Monday, 25 August 2014

Balance, in meditation, in our bodily systems, in the weather.

More wisdom from my Cropredy friend.

(it's a very nice village, by the way, as well as a festival. Here are the good people of the village hall serving their excellent breakfasts:

which are a very good preparation for:

To the point, Gloria!

I was saying that equanimity seemed to me a goal of meditation - the effort to achieve a balance. We talked of systems out of balance, and I suggested diabetes and tornadoes, when one of a person's bodily systems is out of balance, and when an entire weather system is out of balance. Balance is what meditation aims at.

His response surprised me. It was along the lines of "balance is the last thing we want to achieve, because it's static."

Like this, I guess:

A bit more thought - the kind that hurts and brings you out in spots - made me realise that I didn't mean balance = stasis either. All the good advice I've read on meditation insists that bringing the mind back to the breathing, or whatever the focus in the present might be, is exactly part of the meditation; we shouldn't expect to achieve a perfectly mindful half hour entirely still and present, because we won't, and then we get frustrated and chuck it in. 

The equanimity, the better sense of balance, comes from having meditated, it's not a perfect stasis achieved during meditation. So I said to my friend that I realised I didn't mean a static state, either.

He went on to say that looked at on a larger scale than the tornado itself (admittedly hard to do if it hits you, of course) makes us realise that a tornado is a weather system seeking a better balance. And the body's systems are always and continually moving into and out of all kinds of balance. Diabetics, and to a lesser extent all of us, never have a static state between too much insulin and too much sugar. 

So balance, in the sense I mean in when discussing meditation, is a constantly dynamic state, just as a tightrope artist is making tiny movements (or larger ones) all the time. She is balanced. She is not static.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Speak to Bert....

We once took some kids to watch Bert, a clown. He did his best, but the 20 or so children there didn't find him engaging. So they didn't respond when he called for participation. Until in desperation he stopped, looked at them, and dropped the persona; he said "speak to Bert...."

(Alas, they didn't. He soldiered on for a bit and then gave up. Probably went for a drink or three, reflecting that kids can be a tough audience.)

I use this blog to work out a few thoughts, and as a storage place for stuff that might also interest other people. It's just great when people leave a comment. I appreciate the effort and time involved; it's silly of Blogger not to have a "like" button because maybe that's all someone might want to do. But it's very rewarding to feel in contact with someone else's views. And although my small readership seems fairly stable in terms of numbers, there seem to be fewer and fewer comments.

There's nowhere else we can do this stuff. Facebook is useless for anything of any length, and Twitter is even briefer, of course.

So if you read something here that provokes a thought, do share it please.

"Speak to Gloria..."

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Wisdom of Pratchett's Tiffany

You have to take up wisdom wherever you find it, don't you. This from Sir Terry Pratchett:

..."saying goodbye to his [dead] father in the coolness of the crypt, trying to find a way of saying the words that there had never been time for, trying to make up for too much silence, trying to bring back yesterday and nail it firmly to now.

Everyone did that. Tiffany had come back from quite a few deathbeds, and some were very nearly merry, where some decent old soul was peacefully putting down the weight of their years. Or they could be tragic, when Death had needed to bend down to harvest his due; or, well, ordinary - sad but expected, one light blinking off in a sky full of stars. And she had wondered, as she made tea, and comforted people, and listened to the tearful stories about the good old days from people who always had words left over that they thought should have been spoken. And she had decided that they weren't there to be said in the past, but remembered in the here and now." (my italics) 

It seems to me a great gift and skill to be able to write so simply and clearly, and to come up with a thought that is new (to me, at least) and is powerful, and consoling.

 I salute you, Sir Terry.

(The quote is from "I Shall Wear Midnight," one of his four Tiffany Aching fantasy novels.)

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Belief as agency rather than absolute - do you believe in reincarnation? + Tiffany Aching.

We'll get to Tiffany Aching in a minute.
I reckon anyone making use of the insights and practices of Buddhism has, sooner or later, to decide what they think about reincarnation. 

I don't "believe" in it, by which I mean that I think it is so unlikely that it is not a useful or helpful concept for me to live with - though it may well work well for others.

I am treating reincarnation as a belief, an "either/or" sort of concept, or at best, a "may be/probably not" framework. Either you do or you don't believe in it.But belief doesn't have to be an absolute; it can be an agency you use to do something important for yourself.

I was in conversation recently with a very special and longstanding friend of mine. He has a medical (i.e. a scientific, rational) background alongside an open and enquiring mind. I think he is one of the wisest people I know - which statement would make him snort, I am sure.

He told me that a long time ago he realised he was blaming his parents for everything that he felt was wrong with himself and his early life. 

As you do, or as many of us do from time to time.

So he took up a working belief in reincarnation. The work involved was thinking himself through to a different sense of self; if he was a soul (spirit, whatever) born into his current body and his current life, then neither he nor his parents had any control over who and where he was as a child. 

For about ten years he used a belief in reincarnation to work through his resentments and deal with his blaming. When he had done so, he found the belief simply fading away. It had been an agency which, consciously and deliberately or not, he had used to heal himself.

Until I guess he reached a more existential position in which, as Tiffany Aching might say: "This I choose to do. This I accept responsibility for." 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Quaker insights into silence and grief

Not that sort. (Anyway, you can't make decent porage in a minute!)

This sort:

I'm not one, but there is much about them I find interesting and rewarding. Here's a couple of quotes from a Friend's publication  about funerals, sent to me by a dear friend who is also a Friend:

 "Quakers do have something very special to offer the dying and the bereaved, namely that we are at home in silence. Not only are we thoroughly used to it and unembarrassed by it, but we know something about sharing it, encountering others in its depths and, above all, letting ourselves be used in it…"

I love the idea that we encounter others in the depths of silence; I think that can be very true in a funeral, any sort of funeral - or in a wedding, for that matter. And being used in the silence seems a potent idea, whether we think it is literally true, or a powerful metaphor for what happens to us in a profound moment.

And on grief:

"People so often talk of someone ‘getting over’ a death. How could you ever fully get over a deep loss? Life has been changed profoundly and irrevocably. You don’t get over sorrow; you work your way right to the centre of it."

This seems so true to me that it's a puzzle sometimes why more of us can't accept that and live with it; it is so helpful.

Both quotes were written by Diana Lampen in 1979, and if she is still with us, I thank her for them.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Cropredy Festival, Mischa Macpherson and transcendental interstices, + excellent breakfast at the village hall.

Health warning: this one's about music, and is no less opinionated than usual... Ed.)

 Back from Cropredy, Fairport Convention's annual bash, bigger and in some ways better some ways not, than ever. Here's the bill of fare:

Much more to a festival than the line-up, of course. I'm not sure how many more years I'll be able to get alternately roasted and soaked. I look with envy at festivals that have huge marquees...but you can't get 20,000 people in one marquee, and there is a togertheness about Cropredy which is very special. (Apart from people who can't hold their drink and don't care about the music or the people round them; not so many of those, but enough, down the front at least. Those people are not together in any sense.)

Then there's the toilets (above festival par, but par isn't all that high) and the food stalls, with plenty of good stuff, some of which continues to contest the territory with the ageing system long after it's been paid for and consumed. See toilet comments. But nice showers - with huge queues.

It was a sell-out year - which is lovely in many ways, but crowdwise, a bit much at peak times.

(stop bloody grumbling and get to the music - Ed.)

Someone wrote somewhere (and that's the standard of your underpinning references? - Ed.) that we look for transcendental moments in the interstices of a song.  Between lyrics and intrumental patterning, musical form and expression, we find something difficult to describe but which feels "right," like coming home, like being entirely here and now.

When the Australian Pink Floyd tribute band (yes, tribute band - don't sneer till you've seen them and then you can try sneering) launched their set with "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," full-length, I had such moments. I'm no Floydhead, mostly missed them first time around, but this was very beautiful music. I was - sent, as people used to say. Where, I don't know. That's the point.

But for me the best music was from some of Cara Dillon's set, much of Capercaille's, and all of the Mischa Macpherson Trio's set.

Mischa who?

Go here: 

or better still, try to catch them live. She has a lovely natural stage presence, they all play superbly, they are all very young, given the standard of their prowess.

They are from the Hebrides/Western Highlands, I believe, source of many a lovely voice. There were moments (OK, interstices, if you like) when the instruments shifted a little under the voice, and though I have not a word of the Gaelic, IT happened. 

So Cropredy '14 was billed as a prog rock-ish, Chas and Dave sort of festival, but for me the timeless/present moment moments were either Scots or Irish (Cara D.) Coincidental, perhaps.

Chas and Dave? Huge fun, loved 'em.

Huge self-important guitar-screaming prog rock? Gertcha!

And Fairport were Fairport, bless 'em endlessly. What is more heart-lifting than to hear them swing into "Walk A-While" and think "well, they're still doing it and I'm still here, so all is well for a while at least."

 Thanks, lads. Look after yourselves and keep doing it!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Into the West - funeral music?

I don't know about you but I don't pay much attention to film music as music. At the end of "The Lord of the Rings," there is some music. Whatever else I did or didn't like about the films, the way they did the elves was close to the top of "didn't much like." I wanted to bite one of them in the ankle, just to see what would happen... 

So the last scene, in The Grey Havens, is far from memorable for me, along with its music, which if I remember rightly, runs on into the credits. A powerful piece of myth-making schmaltzed up, was my grumpy reaction.

Yet in it's essence, it is the ancient myth of death as a sea journey to another country. The Anglo-Saxon epic poem "Beowulf," much mined by Tolkien, opens with the funeral of Shield Sheafson, Beowulf's ancestor. He is sent out to sea in a Viking longship, and the poet comments that no-one can say what hands, under what skies, unloaded that precious cargo.

This myth (I'm using the term objectively not perjoratively) crops up in different forms at funerals, most frequently in the poem "what is dying?" which starts "I am standing on the sea shore/A ship sails..."

Anyway, at a funeral yesterday we had a CD track of Annie Lennox singing "Into the West," the music which she co-wrote for the very end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy,

It was a favourite track of the man who had died, and his wife had it playing on a loop to comfort him during his last hours. In context, it was deeply moving and very beautiful. I commend it to you.

Lay down your sweet and weary head
Night is falling, you have come to journey's end
Sleep now and dream of the ones who came before
They are calling from across the distant shore

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see all of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms, you're only sleeping

What can you see on the horizon?
Why do those white gulls call?
Across the sea a pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home

Dawn will turn to silver glass
A light on the water, all souls pass

Hope fades into the world of night
Through shadows falling out of memory and time
Don't say we have come now to the end
White shores are calling, you and I will meet again
And you'll be here in my arms, just sleeping

What can you see on the horizon?
Why do those white gulls call?
Across the sea a pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home

And all will turn to silver glass
A light on the water, gray ships pass
Into the west