroom wall.

One of life’s random remarks.  A word from the Mystery, saying nothing the human intellect might categorise or understand, but eminently comprehensible to the soul.



So beautiful.

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365 366 Day 206 – Tuesday July 24th



A large, warm, fluffy scarf made in some kind of synthetic fabric from a hippy website.  Kind if usefulish but not very.

365 366 Day 205 – Monday July 23rd



Trousers.  I have this ongoing unrealistic hopefulness about trousers.  It all goes well until I get into some place with a 360o mirror and am treated top the rear view.  You see, I have short sturdy legs and ample child-bearing hips.


365 366 Day 204 – Sunday July 22nd  



Interesting book about the concept of wabi-sabi, but I think Leonard Koren’s Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers has the edge on it, so I kept that instead.  I also think non-Japanese wabi-sabi enthusiasts tend to overlook the distinction between wabi-sabi and shibui; and in reality shibui is what most of us want, rather than the rotting hovel, semi-bald brush and bucket with holes you might get lumbered with in pursuit of wabi-sabi. 


365 366 Day 203 – Saturday July 21st



Jeggings.  Ahahaha.  I lost some weight last year and got a bit over-ambitious.  Oh dear.


365 366 Day 202 – Friday July 20th



I thought I would like this but it turned out to be thin and clingy.  Er . . . no thanks.


365 366 Day 201 – Thursday July 19th



More spare glasses from the days when I used to panic about that.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Happiness moment


Hey, you know I told you this book is out now?



Well, the first review has just come up on Amazon, and it's the most fabuloso review a person could ever wish to have!  I am just so grateful to that person, whoever they are - made my day!

Happy now.

:0)

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365 366 Day 200 – Wednesday July 18th



 Charming anthology about cats in literature, bought from bookstall at church bazaar.   Useful bathroom book for a while.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Puzzlement, reticence, a degree of alarm and misgiving.


You know how you can get those things to plug into your computer – an external hard drive -  that significantly extend its memory and also enable you to take everything you’re working on from place to place without lugging actual laptops back and forth? 

Well I have a notebook that fulfils a not dissimilar function.  It was Kathy gave me the idea.  We were having coffee together at Waterfalls café and something of interest wafted through our conversation that caused her to whip out a very small pocket note book and either jot something down or look something up (I forget which).  Watching her do this I resolved to equip myself with just such a little notebook.  So I have one, and in it is pretty much everything occupying my mind.  It's become the external hard drive of my brain.  If I need to mail something off to anyone I jot their address down there.  If I’m contacted to undertake some kind of pastoral ministry for someone their basic info and contact details are noted there.  If an idea passes through my head I write it down there – in fact I had just the best idea for the opening of a novel while in the shower the other day, and I thought “That’s it!  That’s it! It’s on its way!”  But I didn’t write it down and it’s gone now.  That’s why I need the notebook – though of course it’s still no use if I don’t actually write the thing in it.  I keep occasional tally of accounts in there, and add notes to self.  If there’s something I’m puzzling through I think aloud in there – you can tell I’ll have to burn this small book once it’s full.  And I write down wise words quoted from other people there, to consider later.

In the last couple of days I wrote down Katrina’s address that she kindly emailed me, to send some bits and pieces off to her in the post, and this quotation from Thich Nhat Hanh:
“In Buddhism all views are wrong views.  When you get in touch with reality you no longer have views.”

Such an interesting and thought-provoking observation. But wait?  Is that a view?  I mean, what I just said.  Am I expressing a view about . . . er . . . his view . . . or the view of Buddhism?  I mean isn’t “When you get in touch with reality you no longer have views” what in normal parlance we call a view?  That is to say, it’s an opinion (I think) about the way things are.  Reality, surely is too large and too kind of dense for any one human being’s mind to encompass it – surely?  Isn’t this the old fable of the blind men describing the elephant?  Each one experiencing but a part of one massive objective reality.   Because of that, is not the way we see life bound to be our view?

Of course Thich Nhat Hanh is further up the mountain than I am by a tidy number of miles but even so – doesn’t that just mean he has a better view than I do, rather than no view at all?  Maybe this is a semantics problem and he means something different from what I think.

Be that as it may, his words brought to mind something Michael Lorence (co-inhabitant with his wife Diana of Innermost House) said about his parents: that he never knew them to express an opinion.  Which concept arrested me completely.  Stopped me dead in my tracks.  Two people who passed through life without expressing an opinion?  Are you sure?  Of course as they are now deceased and lived in America anyway I have no way of verifying this or checking if he and I might define things differently.  But I was very surprised, and intrigued. [Sorry, I've done my darnedest to find the Innermost House Facebook post in which this was said - I think it was probably March or April, not sure - but the introduction of Facebook Timeline has caused problems in accessing all the earlier posts so I can't get to it]

And these two things, all views are wrong views and when you get in touch with reality you no longer have views, and not having an opinion, have been jiggling around in my mind and asking me questions.

You see, my beautiful mama says I am very opinionated, and I cannot say she’s wrong.  It’s true, I do have opinions about almost everything.  I thought you had to, to form a life, to get anything done.  Otherwise you’d just go with the flow, wouldn’t you – reflect the mainstream.

For example, Thich Nhat Hanh himself did some research a year or two back and established that consuming animal products was a bad thing for the wellbeing of the Earth – taking up grain that would have fed the hungry and water that could have been more compassionately and responsibly shared etc.  But there you go!  That’s an opinion – it’s a view – I know it is because I’ve been nosing around this inconclusively all my adult life.  It’s not as simple as an objective fact.  Eg, if a pheasant is killed by a car on the road, how do I benefit the poor if I don’t eat it?  How is the State of the World affected if I have rescued ex-battery three hens in my back garden eating kitchen scraps or not?  But if Thich Nhat Hanh had not taken the view that the view the vegans promote is correct, his community at Plum Village would never have gone vegan, under his direction.

Similarly, when I was in my baby-birthing years I took the view that home births were safer than hospital births, and that birth is primarily not a physical but a spiritual and sacred event.  Our hospital consultant obstetrician took a very different view, and he had several other views as well that confirmed my view that my babies would be better off born at home under the care of community midwives not him.  That was just an opinion – but it was the opinion that resulted in my taking the actions I did, chipping away at getting a home birth until, by baby No 5, I eventually did.  And guess what?  It was a better and safer process than in hospital.  The care was more consistent and given by more experienced attendants, the risk of infection that goes with a public place with a large transient throughput of people was absent.  And, unlike with my previous labours, the last one was done and dusted in three hours rather than continuing interminably because (as any farmer who keeps livestock might have predicted) when I was moved in the middle of labour to a place where I felt exposed, suspicious and tense, the birth process would stop dead and have to be artificially restarted and managed – which is not from any point of view a clinical plus.

So the reality I got in touch with shaped my views and in turn my views informed the reality into which my choices shaped my life.  Isn’t that the same for everybody?

But none of that is what I meant to say.

What I meant to say was about the expression of views.  In my previous blog post I mused about Scott Savage’s book and the similarity of something spiritual I glimpsed in the faces of Diana Lorence and Daniel Suelo, and I woke up this morning realising I had been thinking aloud.

It’s my belief (here we go again – a view, you see, an opinion) that thinking aloud in a public place is unwise and possibly a sign that the person is becoming unhinged.  And the internet is the most public place you can possibly think aloud in.  I shouldn’t be letting my private musings evaluating Scott Savage’s writing and Daniel Suelo’s and Diana Lorence’s faces fall out of my head onto a public page!  I’ve lost the plot!
And what’s more, here I am again, you see – thinking aloud! 

Thinking aloud about what I was thinking aloud about before.  Tut.

All this is serving to confirm my view (here we go again – my view, my opinion) that to be in touch with reality is to recognise it’s high time I stopped blogging.  I should miss it of course.  My beautiful mama is quite right, I’m a very opinionated person and I like airing my views.  But, as Oscar Wilde pointed out, “We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices.” 

It has come to my attention recently that I have no idea at all how I seem to others – not least because opinions expressed to me about myself vary staggeringly from “sick”, “psychotic”, “like the wrath of God”, “born to rattle the cage of the church”, “very left field”, to “calm”, “gentle”, “irenic”, “like a kitten”(!) and “serene”.  What’s to be made of that lot?  Nothing at all of any use!  

And if I can’t tell how I come across I can’t accurately evaluate how to modify my conduct to become a better person. 

The principal thing is that I can’t disentangle what I’ve thought and felt from what I’ve said and done – or what I’ve said and done openly from what I’ve said and done privately.  And that does make a difference!  Keeping those barriers in place is an important aspect of what sanity actually is.  If you can’t do that it’s an indication of brain synapses or something.  Do you see what I mean?  Thinking aloud again!

So I have concluded that if I cannot differentiate to the point where I can be 100% certain of wise discretion, the internet is not a good place for me to be.

What I would like to do, after posting a few pieces more edifying  than this, is to leave you my address so that if you wish to stay in touch with me you can do so the old-fashioned way – not by email, by handwritten letter or personal visit.  Then after that I could just post if I have something earth-shatteringly wise to say, which obviously wouldn't be often.

Now then, here’s a question to the intelligent.  Is there any real reason why I shouldn’t do this?  Post my address here so you can write to me, I mean.  I know people are absolutely paranoid about their contact details being made public like that, so I’ve never made mine public – but why?  Who’s likely to read this blog that would make that a problem?   Advice welcome!  Your opinions, your views, or – if any of you are in touch with reality and no longer have views – simple objective unarguable truth will do.  Thank you. 

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Posting a couple ahead of time.

365 366 Day 194 – Thursday July 12th



Do you know what this is?  We’ve had it my whole life.


365 366 Day 193 – Wednesday July 11th   



A meditation cushion.     Thich Nhat Hanh, and a whole lot of reviewers on Amazon, said that if I had one of these I’d be able to sit up straight with my legs crossed in a proper meditation position easily.  Like a child I believed them.  It turned out the reality they were in touch with, that made their words not views or opinions but plain unequivocal truth, was different from mine.  This has not actually left the house, but I gave it to Hebe who has abandoned it in the living room, so it may make its way to the charity shop yet.



Sunday, 8 July 2012

Humble. Earth.


As we sat in conversation about traditional farming methods, she broke off to declare, with real passion, “I hate it when they call soil ‘dirt’!  I just hate it! I wish they wouldn’t use that word!  Dirt!  It isn’t dirt, it’s soil!”

For a moment I entertained the possibility of pointing out to her that  the two words have exactly the same connotations and mean exactly the same thing. “Soil” is no more or less than a different word for “dirt”.  Soiled sheets, soiled nappies (diapers) – familiar enough terms surely.  But realising that saying so would just make her look foolish and in the wrong, oh just leave it, I thought, and I let the conversation roll along where it wanted to.

But in essence we were in agreement anyway, because I too detest hearing the word “dirt” (or “soil”) applied to the earth.  We rely on that fertile layer to grow our food, our beautiful flowers, the grandeur of trees and the green swathes of grassland. 

In our family, there’s a running joke where Fi will say about any random things someone mentions, “You’re a  . . .”  So they will say, “I think I’ll have a tofu-burger,” and she’ll respond, “You’re a tofu-burger!”  I know, I know – little things please little minds; still it makes us laugh, where’s the harm . . .

And when I hear someone talking about earth as “dirt”, it makes me want to say, “You’re dirt!”  But I guess they might not find it hilariously funny.

Still, in any case, we are dirt/earth/soil/dust/clay – “Dust you are and to dust you shall return,” they remind us on Ash Wednesday.   In the Genesis stories of creation, the name “Adam” is a play on the Hebrew word for “earth” – so it means “Earthy” or “Earthling”, because God made Adam from earth, and then breathed into him the breath of life, Holy Spirit, breath of God.

In the last week or so I read with close interest Mark Sundeen’s book The Man Who Quit Money, about Daniel Suelo – I do recommend it.  I have learnt so much from it, and found Suelo’s life and philosophy has resonated so deeply with me.  But, he wasn’t always called “Suelo”; he started life as Daniel Shellabarger.   “Suelo” is Spanish for “soil”, and that’s why he adopted it as a name.  The same, really, as God’s choice of “Adam” – made of earth.

Turning these things over in my mind I remembered that “humble” and “humility” originate from “humus”, another word for earth.   In agricultural or gardening terminology, I think humus is leaf-mould – the dark, rich, peaty loam that accumulates on the forest floor.  I’m not sure about that, though.  And “humiles” is Latin for “low” – lowly/humble/earthy – they are facets of the same gem.

Lowliness, humility, earthiness, staying close to the root, Adam, dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return – such peace in that river of connection for me.  It is lovely to me that our earth-ness is ordained of God.   Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that to call the earth “the environment” takes us down a false intellectual trail.  It suggests that the earth is something separate and peripheral to ourselves – mere stage scenery for our personal drama.  But we are earth, we come from earth and return to earth – God called us “Earth”.  Every one of us is Suelo.

And I like the idea that humility belongs to that state of original blessing; clay moulded in the hands of God, receptive to that puff of life, his Holy Spirit, without which we are clay and no more than clay, and with which we become a living soul.  We have this treasure in vessels of clay.

Humiles . . . Eden people . . . earthy and simple . . . our being belongs to, shares in, all that lives.  As Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, “We inter-are.”


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365 366 Day 190 – Sunday July 8th



A useful T-shirt.  You can’t keep them all.


365 366 Day 189 – Saturday July 7th 



This was a gift too, from my beautiful mama, and travelled along with me for a number of years.  Then I gave it away.


365 366 Day 188 – Friday July 6th 


  
 This was my Last Sari.  Special to me because it was a gift from someone I love very much, as well as being exceptionally beautiful.  There are always reasons to keep things.  I decided to keep the love and the beauty, but I live very small these days, and space is at a premium.  So I let the sari go.  



Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Mnemonics


Odd and unsettling how easy it is to become distracted from purpose.  The number of times I have come home from buying groceries and thought, “But why did I get this?  Why have I bought these greens wrapped in a plastic bag from the supermarket?  We said we’d only get things like cat food and soya milk from the supermarket – the greens were meant to come from the little greengrocer, in a paper bag that doesn’t sit in landfill till kingdom come.  Why did I get them?”

And the reason always is that I just forgot.

There are so many principles to bear in mind.  The greens are healthy, vegan, inexpensive – just the thing.  I forgot to add in about small, local businesses, and about packaging.

Or we go to the farm shop, and I think, “But this is wonderful!  This is exactly and precisely what every shop should be like!  A family business, so friendly and informal, vegetables all fresh and tasty and looking like they actually grew in the ground not in some hydroponic system in a vegetable factory – I must have those carrots, those potatoes that have come from our own county instead of being trucked from far away, those strawberries on special offer that were grown right here on the farm! And those perfect radishes!”

And that’s all fine, and they are packed in paper bags not plastic – but I forget that I’m on a very tight budget right now with very little to spare, and extra purchases like these land me in a serious mess.  So at the end of the week when I do my accounts, I look back on these things that seemed so reasonable, almost self-evident, at the time, and think, “Why did I do that?”

I forget.  I just forget.

What I need is little mnemonics (why do they put that ‘n’ in that word?  What’s the point of it?) to help me remnember.

So I have come up with this definitive, concise, irreducible summary of the path I want:
Simplicity 
Solitude 
Silence

And here are its enemies:
Spending 
Socialising 
Self-consciousness

I don’t mind telling you it took a long time before that third one, ‘Self-consciousness’ presented itself to my interior vision.  I was looking for a third (or sixth, depending on how you look at it) thing to make my mnemonic list.  I could see that spending fouls things up big-time, and I know that socialising drains the very life out of me like the podlings in The Dark Crystal being tapped to keep the skeksis alive.  But I wanted a third thing to make up the set.  A third thing beginning with ‘s’, I mean.

And then it came into my head.  Self-consciousness.  If it were not for that I’d have been happy wearing saris (which I love) for the rest of my life, and not felt so wretched about attracting attention wherever I went.  If it were not for self-consciousness I’d have been happy with the Plain dress I then moved onto, and not felt so eaten up with looking odd and out of place and horribly visible.  So think of all the money I’d have saved if I didn’t have this urge to slink about in an invisibility cloak.  If it were not for self-consciousness I’d be happy to wear my ginormous and beautiful straw hat out and about instead of just in the garden, and wouldn’t have spent the money on a smaller, less obtrusive one for going out. 

So I think self-consciousness is one of the enemies, and is linked by barbs and hooks and tangles to socialising and spending.  They are a set.

And now I will be able to remember that the characteristics of my path are simplicity, solitude and silence, because that’s easy and small and all begins with one letter.  I don’t mean something extreme – not ascetic nakedness and isolation and never speaking to anyone again – it’s just those (simplicity, solitude, silence) are the things I need to function well, and are necessary ingredients of my life vision dream.

And I will be able to remember to look out warily for spending, socialising and self-consciousness, knowing that they are stingers flung across the path.

By the way, I don’t mean socialising and spending are bad for you.  Maybe you are a sociable person with loads of dosh.  I mean bad for me, because of who I am.  But self-consciousness is probably a wrecker in anybody’s life.

And simplicity, solitude and silence may sound like a prison sentence to you – but to me they are the three graces, the path of peace.



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365 366 Day 187 – Thursday July 5th  



This was a Useful Thing I had for ages.  It was one of a heap of wooden drawers of different sizes I found stacked outside a junk-shop one evening.  They used to put out things they couldn’t sell, for anyone to help themselves, and leave them there overnight.  If they hadn’t gone in the morning they’d take them to the dump in their van.  We brought them home and we have several tucked around the place doing good service.  This one became the container for one of the craft kits I made for Freecycle.  I guess in an earlier incarnation it had been a drawer in one of those fitted Gentlemen’s Wardrobes.  Or maybe from an old shop fitting.  And before that it was a tree.


365 366 Day 186 – Wednesday July 4th 


  
 A sari top.  Gosh, I do love saris.  They are the best clothes ever.