To the glory of God

Years ago I saw a movie made by an filmmaker from either Iraq or Afghanistan. I don’t remember its name, only that it was the story of a young boy who was blind, and there were scenes of mountains and fields of flowers. What I remember vividly is the prelude. The screen went black and then white Arabic script flashed across the blackness with its translation below: “To the glory of God.” There was silence and then the movie started.

The Australian poet, Les Murray, also opens his books of poetry with the same invocation: “To the glory of God.”

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Possibility and the hum of concerns

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Many of us experience, from the moment we wake up, a background hum of concern; for one thing, for many things. It’s almost as if life comes wrapped in some sort of concern. The hum has been with us for as long as we can remember and can come to us in various frequencies: a feverish pitch to the faintest of whispers. We might be concerned about being heard, or liked, or finding the right mate, or getting ahead.

Here’s a tale by Tim Connor of a child’s concern but one that is by no means exclusive to childhood. It goes like this …

I had always wanted to be in a club. The first one was founded by my older sister for the sole purpose of letting her friends in and keeping my friends and me out. The clubhouse was our parents’ bridge table with the bedsheet thrown over it but, no matter, the more exclusive and restricted the membership, the greater our desire to get in. And the more we sought ingress, the greater the power the club held over us. That’s what made a club a club.

And it wasn’t until I kicked and screamed and my parents intervened, that the sheet finally was lifted and we were admitted to the inner sanctum. Naturally, the moment we were there, the club’s exclusivity seemed to evaporate.

In fact, it was no longer even a club, just the space under the sheet covering the card table.

Not much has changed since then. As adults, more or less, we’re enthralled by closed doors and velvet ropes, held at bay by guest list checkers, gatekeepers and membership committees.

While Connor’s story may not be the story of our childhood, we probably relate to it at some level. When do these ever-present, never silent concerns begin?

With the very early awareness that something can, and most likely will, go wrong.

This awareness arrives early in life, long before we were able to sort out having concerns was even valid. When we first thought something might go wrong, whether whatever happened was truly threatening or just appeared to be so, the world of concerns was born.

This world of concerns find a welcoming host in us. It takes residence, sets up house, slowly begins to add mass to itself and becomes something to which we unwittingly pay heed. Over time, our concerns occur as if they are just part of who we are, an idiosyncratic part of ourselves but, for sure, something we act as if we’re stuck with, like a genetic or hard-wired trait.

Growing up, like any child, I had my share of concerns. Not about getting into a club under the card table, but about being better and doing things more perfectly than my sister. In the eyes of who was looking, I wanted to be seen as the best, at getting good grades, at baking cookies, at whatever I did. I studied books and my peers to learn what I could do in order to be perfect, better-than, recognised and loved. But how perfect I was or wasn’t didn’t occur for me as a concern I was responding to; it was just me being who I was.

Being perfect wasn’t easy. The landscape kept shifting. As life went on, it was harder and harder for me to be perfect. I realised I wasn’t the most loved sibling or the only smart girl at school. Eventually, the need to be better-than and perfect day after day was no longer as enchanting or compelling as it once was.

I just wanted to relax and give up the push. Truthfully, I longed to enjoy my sister, watch her excel, be her buddy, but my need to come out ahead took precedence.

Why would we enact behaviours in order to get something we realise we don’t really want or need?

Most in-order-to’s are a strategy for dealing with some concern. And often, whatever initiated the concern was so long ago that we have no real memory of it. How we respond to what happened back then, worked back then.  So we carry it forward with no awareness of why, or that it’s even an it. It’s just how we are. As Charles Dickens put it, “The forces that affect our lives, the influences that mould and shape us, are often like whispers in a distant room, teasingly indistinct, apprehended only with difficulty.” Yet these whispers which we can barely apprehend still have the power to shape our lives today.

When much of what we do is a response in order to deal with some concern, that’s not great news. Because it’s as if we don’t know or do anything just for itself. And that keeps us from being present.

The ultimate kind of bad news, however, is to find out that we will never get enough of whatever it is – honest enough, genuine enough, contributing enough, savvy enough, wise enough – to quell our concerns. If that’s the case, the natural state of being whole and complete cannot happen. In order to deal with, adapt to, and accommodate to that, we put together various ways of being, and there you have it: that’s our life experience.  This dynamic occurs over and over and we keep being driven by it. It comes with the territory of being human.

Now, while we may not have been aware of this dynamic before, now we are. Being aware of what we weren’t aware of, and being responsible for it, leaves us free to choose and free to create possibility.

The power to choose and the power to create possibility reside in language. And language is far more than just a tool that describes or represents reality. To know the power of language other than mere words essentially requires a transformation from knowing ourselves as who we have considered ourselves to be – our identities – to knowing ourselves as our word. As what we say. With that transformation comes knowing ourselves in a new way, that of honouring our speaking, that of honouring our word as ourselves.

Being one’s word exists as a possibility. When we have created a possibility it’s not something we’re trying to do, nor is it a matter of in-order-to. Questions like “Will it happen or not?” or “Do we need to do x in order to get to y?” aren’t relevant to possibility.

When we create a new possibility for ourselves, it does exist. It’s present in the world, not as a physical phenomenon, but as a possibility.

~ “Unravelling in-order-to’s” by Nancy Zapolski, from Insights & Distinctions: Landmark Essays, Volume 1

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Image: Illustration from A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Hilda Boswell

My brilliant career (in travel): Part 1

Continental Airlines Boeing 747

When I was 25, I went to New York. It was the late 80s and my first trip overseas. The ultimate destination was Canada on account of a lifeguard I’d fallen in love with some years earlier. He’d once worked minding a beach in the brief Canadian summer in Nova Scotia and when he spoke fondly of the way Canadians talked of their “suit”, I decided then and there I must go. I think it was this fondness I was looking for, or maybe jealousy of the actress, Ann-Margret, whose picture he had on his wall.

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I Know The Way You Can Get by Hafiz

solidgoldcreativity:

Such charm, such wit: Hafiz’s words and Steven’s art.

Originally posted on poemimage:

coffee face on lid

I know the way you can get

When you have not had a drink of Love:

Evidence Bcoffee stain 1

Your face hardens,

Your sweet muscles cramp.

Children become concerned

About a strange look that appears in your eyes

Which even begins to worry your own mirror

And nose.

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Squirrels and birds sense your sadness

And call an important conference in a tall tree.

They decide which secret code to chant

To help your mind and soul.

touch of bluecoffee stain fragment againcoffee overlaid on black and white

Even angels fear that brand of madness

That arrays itself against the world

And throws sharp stones and spears into

The innocent

And into one’s self.

duotone deluxetwo types of ecstacy

O I know the way you can get

If you have not been drinking Love:

coffee face on lidlids lids lids

You might rip apart

Every sentence your friends and teachers say,

Looking for hidden clauses.

coffee mountain

You might weigh every word on a scale

Like a dead fish.

coffeeism

You might pull out a ruler to measure

From…

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Paradise

lorikeets

You were in paradise, but you didn’t recognise it. It’s the same with most people in this world; they seek suffering in the most joyous of places because they think they are unworthy of happiness.

~ from The Devil and Miss Prym, Paulo Coelho

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Image: The manic, funny Rainbow Lorikeets of Australia

Ode to Friday: Hesse

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 “For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read Continue reading

Sunday reading for you: A thunderous stet!

Paris Review

When I used to read literary fiction, Vladimir Nabokov was up there in my pantheon. Martin Amis said it best of Nabokov:

The variety, force and richness of Nabokov’s perceptions have not even the palest rival in modern fiction. To read him in full flight is to experience stimulation that is at once intellectual, imaginative and aesthetic, the nearest thing to pure sensual pleasure that prose can offer.

The following blog post is from 2010 and concerns Nabokov being the nightmare interview subject for The Paris Review. It still makes me laugh. I hope it makes you smile this Sunday …

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Underneath it

For Cait

People stand inside a makeshift bomb shelter in Makiyivka, Ukraine

When you’ve said all of the
bad things and all of the good things
you haven’t been saying,
you will find that what you’ve really
been withholding is, “I love you.”

~ Werner Erhard

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Image: People take refuge in makeshift bomb shelter in Makiyivka, Ukraine by Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP

Ode to Friday: Rumi

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Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.

~ Unnamed, Rumi (Persian, 1207-1273), translated by Coleman Banks

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Image: Le Blanc Seing, 1965 by Rene Magritte

Several strangers

Ed Freeman photography

Collecting reviews from three decades has brought me face to face with several strangers who went by my name. Jane Austen was right when she wrote, “Seven years … are enough to change every pore of one’s skin, and every feeling of one’s mind.”

Thus, Claire Tomalin, the English author and reviewer, wrote on gathering together pieces of her work from the previous 30 years. I had a similar experience the other night when I had a phone conversation with someone from my high school after 35 years of silence. He talked about many strangers with curiously familiar names, several of them myself.

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Self as clearing

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You could say it [transformation] is a shift in the basis of experience from self as point of view, or from self as direct experience, to self as self, or self as simply being. True transformation is the recovery by the self of the generating principles with which self creates the self. Transformation is self as self – the space in which being occurs …

~ Werner Erhard’s Ideas and Applications

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Image: These flowers come to visit every year: the jasmine, a crimson camellia and a pink camellia. This year, when I open my bedroom window, the jasmine comes right in, tendril first, to be with me. I’m a clearing for flowers.

Ode to Friday: Rumi

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Has anyone seen the boy who used to come here?
Round-faced troublemaker, quick to find a joke, slow
to be serious. Red shirt,
perfect coordination, sly,
strong muscles, with things always in his pockets: reed flute,
ivory pick, polished and ready for his talent.
You know that one.

Have you heard stories about him?
Pharaoh and the whole Egyptian world
collapsed for such a Joseph.
I’d gladly spend years getting word
of him, even third or fourth-hand.

~ Red Shirt, Rumi (Persian, 1207-1273), translated by Coleman Banks

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Image: Ronchamp chapel by Le Corbusier, photograph: Henning Thomsen