Tag Archives: essence
To fill in the distorted or simply incomplete gestalt gathered from early caregivers, we find ourselves during our lifetime in families of various constellations … in groupings of friends, educational settings, teams working towards a project, callings, interest groups, animal care, subcultures, political, vocational and spiritual clusters. In these groups we slot into roles we project, or are projected onto us with qualities others are drawn to engage with, for whatever reason, often to explore a hidden part inside, mother, father, sister, brother, child, lover, hidden in the light or hidden in the dark. Much of this search now happens virtually, through screens, though it can’t replace the actual physical resonance a gestalt needs.
Family can also mean a collection of symbolically meaningful objects, toys, letters, books, art, tools, stones. I collect stones and endow them with memories. My ex-husband extended his loving father role to string instruments. (I wrote about his loss in my previous post.)
In the 1969 movie Alice’s Restaurant … with Arlo Guthrie, Pat Quinn & James Broderick, you can do anything you want. Alice tries to satisfy the motherly expectations of an eccentric hippie group, a powerful dream, which ends when she marries. The last image in the film shows her standing alone in front of the old church her husband plans on selling, to create a more ideal community in the countryside, though Alice’s hippie children have grown and left. In the poignant last image of the film Alice stands alone, waking from a dream, debts paid and debts made. Psychotherapy can accelerate this archetypal demand for clarity and cohesion of one’s myth, but soul-making must continue for consciousness to expand.
At stages in our life we fit, or are fitted, into a network of psychological potential. These are intense phases. Yet irrespective of time gone since people parted ways, families dispersed, places were lost … when a former close friend dies, insight descends, rises, arrives from the past, from the future and from spheres unknown. Memories will shift their meaning. Slowly our sense of self is re-aligned. We capture a condensation of what was symbolically exchanged, essence is revealed.
In this gentle way we unravel the knots of entangled bonds. I’m wary of this advice … let it go! Grieving for a loss needs to ripen. While unripe apples fall from trees all the time, it is a sad waste to rip them from branches, we deprive our selves of what a ripe apple is for, to be eaten and digested for nourishment.
My lover, mourner and philosopher could have pulled this theme in ten different directions. I kept it short and leave associations to you.
Imagine a circle of people, 20 to 40, adding their voices to the drone and tune of a reed organ, repeatedly singing a phrase for an hour, or longer, with short intervals when the organ’s tune breaks into musical improvisations, only to return to the melody and phrase. In the end the sound slows and fades, leaving the echo of your voice as an indispensable part of all voices.
Then imagine a deep silence.
One of many musical tunings my spiritual Sufi friend created went with these words:
There is a place of beauty –
There is a place of peace –
There is a place of harmony –
Before you grunt at the sheer illusion of such place, consider the evocation of beauty, peace and harmony as an ideal, a means – not a goal – a means towards the hub of the mill, where the grain is ground to flour in a process of transformation.
Musical tunings are regular events among Sufi friends. Their rhythmic repeating, with or without words, produces a trance-like state in participants – not aiming at escape, but at a homecoming. Fazal Inayat-Khan’s teachings broke rules, exceeded conventions. While honouring the value of traditional methods, he introduced contemporary phrases, like the one above, and responded to his audience with spirited musical improvisations.
The purpose of such events is remembrance of the Self, or the One. In traditional Zikr it would be Allah, God, though in strict Islamic circles music is not allowed.
I occasionally play and sing the above tune on my reed organ, especially when distressing incidents happen around the world and I have a need to tune mind and body. The place of beauty, peace and harmony only exists in the imagination, as a timeless inner realm, a state where duality co-exists, a state of unknowing, where the spirit of eternal potential lingers.
For me these group events were profoundly renewing. The body, my temporary home, became a tuning fork brought into resonance with the ground and the marrow of my bones. Suffused with consciousness, any mind-chatter merged with the yearning sounds, and my atoms realigned in new constellations.
Intention does not bring us to this uncharted and unmeasured inner place. And even glimpsing a truth flashing from there may shock the angels in us. Catching such truth can happen equally through other means … nature, art, dance, literature, drugs, breath work, praying, guided imagery, computer programming, psalm singing, sport, silence, fasting, dreams, etc., but resonance is needed, and a deep desire for truth must lurk in the heart.
While practices towards this ungraspable inner realm may have repetitive elements, the place is never repeated but ever fresh. It is where the breath of life pulses, just not at our timescale.
Returning from the inner realm to the contemporary flow of time, we get on with life. Yet such deep memories remains and will respond to a sincere recall, where we detect once more how matter is revealed in its essence and shine. For the psyche this is gold. This inner place shows that while we embody birth and death, light and darkness, good and bad, past and future, in true essence we are pure consciousness.
To remain grounded and prevent the fate of Icarus, I tolerate the company of my little devils.
My angels like it so, agreeing that while the obscure company I keep makes living complex, painful, a challenge, it also makes existence more interesting for that, and aids the psyche’s expansion of consciousness.
We mostly think through conventional forms and givens, for practical reasons, while another way of thinking embraces invisible and unknown dynamics via intuition – like the seeming particle/wave paradox in quantum mechanics, where a local particle also exists as a non-local wave. The two perceptions can potentially mingle creatively, but, notably in times of social uncertainty, they clash, and fewer people maintain the ability to tolerate negative capability.
The way autocratic opinions over divisive issues are sensationalised by some tabloids, sends my thoughts flitting through the mutable and nuanced zones of shadow lands. I write the glut of absurdities off my chest, only to delete the drafts, not having the talent or guts for the iconoclastic fun Marina Hyde pours into her articles for the Guardian.
The tit for tat race of opposing interest groups that blame, attack and counter attack each other eludes any balanced comprehension of events. Opportunists, generously funded, like to whip up the chaos for their own benefit. Fertile ground for tyrants. This will go on until the churning oceans calm and offer deeper reflections.
My early education was unremarkable, but I fondly recall a few teachers who made space for ambivalence, encouraging us to question everything and value respectful, if inconclusive, debates. Glib opinions and self-righteousness were mocked and laughed at.
In the early seventies, doing a short apprenticeship with a small Dutch advertising firm in London, we had weekly meetings, where ideas, no matter how crazy, were explored. Every person working in the building was asked to the table, including caterers and cleaners. This inspirational seedbed sparked successful projects and maintained a motivated team.
Decades later, during a part time stretch at Social Services, policy makers introduced a new computer programme for tick-box client assessments, a software developed without involving the people who were meant to use it – us. Sparing you the specifics of this nonsensical scheme, the nightmare in its wake resulted in multiple nervous breakdowns by employees. Since I had a private psychotherapy practice I escaped the hell and resigned.
A relentless trend towards greater efficiency continued despite loud social backlash. Over and over I listened to the stories of my stressed clients suffering from the overbearing changes in public institutions and private companies. The forced procedures insulted the intelligence of workers, who felt the stupidity and pain of it all in their guts, as did I. The harmful effect on mental health, family life, education, small traders and community venues … is ongoing.
Recently I re-read a 1970s lecture by my Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat Khan – Old Thinking, New Thinking – also used as title of a small collection of his controversial talks, published in 1979 by Harper & Row. Some of Fazal’s students insisted on this publication. He reluctantly agreed. I’ll share here a few notions that struck me form the lecture, Old Thinking, New Thinking:
The end of real is false, while the greatest false is real.
The real is about form, the false (non-evidenced) is about essence. Fazal addressed two qualitative different ways of thinking, both beneficial if used in the right time and context. Those supporting form and tradition set out to protect stability, whereas those who seek essence knock over the stable towards the freedom of the unknown. Imaginative people, including scientists and artists, tend to overshoot crumbling realities.
The sad logic of power driven politicians is to manipulate social anxieties by promising simple fixes to allay feelings of uncertainty. In such times people tends to grope towards old thinking, to what can be predicted and depended upon, thus moving away from the immeasurable independence of anything beyond facts.
Old thinking relies on valid knowledge; however, to apply this knowledge intelligently requires new thinking, so essence can find expression once more.
Old thinking will bring achievement, notwithstanding that without new thinking it will have achieved nothing. Traditions wedded to established forms exemplify old thinking. Yet for a tradition to remain sincere and dynamic new thinking is required.
In other words, only what changes stays functional. Much as we dislike it, life could not continue if it were not for the transient growth and death phases of nature. The same applies to cycles that call for the expansion of consciousness.
How is one to value both form and essence in complex times and stay sane? No way around it, we must suffer the anguish of holding the tension between static knowledge and intuition in our hearts. Not easy. Perhaps because I experienced the 1960s new thinking surge, any leaps of goodwill from young people still brings tears to my eyes. I’m interested in everything. I’m interested in bridging divides. I even occasionally delight being in the spirit zone, with the effortless flow of things. (A Zen concept)
Deep, maybe very deep down, every one of us knows the bliss of being in the zone.
… Old thinking is a sorting process – new thinking is a melting process …
… Old thinking is a claim – new thinking is an aim … Fazal Inayat Khan
In my last post I touched upon the half-imagined essence shining through a work in progress – via incubation, the search for one’s language (in whatever form,) through the heart. This kind of search is bound to involve deep personal experiences, be it related to an outer or inner place, as the myth of one’s existential journey, which, when authentically communicated and shared tends to assume universal significance.
Kent Haruf – (Feb 1943 – Nov 2014,) a humble, kind and unbiased writer, developed a powerful language. He shaped words until the essence of his characters stood clear – endearingly visible through sparse dialogues, exposing silent inner dramas all the more. The way I see it, his characters are letting sorrow be – a pragmatic yin approach that helps one to move along with the relentless forwarding force of life.
It is high art that sketches a story with modest words that slip right into the reader’s heart.
‘Our Souls at Night,’ is Kent Haruf’s last novel, published after his death. The story opens with possibilities: “And then there was the day Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters.” The courageous elderly Addie propositions Louis, a neighbour, widowed like herself, to share her bed during lonely nights. She scarcely knows the man, but acts intuitively on her need for companionship.
Talking in the dark, their hands occasionally touching, Louise and Addie come to value their fragile pact. Even Addie’s abandoned visiting grandson is wooed by the loving regard between his grandmother and her new friend, and their tolerance and tender concern for him, which is, the way I read it, the initiation of a small boy into the wisdom of respect. While the petty gossip of townsfolk adds to the fun of their social transgression and strengthen the closeness they’re forging, the jealous objections of Louis’s daughter and Addie’s son are truly hurtful, and in the end decisive.
Making less use of the environmental atmosphere that sparkles in earlier books; this last story keenly sharpens on the inner sanctuary of lonely people.
The backdrop to these novels about ordinary fates is the sleepy fictional town ‘Holt’ on the high plains of Colorado, which embodies the writer’s reclusive childhood.
In an essay published in the Granta magazine, Haruf movingly shares about his difficult early life, and how it advantaged him later on – follow this link, it’s worthwhile … – The Making of a Writer.
… ‘Years of unhappiness and isolation and living inwardly to myself have helped me to be more aware of others and to pay closer attention to what others around me are feeling. Which are good things if you are trying to learn how to write fiction about characters you care about and love’ …
And he has a message for fellow writers …
… ‘You have to believe in yourself despite the evidence. I felt as though I had a little flame of talent, not a big talent, but a little pilot-light-sized flame of talent, and I had to tend to it regularly, religiously, with care and discipline, like a kind of monk or acolyte, and not to ever let the little flame go out.’ …
Le Guin wrote that Haruf’s “courage and achievement in exploring ordinary forms of love – the enduring frustration, the long cost of loyalty, the comfort of daily affection – are unsurpassed by anything I know in contemporary fiction”.
Kent Haruf’s novels will certainly enrich your reading list during the coming festive day.
Related … don’t miss this short video about the most compelling story of a woman who found a language for her myth – think of incubation, cocoon, deep, deep desire to protect …
The blue-highlighted links in this post will open new pages – so you won’t lose this page. Thank you for reading.
The rose-phrase is the enduring refrain of Gertrude Stein. In her surreal 1939 children book, ‘The World is Round,’ for example, rows of three words appear throughout. A girl called Rose carves her name round a tree in an endless loop to affirm her existence .
Rose is a rose is a rose – rolls from the tongue much like the prayer beads of a rosary roll through nimble fingers.
You want to stay with the rose, let it take root in your psyche, and from there let roses after roses grow.
By comparison – BrexitisBrexitisBrexit – sounds like the rusty hinges of a rotten door, or the croaking of a parrot with a sore throat. I try to resist the word’s grating in my skull, but it’s difficult to avoid its ugly edges from day to day, in bizarre discord with the rousing refrain of Britannia rules the waves.
There’s repetition and repetition. Applied with intention in literature, music, dance and the visual arts, repetition can strip the familiar to its essence. The arts, at best, alert us to nature’s spellbinding repetitive rhythms. Shield your ears and hear the blood-river rushing through your veins – touch your wrist and sense your heart pump the river round and round. Spirit is seduced into this trance-dance, or it would never get trapped in forms. Repetitive behaviour settles us into mollifying routines and gives us a sense of stability, as well as addictive habits. Beneficial as they can be, customary routines also have a tendency to dumb us down.
In this time of rapid changes, words and images topple over each other’s associations. Type ‘apple’ into a search engine and up pop pages listing Apple Inc., the multinational technology company that has seized the apple, bitten off a chunk of knowledge, like Eve, and deployed it as a metaphor for its corporation – brilliant, and disconcerting. It had trouble finding a title for my novel, where ‘mirror’ was not already owned as a label by tabloids or rock bands.
Most young folk today move along the electric cultural highway in fast gear. Facebook’s Zuckerberg famously said ‘Move fast and break things.’ Maybe he’s a speed-hatched modern-day mystic. I’m reminded of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s profound quote regarding the journey of life – ‘The ideal the means, its breaking is the goal.’
I suffer a long view. My first experience of TV was Queen Elisabeth’s coronation. What unnerves me is the speed of spear-heading elites, leaving ordinary people no breath to digest events, especially as history and the arts are being replaced by computer science in education. With automation the rage, the journey happens in a blur, as do thinking processes. Keywords have become mechanical codes, and shareholders bow to the omnipotent algorithms’ patterns of, let’s say, how existential fears relate to consumer behaviour. We hardly notice our choices being manipulated. How to catch snap assumptions that keep consciousness caged, or one’s imagination buried under debris of glib answers? With traditions and ideologies on trial, how to develop a filter of authenticity to stem the flood of information? Reflective minds are turning cynical. I have that tendency. Doubt is the new lodestar.
Like never before, we perceive phenomena through multiple eyes, tap into the states of other beings – their joy, their ignorance and excess, their poverty, suffering and distress. We may blank out what upsets, but can’t escape the increasing experience of contradiction, the very function of reality. Greater awareness deeply conflicts us, as much as it inspires creativity. There’s hope. Seeing does not require physical eyes. Collective consciousness will expand, be it through chaos. The least we can do is to still our own mind, which is why I return to the rose.
The genus Rosa, according to fossil evidence, is 35 million years old and begun to be cultivated circa 5000 years ago. Due to its tessellated structure, dome-like shape and its delightful perfume, the rose has become a symbol of the heart, of wholeness, love, beauty and perfection the world over, frequently with mystical connotation, and often highly stylised, as in Islamic art.
When held, thought or spoken of, the rose lingers on and generates a mood. It may appear in different stages of opening or beautiful decay, in a particular colour, light. The name alone conjures up memories of scents, places, relationships, delight or melancholy. What ‘rose’ evokes derives from a time-wrought cypher that evokes all roses that were, are and will be. Rose is a rose is a rose – depicts a rose, no more, and yet, it kindles all the experiences and ideas humans formed around roses.
While fear of loss and abandonment engenders life, it also draws us towards the mystery of infinite consciousness, the one being with countless names. Various practices, derived from spiritual traditions, can calm a turbulent mind enough for a glimpse of harmony beyond divisions. For a while, at least, we sense the larger presence, the effortless zone, the flow – and given patience, come to realise that consciousness is what we are.
I invite you again to This guided rose journey I shared here three years ago, requires only your imagination.
It is a short imagery, easy to memorise. Enter with eyes closed, and it may work for you as a bridge to the recurring presence of rose – a reminder of continuous becoming and expanding consciousness.
How we make friends is a mystery. What is the unremembered that draws people and groups together as in a mirror? Are there families of souls tasked to exchange particular reflections during particular times?
Via serendipitous events my son was born in a Hamlet in the deepest Somerset hills among neighbours who adored him. The phase lasted five years, enough to provide me with a much needed hiatus after intense years of work, travelling and communal life.
Our selfless neighbours left an indelible impression on my son. They made him a valued and loved part of a small community. Our farmer friend, Hope, was hungry for knowledge, though never realised her dream of travelling as a journalist. She had however the most vivid visions of Tibet; a place neither of us had visited but felt strong emotional connection with. Not the first time, I had a shock of appreciation for the unremembered sparking instant rapport slipping through time.
‘We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.’ – William James
I was thirty then, had travelled much and been involved with innumerable internationally composed groupings, circles upon circles – this was to continue for decades to come. Among the groups were people who felt strangely familiar, like Hope. We would guard out solitude, cry together, or laugh hilariously about silly things. Equally there were those wary of me, often for reasons unknown to themselves, which made me wary of them. You may know this treading-on-eggshells feeling.
Serendipitous time-jumps weave through my novels. The cast of ‘Shapers’ has characters from ‘Course of Mirrors’ set in a future time, but caught in similar psychological dynamics.
It has been said that behind every creative expression is a desire for immortality, the prolonged influence of personal achievement. This seems simpleminded to me. I think our desire is to create beauty and meaning to make our existence worthwhile. It is the human search for our spiritual identity, generated by three persisting questions: who are we, why are we alive and what is the purpose of it all?
In this illusionary play of differences and multiple meanings we need friends. To have even one friend is a blessing. Friends distanced by space, and time, reside in the heart nevertheless. They include those who died. They may be writers, artists, innovators, past and present. They include friends who moved to other continents. They include the sympathetic minds we encounter via the internet, who greatly enrich our lives.
Friends I shared core experiences with are especially dear. A few of them I see face to face at yearly intervals. We may catch up on the narratives we hold of each other, though there will be new thresholds – moments where the known encounters the unknown.
My mum used to put a ruler or a book on my head and mark my height with a date inside a doorframe during my rapid growth years. More than a physical measurement, these marks made me think of what else had changed during the months since the last recording. Our essence abides, but our persona grows and is mutable in the way we evaluate ourselves against the passage of time.
This is why I like having guests. When a Dutch friend visited last month, the thought arose as to how the time gaps between our actual meetings affect us. He suggested I write something about this. He works presently in Germany, so our conversation slipped into German, with snippets of Dutch and back into English. He uses one language for business, another for philosophy, and yet another for emotional subjects. This strikes me as a neat arrangement. A little space between feeling and thinking, and a choice between modes of operating can make one’s internal communication more finely tuned and coherent.
The occasional visit of a friend eclipses my routines and opens extra dimensions, like the virgin pages of a notebook where our idiosyncrasies are redrawn, edited and updated. Connective threads shift past memories or future visions.
We are re-imagined and in the process re-connect to our essence.
The lens we focus on each other is subtly adjusted by the most intimate of all friends, the angel that is our inner story teller.
‘Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.’ ― Henry David Thoreau
‘No human relation gives one possession in another—every two souls are absolutely different. In friendship or in love, the two side by side raise hands together to find what one cannot reach alone.’ ― Kahlil Gibran
‘Mankind is interdependent, and the happiness of each depends upon the happiness of all, and it is this lesson that humanity has to learn …’ – Hazrat Inayat Khan
my birthday month tends to be a time of remembrance and gratefulness for the friends in my life, close, far, cherished or neglected, people that taught me to be a friend to myself, people I bonded with through heart-sparks that left indelible marks. My friends are soul companions that became part of my journey, they form a flowing web of connections I’m held in.
So far it’s been a social month. Having reconnected with two primary school friends from Germany a few years ago during a reunion, they sprang a surprise visit (their first to England.) We had a lovely meal in an excellent pub, with my son joining us. I toured the girls through the woods of a nearby sculpture park, through my town, and, of course, through London. We started with a riverboat journey (my first) under London’s time-honoured bridges, got lost in Covent Garden, which eventuated finding a café that served Black Forrest cake, which delighted Lieselotte, and surfaced at Trafalgar Square.
From there we wove our way through St James Park and ended up at Buckingham Palace.
The girls had a great time, and good laughs, especially when, embarrassingly, I fell into talking German with Londoners, attracting the occasional blank stare of incomprehension.
What struck me was how ‘in essence’ we had not changed since we were children. Intrinsic qualities stay with us throughout life, shine through our energy field, temperament, movement, voice, characteristics and life-interest. The qualities my friends nourished in me as a child, I still value today, the unconditional kind heart of Gaby, and Lieselotte’s ability to assess situations quickly and get things done. I saw that they also nourish these qualities in each other. Sadly they had to return home and miss my party last weekend.
The Party… lovely sunshine, guest coming and going. An unknown sponsor even ordered a birthday balloon to sail above my garden 🙂 My good-weather-wish came true. Some of us kept a circle outside until midnight among sparkling lights. The occasional apple dropped.
My favourite deckchair folded under more weight than my own. Glasses clinked. There was silliness, acknowledgements, revelations.
Seen through the eyes of our friends’ imagination, do the lissome fleeting shadows flitting through our personal frames influence us, each other? I wonder, but guess they do.
As the years crawl along, heart-spark moments never dwindle. Stories are transformed and woven into a new context. Life stations glide by and return as in a spiralling carrousel.
Even friends not present were with us in spirit, remembered, since, like Kahlil Gibran put it … for that which you love most in (a friend) may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
From The Prophet …
And the youth said, Speak to us of Friendship, and he answered, saying:
Your friend is your need answered. He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving. And he is your board and fireside. You come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the ‘nay’ in your own mind, nor do you withhold the ‘aye.’ And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart; for without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not; for that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit. For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend. If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also. For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live. For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
A few years ago I decided to value my writing enough to make sacrifices. I’ve since devoted every spare moment to this solitary word-sculpting activity, with no idea where it will lead, and therefore feel tremendous joy whenever my compositions arouse curiosity, and especially when someone groks the universal myth I struggle to filter through my individual imagination, my psyche. Why do writers, and artists, share the facets stirring in the depth of their soul without the promise of a resonanating audience? … It’s a mystery.
Cynthia Holt, living on the other side of this planet, created this painting for me, inspired by two of my poems, Riverhead, and Sleeping Sun … It struck me that the image relates, in essence, equally to the constellation of my novels, yet to be published.
Thank you, Cynthia, for your spontaneous offering. It speaks to how, through interconnections, face to face, or in the realm of the virtual web, we stimulate each other’s creativity.
The image can remind us of the two worlds, indispensable to each other, which we bridge – and how against the canvas of pregnant darkness, the spirit’s eternal light defines our unique myths towards consciousness.
A peaceful Christmas time, and abundant Blessings for the New Year to all …
I’m looking forward to spending a few days in Amsterdam with friends and family.
Since I posted this, Cindy has done a most beautiful post on her mermaid tavern site, including a poem by T S Eliot, a song, and a chart of the Hero’s Journey.