The wound is the place where the light enters you. RUMI Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. RUMI

If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath. AMIT RAY

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Rebels


Nottinghamshire's three famous literary sons . . .

Taken by my phone opposite Nottingham railway station yesterday. I was heading for the Broadway Cinema to see Embrace of the Serpent by Colombian film director, Ciro Guerra.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Relationship and Illusion

I'm reading, and much enjoying, Krishnamurti to Himself: His Last Journal . . .

It is odd that we have so little relationship with nature, with the insects and the leaping frog and the owl that hoots among the hills calling for its mate. We never seem to have a feeling for all living things on the earth . . . Man has killed millions of whales and is still killing them. All that we derive from their slaughter can be had through other means. But apparently man loves to kill things, the fleeting deer, the marvellous gazelle and the great elephant. We love to kill each other. The killing of other human beings has never stopped throughout the history of man's life on this earth. If we could, and we must, establish a deep long abiding relationship with nature, with the actual trees, the bushes, the flowers, the grass and the fast moving clouds, then we would never slaughter another human being for any reason whatsoever. Organized murder is war, and though we demonstrate against a particular war, the nuclear, or any other kind of war, we have never demonstrated against war. We have never said that to kill another human being is the greatest sin on earth . . .

. . . We are always trying to identify ourselves with our race, our culture, with those things which we believe in, with some mystical figure, or some saviour, some kind of super authority. Identifying with something seems to be the nature of man . . . One wonders why this craving, longing, for identification exists. One can understand the identification with one's physical needs — the necessary things, clothes, food, shelter and so on. But inwardly, inside the skin as it were, we try to identify ourselves with the past, with tradition, with some fanciful romantic image, a symbol much cherished. And surely in this identification there is a sense of security, safety, a sense of being owned and of possessing. This gives great comfort. One takes comfort, security, in any form of illusion. And man apparently needs many illusions.

Jiddu Krishnamurti 1983

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Greatness Of Little Things


Those who cannot find the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of the little things in others. KAKUZO OKAKURA The Book of Tea

Kakuzo Okakura's elegantly written Book of Tea has been a delightful discovery: it's short, beautifully formed and full of Taoist wisdom. For me it at once became one of those texts we like to think of as 'minor classics'. The mundane yet strangely spiritual act of drinking a bowl of tea is hardly mentioned — indeed, what can one say about such an everyday occurrence? But the history and ritual of the tea ceremony itself,  the seer-like qualities of the tea-masters, the uncluttered aesthetic of the tearooms with their sparse and original arrangements of art and flowers, the underlying and unifying principles of Tao and Zen — all these are succinctly and beautifully described.

Okakura echoes Chinese historians in speaking of Taoism as the art of being in the world. He writes: The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings. Taoism accepts the mundane as it is and, unlike the Confucians and the Buddhists, tries to find beauty in a world of woe and worry.

He reminds us that the Tao literally means a Path. It has been severally translated as the Way, the Absolute, the Law, Nature, Supreme Reason, the Mode . . . However, the Tao is in the Passage rather than the Path. It is the spirit of Cosmic Change — the eternal growth which returns upon itself to produce new forms. It recoils upon itself like the dragon, the beloved symbol of the Taoists. It folds and unfolds like clouds. What is vital and interesting is the completing not the completion, the imperfect rather than the perfect, the process not the deed.

Zen follows on from and is hugely influenced by Taoist ideas — one idea being the essential importance of the vacuum, of empty space, of the possibility of limitlessness. Japanese art bears out this concept: the suggestive, half-finished nature of many Japanese pen-and-ink drawings invites us to fill in the emptiness with our own emotions and imaginings, to complete mentally the incomplete. And, pursuing the idea of the benefit and necessity of change, Okakura writes that the virility of life and art lay in its possibilities for growth.

For the Taoist the three jewels of life were Pity, Economy and Modesty, which appeals to me immensely. I also like the humility of this: Temper your own brightness to merge into the obscurity of others, though it's very much at odds with the prevailing me-me-me-ness and self-promotion of today's society.

Finally, like Rilke, Okakura recognises the intimate and ever-present connection between dream and reality, between death-in-life and life-in-death: At birth you enter the realm of dreams only to awaken to reality at death. 

Monday, 30 May 2016

Gandhi, Rumi And The EU

I recently came across this quote from Mahatma Gandhi:

I do not want my home to be walled in on all sides and its windows blocked. I want cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.

A nice, succinct comment on cultures and countries, I thought: how we need a balance between self-determination and equable cooperation, how we should be rightly positive about our own culture but also welcome and celebrate others — all to our mutual benefit. Any lessons here for the EU debate, I wonder?

I also recalled this poem by Rumi:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house. 
Every morning a new arrival,

A joy, a depression, a meanness, 
some momentary awareness comes 
as an unexpected visitor. 

Welcome and entertain them all! 
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, 
who violently sweep your house 
empty of its furniture, 
still, treat each guest honourably. 
He may be clearing you out 
for some new delight. 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, 
meet them at the door laughing, 
and invite them in. 

Be grateful for whoever comes, 
because each has been sent 
as a guide from beyond.

RUMI (Translated by COLEMAN BARKS)

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Europe


Amidst all the scaremongering and speculation, it's instructive to step back from the frenzy and consider who wants us to leave the EU and who wants us to remain.

For Brexit: Boris Johnson, George Galloway, Nigel Farage and UKIP, Michael Howard and Michael Gove, Liam Fox and Iain Duncan Smith, Zac Goldsmith, Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen, ISIS, Donald Trump, The Queen, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Express.

For Remain: David Cameron and George Osborne, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, Natalie Bennett and the Greens, Mark Carney (Governor of the Bank of England), Stephen Hawking, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, most UK businesses, all EU member states, the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Mirror.

Well, I know what I"m voting for, and have known for a long time.

Most young people instinctively feel part of Europe rather than identify with some archaic, let's-go-it-alone-and-damn-the-foreigners type of isolationism. But many are not even registered to vote. Please, you must do so! It's so important for the future. Even if the European project has its problems and difficulties, it's maintained the peace in Europe now for nearly sixty years.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Phenomena

Who can say what is? Who is able to judge the true worth of things? RAINER MARIA RILKE

I look around the room and find
Things radiant with vague significance:

Three tulips in a cracked, Venetian vase,
Pale cups of light on stiff, green stems.

Two gold-edged mirrors hanging opposite
Each other, tricking interlopers
To fall endlessly, mise en abyme.

Two windows, luminous and liminal,
Connecting interior and outer worlds,
In this case room and garden.

Four wooden chairs in all their usefulness,
With all their history, associations,
Crafted and beautiful aesthetic.

A wooden table set for dinner,
Empty white plates as cool as milkstone,
White candles, gleaming cutlery,

Awaiting company, though all is still
And quiet as an abandoned ship
And sudden voices unimaginable.

My funny, sort-of conversation
Is silent and appropriate:
A quick nod to the captive flowers,

A glance into the otherworldly
Garden, a quick prayer
That I may also love the unloved things. 

I praise the room’s unique particulars,
A room where things are waiting to arrive
Yet shining with the things already placed,

Potent with meaning, yet all the many meanings
Seem barely tangible, just out of reach.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Experiencing Unique Particulars


Rilke is one of those writers and poets who is never far from my side. Strangely, I'd never read his prose work The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge until recently. It's not as remarkable as the wise and wonderful Letters to a Young Poet, but I was struck by the following two short passages:

Poems don't come to much when they are written too soon. One should wait and gather the feelings and flavours of a whole life, and a long life if possible, and then, just at the end, one might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. For poems are not, as people suppose, emotions — those come easily and quickly enough. They are experiences . . .

. . . No, no, nothing in the world can one imagine beforehand, not the least thing. Everything is made up of so many unique particulars that cannot be foreseen. In imagination one passes them over and does not notice that they are lacking, hasty as one is. But the realities are slow and indescribably detailed.

Rilke writes about all the important things — the poignancy of transitoriness, the necessity of solitude, the praising of creation in all its diversity, the recognition of love in all its complexity, the radiance of life which sparkles in spite of and, indeed, because of the ever-present nature of death; his poems, and many of his letters and prose pieces, may be considered deep meditations on existence. His artistic territory straddles the borderline between the expressible and the inexpressible.

There's a very fine book on my shelf called A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke, beautifully translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows. The entry for 29 April, from a letter written to Witold Hulewicz on 13 November 1925, reads:

Impermanence plunges us into the depth of all Being. And so all forms of the present are not to be taken and bound in time, but held in a larger context of meaning in which we participate. I don't mean this in a Christian sense (from which I ever more passionately distance myself) but in a sheer earthly, deep earthly, sacred earthly consciousness: that what we see here and now is to bring us into a wider — indeed, the very widest — dimension. Not in an afterlife whose shadow darkens the earth, but in a whole that is the whole.

Finally, here's a poem taken from The Book of Hours:

How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing —
each stone, blossom, child —
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth's intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God's heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Afflictions

There was a time when, though my path was rough,
This joy within me dallied with distress,
And all misfortunes were but as the stuff
Whence Fancy made me dreams of happiness:
For hope grew round me, like the twining vine,
And fruits, and foliage, not my own, seemed mine.
But now afflictions bow me down to earth:
Nor care I that they rob me of my mirth;
But oh! each visitation
Suspends what nature gave me at my birth,
My shaping spirit of Imagination.
For not to think of what I needs must feel,
But to be still and patient, all I can;
And haply by abstruse research to steal
From my own nature all the natural man—
This was my sole resource, my only plan:
Till that which suits a part infects the whole,
And now is almost grown the habit of my soul.

Stanza VI from Dejection: An Ode by SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE