weekly: pictures and definitions
(what is a scamel?)
images: Deirdre Burton; definitions: Deirdre Burton or Tom Davis
We've come to the end of our year-long scamel project. We hope you've enjoyed it. Thanks for kind emails and other communications - it was lovely to hear from people.
We have a "daughter of scamel" project in gestation, and will fine tune it for the new year: it will be announced on the daily photo and poem blog.
All the scamel material will remain here for you to re-visit. And you may be interested in the book we've just made which uses 52 of these texts and images. You'll find the details here. We think it's beautiful, and it gave us great pleasure to make it.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
So, I need to explain to you about white noise. If you want to understand us, that might be where you start: it's that important.
First, the word "white" is quite complicated in our language. It can mean purity, newness, openness. White light: a white dawn. But it also can mean emptiness of meaning, lack of life, pallor, the colour of death.
When a child is young, and learning to talk, they chatter, charmingly, and of course we encourage and play with that. Language is a miracle. As they grow older, and their language becomes more sophisticated, the chatter goes on, but it is silent. Internalised. It is the chatter of the "me" voice.
The "me" is of course important, and we encourage its formation, because it helps the child to learn boundaries, and self preservation. But the "me" voice, chattering away, if it is left to its own devices, is dangerous. At all costs it must not become the voice of "me first". That way suffering lies, despair, anger, frustration, all of the ills of the "me".
We call the "me" voice, the internal chatter, white noise. Listen to it: it means nothing. It selves, goes itself; "myself" it speaks and spells. One of your poets said that. You have some wonderful poets, as you surely know. This selving, this self-creation, vain, pompous, absurd, is empty. It is white noise. It is -- we are very serious about this -- death.
And so at an early age we begin to teach the children about silence. So full, so rich, so -- connected. Pure, open. White silence, we call it: the silence of the mind, its natural state. Like white light; like a white dawn.
And, as they learn it, you can see, in their faces, in their eyes, the cessation of the chatter, and the advent of peace, poise, focus, clarity. When they think, their thought is uninterrupted and clear. When they look, they really see. And, naturally, peacefully, they begin to understand about love.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Unlike the people across the water, we on the island only celebrate two birthdays in a lifetime; the one that arrives, if we are so blessed, one year after the birth itself, and the other that comes around, if we are again so blessed, sixty years later.
The first is really a celebration for our family and friends of course. The one year old children have no real need of any such recognition, and truthfully, the fuss and bother is not to their taste. However, there are songs and prayers and good food and drink and story telling and laughter and tears and presents for everyone. Two colours are used in these parties. One is sunrise pink. The colour of an optimistic starting out. The other is sunshine yellow. The colour of joyfully acquiring knowledge of the world.
The party sixty years later has a different tone altogether. It marks the transition to a stage in life focussed on the mature honouring of gifts and talents, quiet reflection, settling the spirit, releasing unnecessary emotional fetters, settling into a peaceable unknowing. This time, the colours used are all shades of green: lime; teal; chartreuse; aquamarine; olive; fern; jade; malachite; pine; moss. The green party signifies a rebirth. A rebirth into the springtime of natural goodness and innocence.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
the scarlet letter
Our alphabet consists of shapes that we can write or paint. And the letters can be expressed as sounds, can be said to elicit sounds, to be, themselves, sounds. Yours too? Of course: that is what an alphabet is. But ours has an added element or attribute: each letter has a colour, and expresses that colour; it is, you could say, in an important way, that colour. So our writing is a play of meaning, of sounds, and of colours: a word has one or more sounds in it, and one or more colours. Our poets love this: the puns, the allusions, the play of the senses: it is very rich.
Now. Here is something important. The whole of a life is lived between two breaths. There is that first triumphant shout of the baby, the first outbreath, the entry into the raw vitality of the world. And there is the last calm exhalation, that carries the soul away. Of course, it may not be like that: death can be difficult, and so can birth, and calm and triumph may not be easy to achieve. That's why we need to practice.
That primal exhalation, of birth and death, is the primal sound of the language: aaaah. It is the first letter of our alphabet. So, in our practice, we visualise it. Each day, the first thing to do, for each of us, is to visualise that primal letter, that represents the first entry into, and the last look back at, the unrestrained immediacy of the world. The rawness, the fire and freedom, the world as it vitally is.
The letter is bright red. We summon it up, it appears to us, we exhale, and we say the primal sound: aaaah. One long exhalation, both calm and triumphant.
And so we practice dying, every day of our lives, and, at the same time, we practice being born.
This is the practice of the scarlet letter.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
--I've invented a new colour, he said.
Well, that was beautiful news. You could see the joy in his face. I should explain: we invest a lot in colour. Our artists, our scientists, our dreamers spend much time in searching for new ones. Colour changes you. Colour makes you what you are. A new colour is a new way of being.
--What's it like?
--I can't say: it's new, he said, joyfully.
--What primary colour is it nearest to?
--None. None at all. It's amazing. I'm going to call it "tickled pink".
--It's a kind of pink, then, is it?
--No, absolutely not. It just needs -- a silly name. That's the kind of colour it is.
We left him alone, in his happiness, to get on with making the colour.
This is important work. We have spent many years, centuries, working on colour. We have the main ones, now, the colours of noble grief, of compassion, of focussed attention, of mathematics; all the ranges of joy, the colour of the beautiful, the million colours of love. It's rare, now, that anyone comes up with a new one, a really new one, like this.
It's the dreaming of the colour that's hard. Once you have it in your mind's eye, it's not difficult to realise it. We have all manner of pigments, herbs, rare earths, ways of bending light, all the alchemy of colour. It usually takes just a few days, that's all, until the colour in the mind's eye chimes with the realised pigment, the hybrid flower petal, the magical light.
Well, he tried hard, but he couldn't find it. It wasn't in the spectrum, he said. The world couldn't hold it. Nothing came near it. It was there, in his head, you could see it in his eyes, such clarity, such joy, with a ripple of laughter, a faint flush, a dawning.
Sometimes that happens. Sometimes you discover something that cannot be communicated. Something so beautiful, so full of meaning, that it has no counterpart in anything material. This is rare, but it happens: it is momentous.
He died, soon afterwards. I have never seen anyone so happy.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Ah! Chocolate brownies. How well I remember the first chocolate brownie. No, not my first chocolate brownie. I mean the first one ever, in the entire history of the island. Perhaps the first one in the whole of the known world. But who can say? The whole known world is too big for me to contemplate.
It was a soft cloudy morning in early June. Alice and Donald were sitting in the big wicker chairs in the garage that wasn't a garage - more Donald's special place really. Alice was there for the tea ceremony. A Tuesday morning ritual they both respected, come what maybe.
Suddenly, there was a faint hum, a murmur of whirring, a stirring amongst the leaves in the trees in the garden. Alice and Donald looked at each other in gentle curiosity, carefully put the tea cups down, and went to the open doorway, as if drawn there on an insistent gossamer thread. Delicate but not to be declined or broken.
"After you," said Donald, politely, at the doorway.
"No, after you," said Alice. They knew each other very well, you see.
And there, right in front of them, and behind them, and also all around them, was a dancing cloud of - well of who knows what? Imagine a dust free sand storm of ginger light. Imagine a golden haze of shimmering brown sound. Imagine the scent of orange rose petals translated into the most delicate chocolate you have ever tasted - the resultant cry on your tongue - the words not yet spoken - the song not yet sung. The inexpressible.
It came and it went. Quite quickly. But Alice and Donald were for ever after in tune with something beyond. They seldom speak of it. But you know just by being with them the depth and breadth and extent of their love for each other, and the world. Their understanding.
May the chocolate brownies come your way. They will, when the time is right.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
When we say "she or he is browned off" we are paying our friends a sincere and appreciative compliment.
You will have noticed a rose, in full and glorious flowering, give everything it has to the world around it - colour, scent, softness, pollen - and then subtly, and sometimes quite quickly, turn a mellow shade of brown and let go of all its worldly interactions. A rose no more, but matter on its resolute journey to emptiness. Waiting for the breath of air that will assist this onward movement.
And you will have noticed the leaves on the deciduous trees - vibrant and vociferous in springtime, a technicolor counterpart to the birds that sing in them, and the squirrels that leap and dance from branch to branch defying gravity - turn their thoughts and gestures inward as late summer arrives. Some have a final flamboyant and anarchic flourish of bronze and auburn and copper and gold. But finally they all release their busy commitment to the world around them and fade to brown and follow the flow of flowers to the welcoming earth.
And so, when a person's contribution to the world around them is done, they too release colour and tone and volume and contrast and are, quite simply, browned off. If you look closely, you will see the glimmer of something beyond colour interwoven in them. A shimmering glimmer of something transparent. Like truth. Like peace. Like the feeling of a job well done.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I have to say, please forgive me, when we first heard of your 'books', we laughed. "What on earth is the point of that?", we said.
You have to understand, our script is subtle and rich. Our writing expresses character and nuance of meaning in the shaping of the letters; it says much about how the artist was feeling about her work, about his life. And that is expressed in the trace the pen or brush leaves on the paper, subtle, varied, delicate. Books are not like that, are they? It seemed such an absurd idea, to cut oneself off from the life of the letterform; like hearing someone say a poem and not seeing the look in their eyes, or the language of gestures that of course accompany any recital.
But then, someone said, maybe there is something in this device. Some abstraction, some kind of purity. So she went away and played with pigment, with dyes, with crushed herbs, and sunlight, and devised a new thing: the blueprint.
Have you seen the process? It is really beautiful. You write, in the normal way, with a pen or a brush on paper, using any of the range of normal inks. Then you take some blueprint paper, that has been made with a special dye in the papermaking process. You put the two together, and leave them in sunshine for a few minutes. You can then pick up the blueprint paper, and see on it an image of the writing, slowly emerging, as if the paper is waking up. It is the original, with all of its subtlety, but blue; and with a delicate, rather ghostly quality all of its own. Sprit writing, some call it.
There was much debate about this. Some said, blueprint lacks the essence, the suchness, of the original. Others said, no, on the contrary, what it captures is exactly the essence: the essence is that which can be transferred.
Who knows? In fact, who cares? Look: look at this one. It is beautiful. Is it not? Blueprint.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
the grass is always greener
Once, when she was very very small, she was sitting by the lake - the big lake at the end of their garden - watching the ducks, and happy to be doing so. Ducks were cool. Even when it was hot. Which it was. Too hot for indoors or even for sitting on the big lawn up near the house. As she was sitting peaceably by the water, two grownups went past her, and she heard the man say to the woman "Ah well, you know what they say . . . the grass is always greener . . ."
"Well" she thought, "that's simply not true. Sometimes the grass
gets greener - like in the early summer, just after the spring rains have come and emptied out the clouds over the grass. Sometimes it gets less green, or even brown, like when the rain switches off and the hot gold sun switches on, and stays on and on all day for days and days".
"Ah well" she thought, "that's just another strange thing that grownups say," and she watched the ducks, ducking and diving, and tried to see the shiny fish flowing below the flowing surface, and did.
"Maybe" she thought, "there is a place where the grass is always
But that would mean that there is no end to greenness. And that doesn't make sense".
So she asked, and this is the reply she received. It has served her well.
There is no such thing as "green" unless there is someone seeing it. Look around you. See how green the grass seems to be. Now close your eyes, and bring to mind the person or animal you love most in the whole world. ( . . . that was easy . . . her big soft cat Geoffrey . . .) and feel how the mind that rests in your heart has softened and warmed and smiled. ( . . . yes yes it has! . . .) Now open your eyes and look at the grass again. Can you see how much greener it seems to be . . . how much richer, more beautiful, more itself? You are seeing it more
truthfully now, and it is as if it were responding to your loving gaze. And perhaps it is. Try it again and again. The more love you feel in your heart, the greener the grass will seem to you. And just as there is no limit to how much love you can feel, and how much your heart can awaken, so there is no limit to the "greenness" of the grass.
And when we use the phrase "the grass is always greener" we are really saying this:
Please open your heart. Please wake up. There is really nothing out there to see or hear or touch or experience that isn't altered by the way you approach it.
And not just grass, of course.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Coming of age? Yes, of course, we have that. An important time. One of the two changes, the two journeys into freedom. We celebrate each of them with ritual, with rejoicing, with well-wishing, gifts, parties. The other one? The death journey, of course. Is it not the same with you?
For each transition we wear white, both the person changing and those who meet to celebrate and help with the change. White because it is about renewal, a new world, a new being emerging. Purity. A complete openness to possibility, to whatever may come, to everything that is. Everything, anything. A sense of the old being put away, of the new arriving, of rejoicing in the new. Pure white.
Gifts? No, not really. Singing, of course, laughter, tears, if those are gifts, and of course they are, then yes: gifts. But nothing that can encumber, or prevent or hinder the transition.
Apart, of course, from the white map. We give that. Do you? It is given by the closest person, a son, a mother, a friend; whoever it is will know who it is. A piece of paper, white, pure: a map of anything. A map of openness. Carte blanche.
How old? Well, we don't know, in advance, obviously: when it happens. When they are old enough, to come of age, to die. When the time is right, we know, but not before. Do you do it differently?
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The children sleep sweetly here. And we let them sleep as much as they need. The journey into our world from the great unknowing has been strenuous and possibly bewildering, and it can take a while for them to arrive and settle in this place. It takes time for them to be comfortable with this new form of beauty; the beauty of form when they are used to the beauty of formlessness. At first it must seem such a pale reflection of the vastness from which they have travelled in order to be here. In time they know it for the beauty that is is. No more, but also no less.
Then, one morning they awake, and give us a certain smile, and we recognise the first true smile of becoming. And then we know they have met the befriender and all is well. If they can speak, they tell us of the friend they met in their dreams, who has promised to accompany them in all their journeys in this particular body of theirs. Invarably this friend is called Peter, and she or he is a deep shade of blue. We ask them to show us the exact shade of blue that they see in this friend (though for some of them it is a sound or a taste or an aroma which we need to translate into colour). And then we know the specific spiritual lineage of each child, and the secret name we must give them.
It is the name by which they will know themselves and which Blue Peter will recognise. It can be used one hundred thousand times, whenever they need help of any sort whatsoever in their work of awakening the heart. When it has been used one hundred thousand times, it it appropriate for them to return to the great unknowing, confident that sufficient work has been done, and that the island is a better place for their having been here.
Some of us take the work slow and steady. Others are more efficient and come and go quite quickly. Their often sudden and unexpected departure can be a powerful awakening of the heart for those they leave behind.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Yes, we have heard of that phrase, heard it used. It's a floor covering, isn't it. You lay it out in front of honoured guests, is that right? A welcome, something like that.
We don't do that. We don't have 'carpets'. Here, it is hot, we are nourished by the sun, it fills our lives. It illuminates us. On the floor, we have tiles; hard, firm, a direct contact with the earth, baked clay, solid. We value the cool density, the touch of it, underfoot. And the colours: sometimes white, an inexplicably rich white; or a pale iridescent yellow; or green, green like a new leaf, a sunlit leaf. But usually blue, a special blue. We call it paradise blue: reflective, shining slightly, it is for us the colour of gladness, the sky on the floor. Cool blue.
So no, no carpets. But we do have something else, something a bit like that.
In the east, between us and the upcoming sun, there are the ochre hills. Distant, beautiful. They are volcanic, and sometimes, rarely, they become active: fire in the night, and, faintly seen and far away, shining streams of red heat. These eruptions throw up dust, red dust, that tints the sky. In the morning, a miracle. The sunlight is red light, a pale encompassing red. Gold, pink, orange, changing and shifting, but overall it is red, as the sun rises, as the heat comes to us, welcoming. Honouring. Flooding the landscape, covering everything, leading to the source of life, transforming, for a while, the world. A red carpet.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Grey. The softness. The sweetness. The kindness of grey.
Where we live, there is no colour more precious than grey. It is cherished and nurtured and nourished wherever it appears. It appears rarely, of course, because the light is so bright, and the landscape so colourful. Pigments and dyes in the natural world are a dancing swirl of blissful, multicoloured intensity. As you will have seen in the artwork and fabric and buildings that surround us. All this colour is glorious and joyful and inspiring too, in its different way. But grey? Ah the quiet relief of anything grey. The mystery.
A grey day? A heavenly treat. Longed for by those who remember them. Grey hair? Nothing more impressive. But simply an aspiration for most of us. Grey squirrels? An astonishing miracle of the natural world, and a sighting can be the highlight of a decade of dedicated observation. Grey clothing? An exclusive, highly prized accolade offered to the men and women who have made the greatest contributions to society; a grey suit being the highest honour of them all. A grey building? No. That's unthinkable. So much grey in one place would be too much beauty to bear. Surely your heart would break at the sight of it?
The children and young people need to be taught not to squander grey. They are so excited by it, and so captivated by its beauty, they are tempted to use it all up. So they are taught this slogan in songs, and books and posters: Make Grey Matter.
And, of course, they do.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
giving the green light
Technology? Ah, I wondered when you would ask that question. Yes, we have technology, but not as you have it. We are always making things, but what we make is -- personal. It has joy in it. Always.
The thing that strikes us most about your culture, which shocks us, so deeply that were you not a friend I couldn't even mention it to you, is slavery. That of your history that you most admire, Rome, Classical Greece, the Islam of the great scientists and philosophers, those are slave cultures. This upsets us very deeply. But, you say, you no longer need slaves, they are freed, freed by technology. No. You still have slaves. You pay them, but in order to create the technology they do hard unpleasant loveless work. They are still slaves.
We don't do that. So, here is an example. You have agriculture. Hard unpleasant work. We have gardening. Do you see? You have technology. We have craft. You have restaurants. We cook for friends. And so on...
Here is another example. You have electric lights, which turn night into day. In the night we sleep, make love, talk, dream, meditate, and dream again, nourished by the darkness. One of our craftpeople, dreaming, imagined a light that would be self sustaining, soft, and beautiful. She brought it into being: she found a crystal that, if you apply certain pressures and energies to it, acquires just this ability: it glows, with a softgreen light. We all have them, in our houses. Not, however, to overcome the darkness, to turn it into artificial day, but to enhance it. You can only see the crystal light in darkness, they enhance each other, one beautiful thing makes another beautiful thing even more beautiful.
She is much honoured, the woman who gave the green light.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
As scholars and poets know, the red herring is mysterious. Why? Because it is the only fish capable of whistling tunefully. Just why it whistles is mysterious also. But if you care to come with us on a clear midsummer's evening, you will hear the unmistakable sound of the herring calling to you, just after the blackbird stops. The bird and the fish are clearly partners in the bridge between daylight and twilight, and twilight and nighttime. Some people believe they actually call into being the approaching darkness. This might be true.
And so "a red herring" has come to mean a friend who will faithfully be with you through those significant transitions from light into shadow. The quiet, kind presence at your bedside in the hospital room, who will know when to sing your favourite mantra. The steady benevolence who sits alongside you as your baby is born into the world, and who knows when to laugh and when to cry. The reliable witness who murmurs permission that allows you simply to be present with, and aware of, a deepening emotion as it makes its relentless journey inside you, and encourages you in neither suppressing it nor indulging it.
Some people think that the work of a red herring should be professionalised. That there should be trainings, and examinations and supervisions and qualifications. They believe that there are skills that can be taught and assessed and classified and graded. This is not true, of course. In fact, a person who is a sincere red herring will calmly refuse any such approach to their sacred calling. And do so with a smile.
Anyone can be a red herring. All it takes is love for another human being that is generous enough to put their well being before our own.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Once, quite a long time ago, our artists were famous for their ability to, as they called it, capture life. They could with a few simple strokes create a flower, a cat, with charcoal or ink on paper, and the flower would be as immediate, as delicate, and seem as impermanent, as any flower in the world. There is a famous painting of a cat: there it is, in watchful stillness. You can see it breathe. It is a miracle.
One day the artist's daughter was taken to see this cat painting, in its place of honour. She looked at it carefully, for a long time. A long long time. Eventually, she said:
--It's nice, but it's not a cat.
And it wasn't.
The artist went away for a while. We do this, at times when we need to change. Ten days, is the traditional time. We don't eat much, we don't see anyone, we drink water only, we think, we stop thinking, we wait. And then we come back.
He came back, and took some paper, a brush, some ink, and sat in front of it for a short time. Then in a few quick movements he made a painting, and sat back, drained, pale, but also vital, enlivened, suffused with joy.
After a while he picked up the image and took it to the honoured place where the cat was displayed. He took down the cat and pinned up his new painting, and stood back, looking at it, quietly.
We came in, in ones and twos, and joined him, looking at it. There was a strange silence: intense, with an edge, expectant: there was something new in the world. The painting was, somehow, incredibly beautiful: and, it made no sense at all. We looked at the painting, and the painting looked at us: watchful, silent. Eventually, someone, more courageous than most, said, nervously:
--What is it?
The artist looked at him, at all of us, and smiled, with great happiness. He said:
--Blue grass. It is: blue grass.
We looked at it. It wasn't blue. There was nothing in it that looked remotely like grass. And grass is not blue. Stunned silence: blue grass? What?
Into that silence, after a moment, a little peal of -- laughter. The artist's daughter.
--Yes! she said. Yes! Blue grass!
And there rippled through all of us, suddenly, the most extraordinary sense of release, of happiness, of possibility. The world was made new. Everything was suddenly remarkable. And we laughed, a gale of laughter, in relief, in joy.
So, since then, if you see a painting, or anything, a poem, a dance move, a sunset, some shared moment, anything at all that has this particular quality, this inexplicable beauty, making new, making strange, then you say: blue grass. And whoever is sharing that moment with you will smile, and say: ah, yes, of course: blue grass.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
In one of the older stories, they tell us of a strange creature who lives in a cave, all alone, high up in the tallest mountain on our island. It is a hidden cave, and only travellers blessed with a sincere dedication can ever reach it safely. The mountain is known as the sky mountain, because its several peaks disappear into the sky and cannot be seen from the foothills. Those who travel there and return (who are not many), say that even when you are close to what feels like the summit, the peaks are still invisible. The air is so thin and rarified that normal perception is out of the question.
The children, when they hear the story, are worried for the creature - concerned that he or she might be sad and lonely living all alone up there. And this is how it should be. We teach our children with many such stories to be sure that compassion stays alive and well in them as they grow up. They also need to know that the creature is neither sad nor lonely, but in a state of limitless bliss, because of the work she/he is doing.
Now, this strange creature is called a shogflid. And the shogflid passes the time in the art and craft of transformation. To put it quite simply, if we are awake enough to recognise our daily shortcomings (big or small), we can say the shogflid prayer, as soon as we realise we have spoken or behaved in an unhelpful way, and immediately, the creature pulls in both the negative energy of our thoughtlessness and the positive energy of our thoughtfulness. This becomes a feeling like a magnetized braided wire, and you can feel the prickly cold and ferocious heat leaving your body and moving at immense speed to the top of the mountain. And then you know that the shogflid has listened to your heartfelt prayer, and is doing the work of transforming your energy into something of beauty and value. Happiness arises like a flower opening. The heart smiles.
Those that know, and can see the invisible, say that translucent golden fish can be seen in the rivers that stream down from sky mountain. And these are a sign that the shogflid is doing the work. Day in and night out, the shogflid does this for us, and will do so until all negativity has been cleared from the island.
In the city there are artists who work with precious metals. Those who have made the journey to the cave, and who have met with the shogflid and returned, are allowed to make miniature fish from the sparkling gold that has been found in the river beds. These are sometimes as small as a grain of rice. They can be treasured on your shrine, or eaten. Either way, they are considered a great blessing. And so the words "gold fish" have come to mean the blessing realised by anyone who has been awake to their own thoughtlessness, and made the effort to use the opportunity for transformation. By association, the words can be applied to the people thus blessed.
May we be goldfish.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
red nose day
Red is the colour of embarrassment. Skilled yogic adepts however are able to control the blush reflex, and remain calm under all circumstances; or almost all. There are some scenarios that are so fundamentally embarrassing that not even the most accomplished adept can entirely control the reflex; but, curiously, the blushing is localised at the tip of the nose. Thus when life gets really unbelievably embarrassing one is said to be having a red nose day.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
your blue note
is your true note
not your make believe it's you note
not your make my wish come true note
not your book is overdue note
not at all
your blue note
is your you note
when your you is really "who?" note
not your gotta see it through note
not your antidote for flu note
not your pickle in a stew note
not at all
may your blue note
may your blue note
may your blue note
may your blue note
play the ump
you whistle down the wind
may your blue note
ant on the long road home to glory
and celebrate your story
for them all
for them all
and celebrate your story
for them all
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
A white elephant is a rare albino species of elephant, regarded as sacred: to see a white elephant is so extraordinary, such an amazing blessing, that it changes your life. But: it does it in a way that you don't expect, often don't like, because it is exactly what you need to move on. So to give someone a white elephant is to give an amazing, extraordinary gift, totally unexpected, conveying immense blessing. It may be apparently unpleasant or even frightening, but it is exactly what is needed to move on. There is considerable obligation to honour and follow through on the gift.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
out of the blue
Some people climb mountains to get to the top; then they can plant a flag, look at the view, congratulate themselves, and climb all the way down again, back into the ordinary, with a certain sense of anti-climax. Some people, however, climb mountains in order to go into the blue. This is a state of mind, to do with being far away from and utterly above the ordinary, high up, surrounded by sky, inside the blue. It changes your life; it is permanent. To come down again is not to go back, but to go forward, on to the other side, all the way to the other side, where nothing is ever ordinary again. Out of the blue.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
A yellow throated leaflove seldom promises lightly. He or she will visit only once in a lifetime, and even then, may come and go so fast that we may not be aware of the visit.
However, there will always be some kind of advance notice, so please pay attention to the following signs, any one of which may signify that a visit is planned. A combination of two or more will indicate that the arrival of the yellow throated leaflove is imminent.
Two or more black swans swimming side by side; a garden robin looking you straight in the eye from a distance of less than one metre; a car journey where every single traffic light is in your favour; an egg dropped on a tiled floor that doesn't break; a poem sent to you by a friend that moves you to tears; a ring around the moon; two rings around the moon; a bee, wasp or fly that fies out of the window you have opened for it; time apparently standing still.
And what does a yellow throated leaflove promise? That will depend on what you are ready to receive. The yellowness brings sunlight, laughter, good heartedness and a delicate sensation of warmth. This will be in the form of a full throated song or the resonating spoken word - so listen carefully. The leaf love will vary according to the season within your mind. Only you can choose that. Spring, summer, autumn, winter? Which of these brings more love for self and others? Choose carefully but lightheartedly. There is no need to make hard work of leaf love.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
In ancient Mesopotamia purple was a sacred colour, worn only by the highest priests when they were in communion with the divine. The Roman use of purple to denote aristocracy is a late debased descendant of this belief. When the priest spoke the words of the god, he or she spoke words of the highest order; so high, so mysterious, so down to earth, so vivid, that all who heard it were entranced, and entered into the sublime, immediately, unfailingly, effortlessly. This was called purple prose: prose that is higher than poetry.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
In the north west part of the island, all the houses are built from a special wood. Its common name "greenwood" is misleading, because it leads newcomers to the island to expect the wood to be coloured green. In fact, the name is a corruption of the old name "groanwood" and refers to the strange sounds that are released from the wood once it has been cut and shaped and weathered.
The greenwood rises and falls. The greenwood sighs and calls. The greenwood murmurs the memories of stories once whispered by the firelight on winters' evenings. The greenwood hums and strums the melodies of love songs waiting to be born, and those who are gifted with hearing the imminent may bring these songs into being.
A little known fact is the impact that the woodsmen and woodswomen have on the greenwood. They are trained in their craft by those who have left the island honourably and returned nobly. So, as the apprentices work with felling trees and cutting and storing and shaping their wood, they hear tales and songs and poems from far away. In this way, the greenwood turning and taking new form in their painstaking hands will absorb fresh wisdom and new knowledge and many mysteries and surprises. And so the groaning houses, in their melodious tones, bring welcome and sometimes astonishing thoughts to the islanders waiting patiently in their harmonious homes.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
A brown study exists in each and every human being's Unconscious, and is a place of quiet retreat, to be visited when the heat of everyday life seems overly intense, and when the hustle and bustle of the mundane day crowds our capacity for generating and maintaining loving thoughts.
And, although we all have access to a brown study, the particular shade of brown (and there are many possibilities here) will be determined by the quality and level of interior work that any individual has chosen to do. It is what we mean by "interior decorum".
Each study has furniture that also relates to each individual - specifically in terms of their needs for comfort and respite. Whatever would amplify their quiet reflective time is available for them in their brown study, and will change as time and personal spiritual development progress.
The bookcase is probably the most important feature in the room, and usually contains many volumes with intriguing titles and helpful texts. Sometimes just reading the titles is all that is needed for any particular visit to our brown study, for the imagination can be nourished by a simple phrase or significant collocation of significant words. The truly advanced interior decorator has an empty bookcase, since he or she no longer needs the words.
It is rare to invite another person into your brown study. Do so with discretion. They will have their own reactions to this space, and their comments and actions may serve only to confuse you. When you find another human being who can sit quietly with you in your brown study, you have found a true companion. Treasure this person all the days of your life.
Cats are an entirely different matter. They can be with you in your study at any time, and will bring comfort.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Our central study is geography. Well, we call it landscape. We have many many landscapes, and each of us tries to learn as many as we can. There is the landscape of the moon, distant, full of meaning. The landscape of the body, with its deep pathways, its soft logic, that we learn (with love) as lovers, midwives, healers, athletes, and, of course, as everyday inhabitants of this gorgeous complexity. The forest is a study that takes more than a lifetime; and so does any of the mythic landscapes, the cartographies of the mind, that we use to locate ourselves in and to enrich the world. The stories. The poems.
In one of these there is a mountain. We can see it, actually, away in the West, tiny, majestic, impossibly distant. The white mountain. It is at the centre of the world, and it has four sides, the four sides of a perfect white pyramid, so they say, each facing its own point of the compass; and from its snows there flow the four great rivers of the world.
And one thing you can do, as an exercise in applied geography, or, as we say, as a landscape traveller, is to go there, and walk round it. It is a very long and dangerous journey, a journey of courage, of hope and possibility. And you must walk every step as a lover, a midwife, a healer, an athlete, and an everyday inhabitant of this miracle landscape.
Those who return are different. For them, all geographies are now one. For them, everything is known, nothing is left to know, they are empty, they are full of love. They are, and they inhabit, a white map. Their joy is limitless, as is the joy of being near them.
They are, we say, snow white.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
the golden handshake
Never, ever, underestimate a shaking hand. The quality of the winds of change that are produced thereby are entirely related to the clarity and openness of the person whose hand is shaking . . . whether this is the whispering enchanting tremors of so-called infirmity, the rhythmic judder of a juggernaut orchestral conductor, the quiet guy in the band playing the drums behind the noisy guy upfront, the urgent fist of a baby searching for its lurid coloured toy, or simply the bodily outpost of an outpouring of emotion, where there may be tears or laughter, happy or sad. Or it may simply be a sign that someone has been moved to the very soul by something indescribable.
Pay close attention to the colour emanating from the fingers, for a shaking hand will always show a colour quite clearly to anyone who cares to observe. If you see a blue handshake, receive the healing. If you see a green handshake, receive the love. If you see a silver handshake, move forward in tactful but focused concern, for a person may suddenly need your practical and sympathetic assistance in the next moment or two, and it is your privilege to know this, and to be on hand.
If you see a golden handshake, learn. This person knows the secret of the joyful death. Liberation is close at hand.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Green is freshness, awakening, the birth of new things. In every mind there is a room where this birth takes place; unexplored by many, familiar and completely precious to some, this is where awareness is born: the green room. It is a retreat and it is where we advance, it is peace and rejuvenation, it is a pleasant place. If you are tired, go to the green room; if you are sad, disillusioned, empty of inspiration, unmindful, distracted: the green room. Be there, let it happen, be nourished, be alive. The green room.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
For those in our community who are addicted to the use of literal language, there are two suggested routes to recovery.
One is the twelve step programme - a sensible and well supervised strategy, which demands commitment and group solidarity. Both of which are, of course, well suited to the recovering addict who is struggling to break free on his or her own.
The other, riskier, route is to go deep purple. This is only for the truly foolhardy, and is most suitable for those who were pressurised into taking their first step into literalness against their true nature. It is well suited to those with a suppressed inner rebel. But not advised for those with a stern inner babysitter.
To go deep purple is to allow language to spindrift to windward, faster than thought or ought. To shed the should. To wed the wonder. To yearn for yonder, hither and dither, to weather the willful, to scatter the skilful. To milk the meek, squeak the speak, turning to torrent, leaning to pisa. Towering, showering, sunflower seeding. Seamlessly seeming and dreamily beaming.
Those unused to going deep purple are advised to begin thusly:
1. Type the phrase "deep purple"
2. Then type faster than your hands can think.
3. Do not presume to edit what appears to appear.
Here are some examples from an ex addict. Frank (not his real name, because, of course, he no longer subscribes to the idea of a real name) has been in recovery now for some time. He is not sure how much time, because, of course, the consensual idea of "time" no longer has much meaning for him. It has some. Just not much.
"Frank's" "journal" - week 34 or thereabouts.
deep purple bleep and chortle. snort and whirlpool. hum and hurtle. like a turtle eating myrtle berries in the morning mirthful.
deep purple skate and draggle. skip and dawdle. spin and whimple. like a dimple sipping cider apples in the flowing fruitful.
deep purple jump and paddle. primp and pearly. plump and brimful. like a tumbler tipping whisky water in the thumbnail thimble.
Do not attempt to pin down deep purple.
Deep purple is not.
Deep purple simply gives rise to the strangeness of things.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
In our language there are so many many colours. Alice white, burlywood brown, old lace white, mistywood, midnight, mintcream. In our village we have people who know the language of colours, who see all the colours there are, and, also, can see deep inside our souls, and find the colours that are there. These people are highly honoured and trusted, for they see into the heart of things, and keep us well.
They tell us that above all there is a particular colour, for which there is no name, a kind of blue, a blue that takes the breath away, that is the essence colour of love. And, they say, we must cherish and maintain and live with this colour, because it will nourish us, and those around us.
So every year on a particular day we have a gift ceremony; all the year before we will have been looking out for this colour, for objects that bear it: a stone by the sea, a discarded egg shell, a piece of cloth whose dyer, either by chance or by infinite skill, has caught this rarest, this most precious of colours.
And in the ceremony we exchange gifts of those objects, passing them lovingly to friends and to strangers, so that their supply of love, of the colour of love, can be replenished, restocked. We call it the blue stocking.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Green fingers are a French delicacy. A small, oblong sponge cake, flavoured with a secret blend of sweetness and spice (rumoured to be avocado based, with the addition of the smallest of peas, and locally produced honey, coriander and fresh ginger), they are served in the most select arondissements of Paris. They are not found commercially, but are made especially to be offered at literary salons, and only to those creative writers who have no intention whatsoever of squandering their creative impulses and energy on gardening. Those who know are aware that the madeleine referred to by Marcel Proust in his À la recherche du temps perdu was actually one of these green sponge cakes. The reference to the cake being served at a fictional cafe was a symbol of times and values changing around him as he wrote; hence the fundamental importance of the connection between cake and memory.
To eat one of these cakes is to commit oneself fully to the creative moment now.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
In my hand I have a piece of translucent stone. It has been carefully shaped, smoothed, and is wonderful to hold. It is slightly warm: stone and not stone. It is a deep yellow brown in colour, but much richer than those plain colour words indicate: it looks like the tear of a dragon, a wise sky being, who in shedding it, has shared with us its compassion, its depth of understanding.
It is amber. It is, we know this for certain, over sixty million years old. Such a vast range of time is inconceivable. We can't imagine it. It is forever. So we call this stone that is not a stone, this wise teardrop, the forever stone: forever amber, we call it.
Inside it is a small fly. The life of the fly, this tiny fragment of sentience, would have been, what, a few days? Followed by an afterlife, trapped in amber, of sixty million years. So far.
I put it back on the little shrine in our house. Next to it is a small glass jar, sealed. Inside it is some brown powder: trivial, inconsequential, modest: just a little pile of brown powder. This too is amber. A long time ago someone took a piece of forever amber, the beautiful stone, and pounded it in a mortar until it turned into this modest heap of not much at all.
Many of us have this on our shrines: the amber tear, the impermanent insect, and, in a glass jar, some formerly forever amber.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Long long ago, when the world came to its heaven sent senses, and peace broke out, and generosity germinated, the mothers of invention suggested that we might honour the blue sky thinkers and daydreamers, who had nurtured these blissful changes, and name the days of the week like this:
Monday is the day for keeping things really simple. For getting things done: the washing; the cooking; the baking of bread; the ironing; the trimming of plants; the sowing of seeds; the changing of sheets and pillow cases; the post; the phone calls; the dusting; the trips to recycle; the brushing of leaves. On Monday we make sure that all the odds and ends that support the creative life are safely in place. Monday is a very happy day.
And there is such joy in these unremarkable, straightforward projects, that we have no need of a fancy name for each Monday. The awareness of the pureness of blue is all that's required. We just need to remember, moment by moment, as we carry out these tasks, how far we have come, and how fortunate we are to live in peaceful, loving times. Summer sky without cloud. Like our lives here now. Like our minds.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
in the pink
Pink is traditionally held to be a colour of extreme purity and delicacy, a refinement of red, a fleshing or incarnation of white; it denotes a beautiful and delicate balancing of passion and pallor, of absence and presence. Between two worlds, smiling serenely on each, it goes on its own pink way, sometimes shocking, even, in its pure avoidance of extremes. So to be in the pink is to be in a state of serenity so poised, so perfect, as to startle with its innocent excellence.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
It's good news day. Today the newspapers are beautiful, crisp, clean, empty sheets of shining white paper. Pure as the driven snow, delicate as may blossom, they are gossamer wings for the asking.
And who is asking?
The multi taskers tired of tasking, the sunshine baskers, the streetside buskers, the roadside hucksters, the starbucks loungers, the city limit scroungers . . . anyone at all who prefers poetry to prose, silence to noise, music to madness, mystery to fact.
And that's the mysterious fact.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
red rag to a bull
A long time ago, when the world was so much smaller, and seemed so vastly bigger, it was thought that God sent messages to the world by way of the Holy Father in Rome, a place and a person that few of us could even imagine. These messages were formulated in magnificent decrees, their language a wonderful, sonorous, incomprehensible Latin; and out they would go, Urbi et Orbi, to the City and the World. They bore the great Papal Seal, a heavy round lump of indented wax, the bulla; and so they were known as Bulls: Papal Bulls.
But those who were both learned and wise, whose Latin was, it was was said in whispers, better even than that of the Church Fathers, would tell us something different. They said that the true and original meaning of bulla was not this lumpish word, bull, for this lumpish object, the ponderous seal; they said, keeping their voices low, and only to trusted friends, that the word really meant: a bubble. Nothing more; nothing less. The most evanescent of God's creations, the most fragile, enshrining, in that impermanence, a frail and iridescent beauty.
And they suggested, whispering, that that was how God also spoke, not in the sounding brass of Latin, not in impressive documents, passed from courier to courier, around the world, Urbi et Orbi; but in the chance fragility of things. A bubble, seen yesterday, in the mill stream, near the sycamore tree, seen for a moment then gone; or a fragment of cloth, torn by chance from a red petticoat, hanging like the flag of an intricately and infinitely considerate, a truly, delicately, perceptive God, for ten minutes, early in the morning, last Tuesday, on the big hawthorn bush by the ale house.
And that, they they dared to say, was how God talked to God: from a red rag, to a bull.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Can you imagine anything, anything at all in the whole wide whirling world, more beautiful than the blues? It's the sound the planet makes as she somehow manages to spin around in her own dance, and to co-ordinate that movement with the complexity of the dances of all the other planets, both near and far. They all have different sounds of course, but to her belong the blue notes, because she is the blue planet.
There are a few, rare, human beings who can hear these notes, and translate them into sounds that other human beings can hear; sometimes in music, sometimes in poetry, sometimes in words given to others to speak on stage. These people are known as "cats" because although all animals and birds and insects can hear the planet's sacred hum, it is the cats who try and bring it to our attention. With moderate success so far. Watch them more closely, if you have the opportunity to do so.
The blues will tell you the secrets. The blues will carry you through the multicoloured complexity of your lifetime experiences. The blues will remind you of the interconnectedness of all things.
Some people, who regard themselves as sophisticated, try to add a little green. Or orange, or dayglo yellow. This is a sad mistake, and leads to unnecessary confusion.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
rose coloured spectacles
What are the colours of a rose? Red, of course, deep red, dark carmine, the colour of passionate love; white, such purity, nothing is whiter than a white rose; pink, like the essence of a dawning summer day: all the normal colours of a rose.
But in our village, since ancient times, since the first rare roses were smuggled over the Alps from Moorish Spain, shipped to Spain in slender dark feluccas, secretly, at night, from distant enigmatic lands, ever since then we have worked with roses: we have nurtured and developed their colours.
We have pale green roses, the faintest tint of springtime; roses blue as a hot summer sky; dark brooding storm roses; purple emperor roses, regal, aloof, excellent; grey roses, the colour of mystery and possibility; every colour, all of them, colours that have no name, colours that bewilder and entrance the eye, that once seen do not stick in the memory, but remain in the mind as a strangeness, a sense of the impossible: all of those. We have every one of the colours of a rose.
And in our famous rose festival, held every ten years, when rose pilgrims throng along the narrow tracks that lead to our well hidden village, we show and celebrate these colours. With wine, and singing, the rose dances, the poems; all leading up to the amazing rose tinted spectacle, when, all over the village, in inconceivable plenitude, a vast cloud of petals, in the air, everywhere, are all the colours of a rose.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
In the back streets of Warsaw, when Warsaw had back streets, there were a few narrow passageways behind the buildings that delineated the Jewish quarter and which, for a few glorious decades at the end of the nineteenth century, were used by people of the city, whatever their religious upbringing, to meet and exchange ideas and insights about the spiritual quest that each person was making.
Even in more liberal days, these exchanges were considered too radical to be brought to public attention, so the courageous seeker would write his or her thoughts, questions, insights on a small piece of paper, and then tuck the paper into the nearest available crevice in the walls surrounding these passages, trusting that another seeker would find the note, and would respond with an appropriate written reply tucked into the same crevice. The system worked extraordinarily well. Much wisdom was generated, generously and optimistically.
Over the years, and for no apparent reason, (though many hypotheses have been offered both by those who were there, and those who weren't) a custom developed whereby these notes were written in purple ink. On rainy days, if a note were not sufficiently well embedded in the bricks, the ink would run, and the passage would appear to be shedding purple tears. Many people later saw this as a forewarning of hard times to come. However, at the time, if it turned out that your note was washed clean of its content, it was considered to be an indication that your question could only be answered beyond the limitations of language, and the seeker would be encouraged to find their answer from an inner "knowing", or from an external chance encounter. This emphasis on the mystical, rather than the intellectual process was seen as a great blessing, and the washed out written note became known as a "purple passage". On high days and holy days, good hearted fellow seekers would greet each other thus; "may the year ahead bring you purple passages". The appropriate reply to this was, of course, non verbal. A discreet smile and a light touch of hand to heart.
May the year ahead bring you purple passages.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
the scarlet woman
In our country there are many ways to healing. Dreaming, we use that, and movement, of course, and touch, and making the circle of hands, all of that, and the secret pressure points, and the power phrases, and the great sky songs -- so many ways. And medicine: obviously.
Our medicines come from the forest. Down in the valley, where the jungle is thick, and wet, and warm, the soil is so fertile that nature simply riots in possibility: everything that can grow, does, and flourishes, a carnival, celebration of all that can be. Colour, texture, all the tastes, poisons, dreaming drugs, rich and powerful perfumes, everything grows there. Including medicines for every ill, and medicines for when it is time to die.
At that time, a time that we prize and dream about and anticipate with every hope and joy, there is one medicine that is the best of all. It is so kind. It welcomes you in, takes care of you, nourishes you, it is your lover, your mother, your daughter; it is beautiful, desired, obtainable, generous with its love. Truly, it is our most precious medicine. It will carry you in its arms. It will take care of you.
It blooms vividly, briefly, exuberantly, a vital and astonishing red flower. Its coming is a time of rejoicing, and we go out, singing the old songs, to harvest its flowers, dry them, and save them for when the dying time arrives.
Because it is so gentle, so generous, so embracing; so beautiful, so healing, and so kind, we call it the scarlet woman.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
In the late 1960s, there was a sudden and unexpected rift in the successful (and much admired) folk band known as Cotswold Orchard. The lead singer (Annie Smith) and the violinist (Matt Chevalier) started up a new, richer format, folk-rock band, with an emphasis on the folk songs of Europe, rather than England, and a daring line-up of both acoustic and electric instrumentalists. This was a radical innovation at the time, and not entirely without its purist critics.
Searching for a name for the new band, Annie found herself in her grandmother's garden - next door to the Cotswold orchard that had been the inspiration for the previous band's name, and she suggested to Matt that the new band might be called Grannie Smith - as in the apple. The newer band members liked the idea of a name that represented the fruit of the orchard, but thought that Grannie Smith sounded a little too tame for what they had in mind. Other apple names were considered, and eventually Golden Delicious was chosen - for its tough sweetness, its hybrid parentage, its popularity with the public, and the contrast between the evocative resonance of the words and the everyday workaday nature of this familiar fruit.
Wednesday, January 14, 2008
A grey area was originally the territorial range of a grey cat. Since grey cats are so sensitive, beautiful, alert, and discriminating, it came to mean any piece of space that has these qualities: a kind of fine energetic hum or tingle, a feeling of radiance, aliveness, beauty. If you find yourself in a grey area, you feel more awake, more protected, more creative, more kind. Grey areas are very nice places to be, especially if they have an actual grey cat to look after them.
Wednesday, January 7, 2008
the dog violet
Ah the dog violet . . . the dream dog . . . the rescuer . . . the one who comes when the night terrors loom and boom, and the room begins to lurch and sway, and the ceiling falls in.
You call. She appears. Her delicate, transparent soft pigments coalesce, and effervesce, and suddenly you know that all is well.
Then, oh then, the dog begins to shimmer and gleam, shaking with holy laughter and dogged enthusiasm. And you climb on her back, and she takes you away away beyond the house and its garden, beyond the land and the sea, out and over and through and around and free and luminous and safe safe safe.
To the wild calm, to the overflowing emptiness, to the ringing silence, and into the wide, white skyscape, brighter than sunlight, kinder than moonlight.
And when it is time to return, you do so without regret or loss or sadness or tears. For years and years, the nightly dance spins and weaves, and leaves its traces of gladness in your very bones. The memory remains as tangible as the violet dog hairs nestling proudly, but not loudly, on your faithful feather pillow.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Of course it is hard to become a teacher. We have many pathways and strategies and varieties of guidance to help those who wish to take this difficult, wonderful path; and of course many do, because what life could be more satisfying? A teacher: better, even, than a gardener, or an actor, or a street cleaner; more satisfying, more rich in daily challenge, opportunity, satisfaction.
One thing we require in our teachers is that they should have a certain innocence, and vitality, a freshness, an openness. Kindness, of course. Knowledge, deep knowledge, and love of the language, of course, of course. But they should be, also, youthful; not in age but in awareness, a child quality: they should be in love with possibility, they should be, as we call it, newly alive.
And they should be, obviously, male and female: both, in one body. They should be able both to nurture, and to set limits. To say no, and to say yes. The deepest, purest, most clarifying no; the most enabling, encompassing, and all-involving yes. Truly, it is hard to learn.
And, finally, they should have the insight of the spirit. They should have that quality that sees, and whose seeing is transformed; they should know the world, and love the world, and be in the world to the fullest extent, but not be confined by it; they should know the truth.
There is a test, which is also a ceremony. When a teacher-to-be feels he or she is ready to be a teacher they present themselves before us. Standing there before us, as if before a class, reposeful, calm, ready, they present themselves; looking down. Waiting. And we wait. The waiting is exciting, as a class of children would be excited, waiting to learn.
Then, when the time is right, he or she will look up; will look at us; and we will know. In that look there will be youth, and vitality, and the strength of the same sex, and the strength of the other sex, and it will all be in the eyes, and, just for a few moments, up in the eyes will come the deep blue of the spririt, it will bloom, slowly, and then fade, gently, back into the original colour, and we will know. And we will say, ah, he is a blue-eyed girl. Or ah, she is a blue-eyed boy.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
As all good cooks know, it is the attitude in the cook's mind, as he or she is preparing food, that makes all the difference between food that is nourishing and wholesome, and food that, sadly, is not. What is required is a total dedication to the benefit of all beings in any way connected with the ingredients being handled, and a strict refusal to indulge in any negative thoughts whatsoever. The energetic field thus established is as nourishing for the cook as it is for the people or animals he or she is cooking for.
And as extraordinarily good cooks know, once the mental attitude is securely in place, and the emotions and neurotic thinking set aside, there arises a sudden burst of joy, which the adept may perceive as a flash of white lightning. If at all possible, this should be incorporated into the food being prepared, but it may take years of practice for even the most dedicated cook to be able to do this, since the lightning flash is less than a moment in duration, and the excitement of seeing it is enough to take away both the breath and the ability to act in the instant.
Hence the well known phrase: "life is not long enough to stuff a mushroom properly".
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Priests? No, we don't have priests. Nothing like that. Holy men and women? No, not at all.
Of course we do have people who look deeply into the nature of things, who use instruments and dreams and hypotheses and songs and myths and mathematics, and come back and tell us stories about it, and give our lives meaning. Of course we have them: we call them scientists.
One of the things they tell us, the main thing, in a way, the main story, is the story of the beginning. When the universe began, it was a vastly compressed possibility, they say. A white hot inconceivable moment, the beginning of a slow vast explosion, a gigantic opening, a blossoming of everything.
And there, they say, in that primordial moment, was the implication of everything. The seed. The quintessence, that grew with beautiful stately logic into all that is, including us; but what it grew into was what it already was, in that astonishing moment.
And, they say, consider your own story, your beginning. In that burst of sentience, that arrival, the beginning of that wonderful flowering of possibility, the same story tells itself: an unfolding of what was already there.
But there is a difference. We are not self contained. We are part, they say, of everything that was already always there.
We exchange substance with it. We draw energy from the sun, through what the sun makes fertile, plants and animals, and we care for and accompany those same plants and animals, and live amongst them, and exchange substance with them, breathe the air that they breathe; we are part of the same thing.
And we tell stories and sing songs and weave the world in words and music that are also, of course, part of the same thing.
And then we die. And our friends and lovers and children, at that amazing time of joy and grief, that time of meaning--that inconceivable moment, of vastly compressed possibility, when we leave the body--they give it to the earth. Or to the sea. Or to the birds, whichever is appropriate.
It is another exchange of substance. We call it, giving the green back.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
When you see red, how does it feel?
Well, the answer to that lies in the exact shade of red that you choose. Or so they say . . .
Alizarin? Amaranth? Burgundy? Cardinal? Carmine? Cerise? Chestnut? Coral? Crimson? Fuschia? Magenta? Maroon? Persian? Persimmon? Rose? Ruby? Rust? Puce? Sangria? Terra cotta? Venetian? Vermillion?
Choose any one of these and taste it. Right now. Pop it under your tongue and wait for a moment till the precise red feeling bursts, or explodes or filters subtly, or seeps into your awareness . . . for, of course, the moment and manner of transmission will also depend on the shade of red that you have selected.
Personally, I can recommend the following . . .
for a warm summer's day, when indolence invites you; venetian
for the healing of an emotional wound when tempted to stay pierced; persimmon
for the revisiting of well loved memories when you fear the bitter sweet; sangria
for the antidote to many hours in the library when too many words, and diagrams, and black on white have wearied imagination; cerise
for the energy required to yawn or laugh (like a cat or a small child - with gusto); carmine
for the courage and wisdom to speak the truth with kindness, when silence is collusion with the untrue; terra cotta.
But please don't simply take my word for it. Check this out for yourself. See the red that is right for you.
If in doubt about this process; amaranth.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
You should understand that we have three kinds of poetry. There is the poetry that is sung, the poetry that is spoken, and the poetry that is written down. They are quite distinct. A spoken poem, and a written poem, just like a sung poem, have their own music; the music of the voice, the music of the line. This music is a rich part of the poem, maybe the most important part.
One of our poets, a writing poet, spent a lot of time in the forest. He was working on a new way of thinking. He described it like this:
First, you develop the mind of a hunter. A hunter of a very dangerous animal. You sit, absolutely still, completely relaxed, and intensely aware, awake, alive: listening with all your senses to everything around you, electrically alive. Then you expand this awareness until, without dilution, it encompasses the whole forest. All of it: sharp pinpoint awareness of all of it, as if your life was at risk.
Then, without losing that huge sharp awareness of everything, you bring your mind down to focus at the same time on one thing: one tiny thing. And you hold both the big picture and the small picture in your mind at once. And then...
And then what happened was, a small fly alighted on his hand, as it rested in his lap. A greenfly, exquisite, tiny, perfect, unaware of his attention, its limbs and antennae almost too fine to be seen, its frail wings fluttering slightly, in the sunlight.
And for our poet, something happened. Something enormous, quiet, utterly definite: a totality. A coming together. As if a wind arose for a moment and blew through everything, and then focused, and -- clicked. Just like that.
And he took a brush and paper and wrote a poem. It is the greatest poem in our written language. It is the foundation of an entire spiritual practice, as we seek to emulate his experience.
We call it "waiting for the greenfly".
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
To celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, Mr and Mrs Auberon, of 16 Willow Drive, Milton Keynes, decided to give away all their wealth, beyond their practical needs, to local residents. On Saturday morning, they left home before first light, and set up a stall in the shopping precinct nearest to their modest home. The stall was stacked with precious and semi precious items that had been gathered by the couple over their years together: jewellery, cut glass, silver spoons, ceramics, fancy silks, antiques and original oil paintings, amongst other interesting and valuable collectors' items, all to be given away freely to anyone who liked them. They also put up a sign saying "Gold Rush: please celebrate with us - let us give you a generous cheque".
It took passing shoppers by surprise, and the Auberons found it quite difficult to persuade them that their offer was genuine and without hidden complications. However, a small child and neighbour (Juiet Barnard aged 9, 18 Willow Drive), understood both the idea and the reluctance of the crowd to participate. She, in a flash of insight, found a discarded hat, wrote "Donations" round the brim, filled it with coins from Mr Auberon's pockets, and started singing and giving out coins to anyone who would accept them. This small act of topsy turvy generosity got the ball rolling, and soon the precinct was filled with song, as several of the good people of Milton Keynes helped in the distribution of the goods from the brightly coloured stall, and acted as intermediaries between the Auberons' cheque book and people who might benefit from a gift of some of their money.
When asked why they were doing this, the Auberons simply smiled, and, after a thoughtful pause, Mrs Auberon said "We have been more fortunate than we would ever have dreamed would be possible, and hope to spread a little temporary happiness, and a great deal of re-thinking about how the world might work".
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
red letter day
Writing is important to us; of course. Of the highest importance, to be treated with the greatest care. We write with a brush, and water based ink, and our script, which is very beautiful, and wonderfully expressive, has a symbol for every word in our language, and many other symbols, which cannot be expressed completely in spoken words. And the way this script is written by each individual is of the greatest importance too: the quality of the brush stroke tells us everything about the person writing. So nothing can be concealed, everything is there to be read, and it is impossible to lie, using our script. This is of course of enormous use: we have no lawyers, nor any need of them.
But writing is powerful, so powerful that we need to control it. Writing cannot sing, or whisper, or declaim, or murmur, any of those beautiful things that the voice can do, but its power and authority is such that there is a danger that we might come to think that we have no need of the fragile sweet impermanence of the voice. And since writing says so much, so well, for so long, with such clarity, there is a danger that we might come to feel that everything is known, everything written down, no secrets, no mysteries, no corners in the world around which we cannot see.
So we have a rule. One day in each month we write letters to each other, to all our friends, and to people we don't know; and in those letters we put our deepest thoughts, thoughts that we did not know we thought, our secret selves, our mysteries. And for these letters we use a very beautiful and special ink, made from the gum of a rare tree: the ink is a deep dark red. And we dye the paper that we use for these letters with a dye made from exactly the same red ink. So the writing is red against red, invisible, illegible, secret, unknowable: and we can be certain, sending and receiving these letters, that there is much that is hidden, much that is unknown, much that is untouched by the fearless clarity of writing.
These days are very important to us. We call them red letter days.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
The moon herself is colourless, as you know. No. Not grey. Entirely colourless. She cannot, in fact, be seen, despite the popular fancy that she reflects another planet from time to time.
Those with everyday eyes may sometimes think they see her as a silvery white brightness, reflecting their own possibilities, their aspirations, their unprocessed dreams and their unrealised inner beauty. They love to see the moon this way, because it reminds them, however faintly, that they, too, are shining within.
Those who have gone beyond will see her as any luminous colour, and are wise enough to know that what they see simply tells them how they are in themselves at that very moment. Except, of course, they know that they do not have a self, merely a complicated device for interacting with a probably reality. Similarly, they do not subscribe to the idea of "moments". However, they are encouraged to speak in this way, using these sorts of words, in the hope of drawing other beings across the daunting wide water. And, although all the colours imaginable are welcome, an apparently blue moon will always bring a quiet smile.
The phrase once in a blue moon has arisen as a much loved phrase amongst the gone beyond. You may ask "what does it mean?" But that is not a question they can make any sense of. However the question "how do you use it?" is a different matter entirely. Here's what the singer-songwriter formerly known as O.O. Henry would say:
"Lost in the mists of time, there was an enduring, endearing joke. The punch line was "once in a blue moon." We have long since forgotten the substance of this joke, but we use the phrase "once in a blue moon" whenever we see someone needing to smile. Why bother with a long story, when the simple phrase works as well?"
Wednesday October 29, 2008
Red of course is the colour of good fortune, of the heart, of the soul's warmth, of love. To give a precious gift, you wrap it in red tape, to show that it is a gift given in love, a gift without stipulation, a gift freely given.
By extension red tape has come to be associated with any kind of loving freedom, any sweet surrender to the way things perfectly are. So, paradoxically, to be bound with red tape is to be free, to be surrounded with a fragile, generous, infinite giving: bonds that, in binding, dissolve, and melt into the kindness of their close embrace.
Wednesday October 22, 2008
a silver lining
Sometimes the full moon, moving stealthily, grooving healthily, proving truer than true to her word, can be heard (with a sound not unlike the unfastening of a velcro fastening, but quieter, milder, more velvet than crow) unbracketing her round shiny substance from the surrounding velvet skies.
Those who stand under the forest shelter will never discover what happens then. Only those who run asunder and amuck, helter and skelter, over the hot dry earth, will have the good luck to be struck by the falling orb and absorb the absolving molten shining.
This silver lining settles under your skin, and flows deep within. And without a moment of rest or hesitation, it ripples and skims to the very heart of all your forgiving living tissue.
When you receive a silver lining, for the rest of your days, you will know the secrets of the lightness of being; as you become the whiteness of midnight.
Wednesday October 15 2008
the golden gate
In our country we are peaceful. Yes, of course. We are known for it. And there is laughter, quite a lot of that, and we find beauty important, and we pride ourselves on remaining calm, on not giving way to anger. But, also, we search. It is not a static life. That is crucial: that is a deep part of the way we live.
What do we search for? Not wealth, not love, not possessions, not any of that, love is what we do, not what we look for, and our economy is based on gifts, not acquisition of more. But still, we search; you might say, we are driven by this search. For what? The golden gate. Everyone must ask, obviously, in their lives, the fundamental question: what is important? And for us, the answer is easy.
Somewhere, you see, as we make our way in the world, there is, different for each of us: a golden gate. I can't describe it: it is in its nature, that it can't be described. You know it when you see it. But, crucially, only if you look out for it. The worst thing is to walk past it, not to recognise it, to have been thinking of something else. A memory, maybe, a looking forward, a looking back; a lover, a joke, an anticipated meal. And walk past the golden gate.
And anything you can do, also, can be a golden gate. The next poem you write, the next hard word you say to your lover, your absence, your presence, your love, your failure: any of that may be, for someone, a golden gate.
You know when someone has found it, has gone through it. They are not the same. They don't talk about it. It is important, not to talk about it, but they are different: they are, we say, blessed.
You are allowed to make sayings, in order to help others to find it. For instance:
The cat came, and sat on my lap.
When she died, the pain was unbearable.
Ah, the morning glory.
When you sang that line, my breath caught, I gasped, I couldn't breathe.
I found I was blind; I found I would never see your face again.
I laughed; I couldn't stop laughing. Everything--absolutely everything--made sense.
Wednesday October 8 2008
It's not often that you hear this phrase these days. Red alert? The young people have no idea what it means. It has long since become unnecessary.
But once upon a when, and who can say exactly when, "red alert" was the very heart of everyday life. The very seed of every flowering conversation. The very root of all constructive projects. The very vista beyond every vision. The outcome that everyone longed for. Or so the stories say. I wasn't there, so I don't know for sure. But so they say.
I remember the first time I heard it. I was playing with my dog, Fellowes, in the garden. Not a real dog. A dog made of air and imagination, who sparkled like gold dust and jumped for joy, like turquoise sequins shaken from a paper bag in the springtime sunshine. I expect I was about four years old. My father and my mother were sitting under the old apple tree, reading books and quiet in their friendship. Like me and Fellowes. Like Fellowes and me. Except for the reading, that is.
Suddenly there was a humming of bees. Not real bees. An invisible, enormous, apparency of bees, rushing through the long grasses and scattering pink petals hither and thither. A waterfall of flowers and a showering of sound. Not a real waterfall. Not a real shower. But definitely pink was in the air around us. I think.
Fellowes wanted to know what was happening, because he was frightened. Just a little. So I approached my father, my beloved father, cautiously. Politely. You don't interrupt the books, you see. They might forget what they were saying. He didn't seem aware that anything big and strange was happening. He was simply reading his book. Or so I thought in my little way.
I touched him on the sleeve. A left sleeve, I now know, but I didn't then. A grey linen sleeve, I now know too, though I didn't know then. He lent his head towards me. Kind kind kind he was, and I borrowed his ear. His left ear. I whispered, in case the books didn't want to be disturbed. "What's happening dada? Fellowes wants to know".
"Nothing to worry about, my small friend", he said. So I knew he had seen and heard and felt it too. He said, "it's simply the red alert".
I waited a while till I saw him smile. And I whispered again, "and what's a red alert please dada? Fellowes wants to know".
And the answer stays with me still. I hear it on the breeze of memory and wonder.
"The red alert tells us that the war is over. That the world has turned upside down and come to its senses. That the angels are dancing in the heavens. That bloodshed is finished. That it is time to move on. That Mars is at rest. That all the old meanings can be re-arranged."
"Like flowers?" I asked. Politely. I hoped.
"Just like flowers. Yes." He said.
I think I remember it so clearly because he cried soft salty tears. Fellowes and me, we got salty and wet. Just a little. Not a lot.
Wednesday October 1 2008
the emerald isle
There is a promise, in the ancient books, that the world is not one-sided. That God has put a balance into the way things are, if only we could find it; that perhaps the other half of anything that ails us, the antidote to any disease, is right there in front of us, unconsidered; or else, maybe, distant, but findable, with effort, with endurance. So they say.
A story is told to illustrate that. Of how, long ago, a man was possessed with greed: a sickness, a fever, that burned and tormented him. He travelled far, in search of wealth to feed his painful illness. One day he came to the edge of the sea, impoverished by his long journey, always searching. Looking towards the horizon, he saw -- what? A glow. A glimmer. A shining. Something unimaginably beautiful.
He used the last of his money to buy a small boat, and set off, working the sail and the oars with the remains of his strength, wasted by illness and desire. After a day and a night he came, in the early morning, upon a miracle. The sun was rising in front of him, and between him and it was: an emerald island. Green. Green, translucent, suffused by sunlight, intricate, unimaginable.
He is there still, or so they say. Perhaps nothing there decays. We can imagine him, where water runs down emerald channels into the surrounding sea; tending the gardens, bewildered by beauty, the crystal springs, the diamond caves, the jewel boulders, into whose transparent depths one can stare and dream and lose oneself; amongst the jewel canyons, that echo with complexities of sound, birdsong, water falling, laughter, the music of the island.
Perhaps it was the immensity of his desire, his greed, that created this enormous answer. Or perhaps he dreamed it, and is still dreaming. Or perhaps it is true: that the world is not one-sided; that somewhere, for any suffering, however terrible, there is an amazing antidote. An emerald island.