The simplest thing

magicbook

I bought the book in a Hobart secondhand shop a few years ago. I’ve mentioned it before. It’s a tiny self-published thing that contains many spelling mistakes and whenever I read it for just a few minutes my view of life transforms. How powerful! How magical!

What are the words that get me every time?

  • That life is very simple.
  • Few people understand this.
  • We are told all sorts of things about how to be happy, “Live your dreams”, “Find a career”, “Find your soulmate”, and that we need “lots of money”, “a great education”, “a car and a house” or “two cars and two houses”, or “to be doing things or going places” to be happy.
  • The truth is very simple.
  • There is only one cause of lasting happiness and that is the flow of love.
  • Conversely, there is only one cause of all the suffering in the world and that is the lack of love.

That’s it! Nothing else to say because nothing else is necessary!

The author understands that “love” doesn’t necessarily mean a romantic or even affectionate feeling. What we normally call love is a microscopic part of this vast Love.

The author says this:

We will be the happiest when we can offer every atom in the universe our unconditional love, and in turn, receive the love that is always flowing from every atom. This is the most essential element of our nature. Every one and every thing radiates love naturally whether we are conscious of it or not. [my italics]

Want to be happy? Simple.

Walk down the street and silently offer love to everyone you pass.

Or, get in your car and instead of “looking at it with disdain, thinking that you are just waiting to get a better car, try looking at it with love. Imagine getting into your car and saying ‘I am so grateful that this wonderful chariot transports me effortlessly and lovingly every day. Thank you. I love you.'”

Or, think of your house and instead of desiring a bigger and better one, “love your current space. Love the shelter it is offering you every day. Thank it for offering you such a nice opportunity every day to be comfortable and cared for.”

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References: From The simplest book God ever wrote by Sunirmalya Symons

 

The insanity now abroad

trump2

The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking. ~ Martin Heidegger

If ever there were a clear example of the tendency for human beings to let themselves be run by “the ought”, it’s on full display in the reactions to Trump’s executive order preventing entry to the US by certain groups.

Instead of simply acknowledging the feeling of helplessness and leaving it alone, human beings use the “ought” – I ought to do something, someone ought to do something, we ought to be able to do something – to try to get away from the feeling.

That’s when the ability to think goes out the window.

Thus we have people demanding denunciations from governments and other citizens as if they are the issue, rather than the original act of discrimination and its summary execution. Witness the former US ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, who is reported to have declared that the “hottest place in hell” is reserved for those “who remain neutral”. Not for Trump or anyone else in his administration the hottest place in hell. No, it’s for those who do not perform a denunciation of him publicly and to the satisfaction of the watchers and evaluators everywhere.

The original issue is pushed aside for something in which we feel no impotency: parades of self-righteousness.

It’s one example of the insanity now abroad.

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I want I don’t want I can I cannot I be I not be

cat-and-bird-paul-klee

There’s a feeling or experience that is rarely discussed, even identified, and yet it’s running human beings. Much of the distress, agitation and busyness of the world arises from this one thought. Shakespeare saw it and put it at the centre of his profoundest work – “To be or not to be”. Mostly, it goes underground. That’s why I was excited to read a re-creation of it in a book of so-called Zen questions and answers.

In this example, the person asking the question feels helpless and frustrated about a situation involving his mother, but it could be any situation. The “answer” will apply. See if you recognise it in your own life. I particularly like the “forcing a way through the logjam with ought”. That’s very good …

I am in a complete impasse with my mother. She demands all the time that I be there to help her; but when I try to do anything she complains and says that she is better off with the nurse. How can I use this in practice?

… I sympathise with you in your feeling of impotence in the face of what does seem an impossible situation. So often we are caught up with the feeling that we ought to do something, and that feeling is always accompanied by the feeling that we ought to be able to do something.

Would it help at all if you were to allow the feeling, ‘I ought to do something’ to come up, and simply be aware of it without the feeling of being identified with it? There is a great difference between the feeling of ought and the feeling ‘I’ ought. The feeling of ought dominates our lives: there ought to be a solution to all my problems; there ought to be a way of living better; there ought to be a way of dealing with the world’s suffering, and so on. Unfortunately, because we can imagine an ideal situation, we believe that ideal situation ought to be ours. To stay with the feeling of ought without seeking for a way to realise the ought, is very uncomfortable, but it is a way through.

‘Ought’ may well come out of our contradictory nature, and this can be expressed as: ‘I want to do something and I do not want to do it; I can do it, I can’t do it.’ We try to force a way through the logjam with ‘ought’, and get frustrated and humiliated by the failure to do so. This feeling of ought, and consequent frustration it brings, may well be at the root of our need to find a ‘spiritual’ way … Basically we are all, all the time, on the horns of the dilemma, but some are more adept at pretending that they are not.”

~ From What More Do You Want? by Albert Low

Image: Cat and Bird, 1928, Paul Klee

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Found

 

“If you had not already found me you would not be seeking me.” ~ Saint Augustine

Images: A strange and beautiful flower on a neighbourhood tree. Look at the twin rows of inner petals, the top row slightly higher than the bottom, the bands of watercolour purple and dark purple aligned so from above it looks like a single row.

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To be beautiful

Working Title/Artist: From the Faraway, Nearby Department: Modern Art Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1938 photography by Malcolm Varon 1984 transparency #5AD scanned and retouched by film and media (jn) 12_13_04

Last year, I joined a sangha in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and it’s so good to be a part of it. I can talk about Thay to my heart’s content and listen to others talking about him. Here is a passage which a sangha member shared. I consider it a wonderful gift, and in turn I offer it to you …

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.”

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Text: Thich Nhat Hanh

Image: From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937, Georgia O’Keeffe

Seeing flower: The second mindfulness exercise by Thich Nhat Hanh

georgia-o-keeffe-hollyhock-pink-with-pedernal

 

Once upon a time, I had an experience in which I saw people are flowers. I’m using my words carefully here. I do not mean people are like flowers; I’m not speaking metaphorically. I’m speaking literally. When I looked, I saw flower. Not a flower, or the flower. Simply … flower.

When I discovered Thich Nhat Hanh some years later, I knew I was home. Because he too can see flower.

Following is his instruction on the second mindfulness exercise, “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower …” For details of the first mindfulness exercise (“Breathing in, I know I am breathing in; breathing out, I know I am breathing out”) and subsequent exercises, go to the book or recording listed below or any of his many publications.

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“Now, the second exercise, flower fresh …

‘Breathing in, I see myself as a flower; breathing out, I feel fresh.’

Humans are born as flowers. When I look at a child, I see her, I see him, as a flower. Very fresh. Very beautiful. Look at how our eyes are like flowers. In the sutra, the eyes of the Buddha are described as lotus flowers. Our lips can be a beautiful flower, specially when we smile. And this is a flower that we can offer to anyone, at any time. Just breathing in and breathing out, and smile and you have one flower to offer.

And you know something? Your eyes can smile too. So when you look at someone and smile with your eyes, you offer two flowers. And if you smile with your mouth, you offer three flowers.

[audience laughs]

And your hands are also like flowers. And with my hands I can form a flower, a lotus flower. And when I bow to someone, I say something like this, ‘A flower for you, the Buddha to be’ and I bow to him or to her.

So my hands are flowers capable of making people happy, and when I offer a lotus flower to that person, I offer another flower with my mouth and two other flowers with my eyes.

We are born as flowers. But if we don’t know how to take care of our flowers, our flower may be tired, may wilt. When you breathe in deeply, you make every cell in your body smile like a flower. Become fresh again for your sake, for your own happiness, and for the happiness of those around us. If you are not fresh, if you are grouchy, if you are irritated, then people around you cannot be happy. Therefore, practise becoming a flower again, practise ‘Breathing in, I see myself as a flower; breathing out, I feel fresh.’

The Buddha practised refreshing himself and therefore when we look at him we see him like a flower. He’s described as sitting on a flower. It means that anywhere he sits, he sits with peace, happiness, freshness, because he is a flower himself. So when you sit on your cushion, sit in such a way that you become a flower and suddenly your cushion becomes a lotus flower. And practising the way of the Buddha, you should sit on a lotus flower and not on burning coals.

[audience laughs]

If you have too many worries, too much anger in yourself, you cannot sit on a flower. You sit on burning coals. You have no peace. As soon as you sit down, you want to run again. And therefore, the lotus is not available. In order for the lotus to be available as a seat to you, practise being a flower.

Flower fresh, that is the second exercise. And if you practise like this three or four times, you become fresh and you enjoy that.”

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Text: From the recording, The Art of Mindful Living by Thich Nhat Hanh

Image: Hollyhock Pink with Pedernal, 1937, Georgia O’Keeffe

Surrender and freedom

Georgia O'Keeffe Pelvis IV 1944 oil on canvas 36 1/16 x 40 3/8 " (91.5 x 102.5cm) Georgia O’Keeffe Museum © 1987, Private Collection

2016 was one of the best years of my life. This time last year I was struggling with an area of life that hadn’t been working for a long time. For years, I kept doing the same thing over and over again in this area, unable to see any other course of action and convinced that if I just tried harder or better, it would eventually work. Finally, in December 2015 I was left with nowhere else to go and I took the first steps to accepting the situation AS IT WAS.

In January 2016, the new reality had begun and though the situation was hard and unfamiliar and still NOT THE WAY IT SHOULD BE, I could see it was indeed something new in an area in which the new had died decades before. I suddenly had new problems, and new problems meant movement. So that encouraged me.

Then in March, at Easter, I had a big breakthrough. The situation was better, but come the Easter weekend, I was feeling sad and disempowered and was ruminating on old sorrows. Again, I did something different. I’d been reading and listening to Thich Nhat Hanh and I took his advice about dealing with sorrow and other strong emotions. Rather than trying to get away from it as I might have done previously, I allowed myself to experience it. I didn’t analyse it or interpret it or make up some story about myself as a result of it; I just let it be.

Two days went past, and then on the third day, Easter Sunday, something happened. Suddenly, I saw something about my view of the world and myself that I had had since I was  a child, and over the course of some hours the insight deepened. The stone had rolled away from the tomb!

From that day on, my life has gotten better and better. I have a new freedom and a love and respect for myself that continues to grow every day, and in the nine months since then I’ve experienced successes I previously thought impossible.

Looking back now, I see the genesis was that new move, that move that had been foreign to me for perhaps my whole life, the thing called acceptance or surrender. In her blog, Celia Hales refers to a Buddhist master describing it as “being willing to have it so” which is a very good way of putting it.

The second big thing I discovered in 2016 is what Paulo Coelho referred to in the post I published the other day: “nothing is irreplaceable.” I’ve often lived my life as if the option in front of me were the only option and I had to “put up with” whatever was on offer. In 2016, I discovered this is not the case, that there are always other options, they’re usually right there in front of me or just round the next corner, and they’re a much better fit for me.

At first glance it looks like this discovery is counter to my discovery of acceptance or surrender. But in ways I cannot explain or don’t want to explain, they go together. The freedom to choose, to say “no”, arises from surrender; surrender gives rise to freedom.

I’ve got more to discover about surrender and I’m excited.

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Image: I saw this painting in the flesh today. Very powerful!  Pelvis IV 1944 by Georgia O’Keeffe

2016: Closing cycles

buddha-getting-a-dust

This post from Paulo Coelho is an extra good one at this time of year.

“Nobody plays this life with marked cards”

“Nothing is more dangerous than …”

“Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust.”

“One always has to know when a stage comes to an end. If we insist on staying longer than the necessary time, we lose the happiness and the meaning of the other stages we have to go through.

Closing cycles, shutting doors, ending chapters – whatever name we give it, what matters is to leave in the past the moments of life that have finished.

Did you lose your job? Has a loving relationship come to an end? Did you leave your parents’ house? Gone to live abroad? Has a long-lasting friendship ended all of a sudden? You can spend a long time wondering why this has happened.

You can tell yourself you won’t take another step until you find out why certain things that were so important and so solid in your life have turned into dust, just like that. But such an attitude will be awfully stressing for everyone involved: your parents, your husband or wife, your friends, your children, your sister.

Everyone is finishing chapters, turning over new leaves, getting on with life, and they will all feel bad seeing you at a standstill.

Things pass, and the best we can do is to let them really go away. That is why it is so important (however painful it may be!) to destroy souvenirs, move, give lots of things away to orphanages, sell or donate the books you have at home.

Everything in this visible world is a manifestation of the invisible world, of what is going on in our hearts – and getting rid of certain memories also means making some room for other memories to take their place.

Let things go. Release them. Detach yourself from them.

Nobody plays this life with marked cards, so sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.

Do not expect anything in return, do not expect your efforts to be appreciated, your genius to be discovered, your love to be understood.

Stop turning on your emotional television to watch the same program over and over again, the one that shows how much you suffered from a certain loss: that is only poisoning you, nothing else.

Nothing is more dangerous than not accepting love relationships that are broken off, work that is promised but there is no starting date, decisions that are always put off waiting for the ‘ideal moment.’

Before a new chapter is begun, the old one has to be finished: tell yourself that what has passed will never come back.

Remember that there was a time when you could live without that thing or that person – nothing is irreplaceable, a habit is not a need. This may sound so obvious, it may even be difficult, but it is very important.

Closing cycles. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because that no longer fits your life.

Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust.

Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.”

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Image: Sasaguri, Japan, Temple parishioners clean up the Reclining Buddha at the Nanzoin temple. Some 200 monks and visitors take part in the annual year-end dusting of the statue; Photograph: The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images via The Guardian

Disappearing upset: A not-too-belated Christmas present

georgia-o-keeffe-goat-s-horn-with-red

Speaking of kinship structures, I personally made it through Christmas without any dings in the duco, but I did witness the fallout from a blow-up between father and son in a family I know.

They’re new friends and others told me it was longstanding – of course! – and had happened before. There was the father and son killing each other with love and hurt and disappointment, blowing themselves up, and threatening to blow up their 30-year-old business and all its loyal customers to boot.

Something had happened, an upset, and the fuse had been lit again.

I’m closer to the father than the son but I can see the son is a lovely and tender-hearted man, just as his dad is proud and charismatic and generous. I want to tell them that first they have to deal with the upset. Nothing is possible while the upset is still there. Once the upset is disappeared, then there is the possibility of healing, talking, loving again.

How does one disappear upset? Here’s how I was taught at Landmark and in my experience it’s foolproof. It consists of one step only.

Underneath the experience of upset is one of three things:

  1. a thwarted intention
  2. an unfulfilled expectation
  3. an undelivered communication.

When you are upset, look and see which of the three it is. When you identify which it is, the upset will disappear.

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Image: Goat’s Horn with Red by Georgia O’Keeffe

Hot milk goodness #4

greek-gods

There’s another ancient topic in Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, maybe the only topic there ever is: families, or as Sofia, the stalled anthropologist, whose full name is Sofia Irina Papastergiadis, puts it: kinship structures.

“F=Father. M=Mother. SS=Same sex. OS=Opposite sex. I have no G (Siblings) or C (Children) or H (Husband), nor do I have a Godparent (who we classify as fictive kin because godparents can make up their responsibilities and duties).”

But maybe it’s all fictive kin. As she says on meeting her Greek father (named Christos, what else) for the first time in 11 years, each of us plays parts not denoted by our sign, sons being husbands to mothers, daughters being mothers to mothers, and so on.

“I have no plan B to replace my father because I am not sure that I want a husband who is like a father, though I can see this is part of the mix in kinship structures. A wife can be a mother to her husband and a son can be a husband or a mother to his mother and a daughter can be a sister or a mother to her mother who can be a father and a mother to her daughter, which is probably why we are all lurking in each other’s sign. It’s my bad luck that my father never showed up for me, but I had not changed my surname to Booth, even though it was tempting to have a name that people could spell. He had given me his name and I had not given it away. I had found something to do with it. The name of my father had placed me in a bigger world of names that cannot be easily said or spelt.”

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The smell

Frequently in a conversation, someone says something which appears to be perfectly straightforward but which nevertheless smells. Then I read this again and identify the smell …

Existential analysis, therefore, constantly has the character of doing violence (gewaltsamkeit) whether to the claims of the everyday interpretation, or to its complacency and its tranquillised obviousness.

~ Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

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Hot milk goodness #3

woman-3

One of the things Hot Milk by Deborah Levy is concerned with is what it means to be a woman, or a man for that matter. As many individuals and schools of thought have realised, the more one looks into the question the more one sees there is nothing there. There is no inherent meaning in the concept “woman” just as there is no inherent meaning in any other concept or thing, and Levy puts the case with great lightness and wit in the scene in which Sofia is speculating on what she might buy from the market if she were an adult woman with all the accoutrements …

“I picked up an aerosol of air freshener that had been designed in the shape of a curvaceous woman. She was wearing a polka-dot apron that did not disguise her massive belly and heavy breasts. Her eyelashes were long and curled, her lips tiny and puckered. The instructions for how to use her were translated into Italian, Greek, German, Danish and a language I did not recognise, but she was ‘Extremely Flammable’ in every language.

There were instructions in English, too. Shake her well. Point her towards the centre of the room and spray. The scale of her belly and breasts were not unlike early fertility goddesses found in Greece around 6000BC, except they did not wear polka-dot aprons. Did they suffer from hypochondria? Hysteria? Were they bold? Lame? Too full of the milk of human kindness?

I bought the air freshener for four euro because it was a kind of artefact translated into many languages, and also because it was clearly an interpretation of a woman (breasts belly apron eyelashes) and I had become confused by the sign for servicios in public places. I could not figure out why one sign was male and the other female. The most common stick-figure sign was not particularly male or female. Did I need this aerosol to make things clearer to me? What kind of clarity was I after?

I had conquered Juan who was Zeus the thunderer as far as I was concerned, but the signs were all mixed up because his job in the injury hut was to tend the wounded with his tube of ointment. He was maternal, brotherly, he was like a sister, perhaps paternal, he had become my lover. Are we all lurking in each other’s sign? Do I and the woman on the air freshener belong to the same sign? …

It wasn’t clarity I was after. I wanted things to be less clear …”

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Image: Man taking pic of the installation Narcissism: Dazzle Room by Shigeki Matsuyama

Hot milk goodness #2

deborah-levy

Today’s instalment from Hot Milk by Deborah Levy concerns Sofia and her mother, Rose, driving to a local market. They have come to the baked out, rocky coast of Spain to consult the famous doctor/quack, Dr Gómez, about Rose’s paralysis of the feet. In characteristically perverse style, Rose is suddenly able to drive a car, whereas 25-year-old Sofia is revealed to have failed her driving test four times.

Feet and hands are especially important in the symbolic history of women, and books like Women Who Run With the Wolves contain many of the stories such as “The Red Shoes” and “The Handless Maiden”, each of them spelling out the ubiquity and consequences of women’s learned helplessness.

In my own life, I think of the thing I was forbidden to do as a child and teenager, and that was to express anger. My mother would shut it down before the words “How dare you?” were out of her mouth. Looking back now I can see she was terrified of her own rage being awakened. Instead it expressed itself in migraine headaches and the nightly near-severing of her fingers on the newly sharpened knife over the detested task of the evening meal.

“I looked down at my mother’s foot on the brake. Her toes moved off and then landed on it with delicacy and confidence. ‘I can imagine you walking the entire length of the beach,’ I said.

In reply she started to sing the words to a hymn: ‘And did those feet in ancient time/ Walk upon England’s mountains green.’

If only. My mother’s feet are mostly on strike, but I’m not sure what she is negotiating for or what the deal breaker would be. Her feet are an English size nine. Her jaw is large. Our ancestors developed a protruding jaw because they were constantly fighting. Grievance is very strenuous. My mother needs her jaw to see off anyone who will separate her from her stash of resentment.”

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Image: Deborah Levy

Hot milk goodness #1

man-with-sailfish

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy continues to be exhilarating. I’m going to share some over the next day or two. Here’s a section from the scene called “Boldness” in which Sofia finally takes action after Dr Gómez observes she lacks strength as a young woman. She needs “more purpose, less apathy” and he prescribes stealing a fish from the market to make her bolder, “It need not be the biggest fish, but it must not be the smallest either.”

Often, I think I need to steal a fish too …

“The first fish to snare my attention from the point of view of a thief was a monkfish with a monster face, mouth gaping open to reveal its two rows of sharp little teeth. I lightly poked my finger into its mouth and discovered a world that was totally unknown to me, like Columbus discovering the Bahamas. The cashier, a fierce woman in a yellow rubber apron, shouted in Spanish not to touch the fish. Already I had made myself visible, when the point of a thief is to slip unseen into the night and not into the mouth of a fish … I considered the whiskery langoustines … they were the professors of the ocean but they did not make me feel bolder. A huge tuna lay on a bed of ice … It was the most precious jewel in the market, the emerald of the sea. My hand reached towards it, but I couldn’t follow it through. A tuna was too ambitious, not so much bold as reckless.

… I looked away and that’s when I saw my fish. It was looking straight at me and its eyes were furious. It was a plump dorado in a rage. I knew it was destined to be mine.

… To steal the dorado, I had to conquer my fear of being found out and shamed … Very slowly, I moved closer to the dorado, and with my left hand I touched the price tag on the langoustines to distract the cashier from my right hand, which was sliding the grumpy dorado into my basket.

As far as I could make out, this was the model that most politicians had adopted to run their democracies and dictatorships. If the reality of the right hand is being messed up with the left hand, it would be true to say that reality is not a stable commodity …”

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Image: Man with sailfish

My tiny house of language

 

 

hotmilk

Sometimes I feel like I’m going to die of boredom in conversations and one of my dearest wishes is to wake up one day free to open my mouth and let any old thing fall out. Of course, I am free, though I appear not to know it, or as my Landmark buddies understand, knowing makes no difference anyway. To anything. Least of all to knowing oneself as free to say … what? What is it I haven’t yet said or haven’t been courageous enough to say?

There are many times I want to tell someone they’re a fool. Lately, it’s been parents. As a non-parent, listening to what parents say about their children is often alarming and I want to tell them do you realise the misery you’re storing up for yourself and your child.

But it’s not really about being free to tell someone they’re a fool. It’s about being free not to go through the old conversational motions, free to say something stupid, eccentric or seemingly off topic, like answering a question that will arise next week or last week, and in turn, to be said to.

Like my trainer giving me instructions last week. “Do one more here,” he said, “and then I’ll meet you in the bushes over there”, gesturing to a quieter corner of the gym. I was enchanted. If I didn’t already love him, his remark would have done it.

And like Dr Gómez in a new novel I’m reading called Hot Milk by Deborah Levy which is full of the kind of conversations I dream of. Dr Gómez is the specialist Sofia and her intermittently paralysed mother consult in a town on the Spanish coast. Here’s a taste.

I regarded Gómez as my research assistant. I have been on the case all my life and he is just starting. There are no clear boundaries between victory and defeat when it comes to my mother’s symptoms. As soon as he makes a diagnosis, she will grow another one to confound him. He seems to know this. Yesterday he told her to recite her latest ailment to the body of a dead insect, perhaps to a fly, because they are easy to swat. He suggested she surrender to this strange action and listen carefully to the monotony of the way it buzzes before it dies. It is likely, he said, that she will discover that the buzzing sound, often so irritating to the human ear, resembles the timbre and pitch of Russian folk music.

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