No, No – They Can’t Take That Away From Me!

{I realised today that I recently passed my 10 year ‘blog-aversary’. I can’t believe it’s been so long. There were gaps along the way – years when I travelled and hardly wrote – but I don’t think a year ever … Continue reading

Instant Mash and the Struggle to be Honest

  On a winter’s sunset walk last night I saw a patch of pale, papery honesty growing in the hedgerow, the distinctive circular seed pods looming from the grass. I always notice the plant- but tonight it seemed to jump … Continue reading

BBC Radio 2 Pause for Thought: New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve returned from a long and winding journey through Mexico over the last three weeks (more on that soon), and in a jet-lagged haze, fortunately managed to hear my alarm go off at 4am today to drive into central London. … Continue reading

No, No – They Can’t Take That Away From Me!

February 22, 2017 | 6 Comments

{I realised today that I recently passed my 10 year ‘blog-aversary’. I can’t believe it’s been so long. There were gaps along the way – years when I travelled and hardly wrote – but I don’t think a year ever passed where I wrote nothing at all. So to you –  who reads this – thank you for receiving my heartfelt offering. And to those who continue to encourage me to write – thank you, for always reminding me that I simply must always ‘write to live’!}

It was Valentine’s Day and I was driving home from the late evening meditation class that I teach every week. To close the class I’d led a guided visualisation – seeing the heart as a beautiful rose which opens and closes. Singing the sacred maha-mantra in call and response, we envisioned the heart gently, automatically opening, as a rose does in the warming rays of the sun. The session was sweet and peaceful, but as I drove home I was feeling some mixed emotions. I have a had a difficult heart experience to go through recently, and I am still experiencing strong ripples, long after the stone was thrown some months ago. As it happens, I was returning to an empty house – with my parents in India, and brother staying at university.

A song came to mind as I drove: ‘The way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea, the memory of all that, no, no they can’t take that away from me…’  I remembered hearing it some years ago in Manhattan, on a brilliant-blue, cheek tingling winter’s morning. I was staying in the city, and going through something similarly difficult internally. For some heart relief,  I walked to the outdoor ice rink in Bryant Park. I have always loved ice skating since childhood, but I don’t think I had ever skated alone before.

It was beautiful. Old 1950s songs played, and the rink was fairly quiet on a weekday morning. Though I was a little rusty, I felt so free and happy, wobbling across the smooth ice. After over an hour, when my calves burned and toes began to blister, I sat and watched the other skaters. One lady caught my eye in particular – slender, with brown skin and brightly coloured clothing. She danced to the music, bouncing and bopping, flouncing her raised hands gracefully from side to side like Ginger Rogers. Her smile was almost Buddha like – inward focused – her gaze fell on no one in particular. The image of her carefree dancing, and the song that played, ‘No, no, they can’t take that away from me!’ fused together in my mind. The song spoke of the bitter pain of love and loss, but her ice-dance, on the clear cold day, evoked freedom, release and self contained joy.

Anyway, back to last Tuesday – I arrived home and spent near two hours pottering about downstairs before heading upstairs for bed. Before doing so I double checked the back door was locked. I knew it was. But I pressed down the handle and — it was open…strange… I turned the key in the lock and it rotated smoothly round and round in circles — the lock seemed to be broken. I got a strange, sinking feeling, but the penny hadn’t dropped yet. Walking up the stairs in the dark, I had a sudden rush of dread that someone might be hiding in the shadows. I snapped on the hall light.

Shock of my life! Every room upstairs was overturned. Clothes, papers, jewellery and picture frames were tossed all over the place. The cupboards looked as though they’d vomited out their contents in every direction. It still took me a few seconds to realise that we’d been burgled.

My body reacted in all the expected ways – wondering if there was still someone in the house as I called 999. I tried to call a few people but most were asleep – after midnight. After standing frozen amidst the chaos for what felt like forever, my dear friends Kap and Ananda came to rescue me – getting there much faster than the police did.

The drama was all over within 48 hours. Police visits; learning that they’d broken into five other houses the same night; clearing up the mess and discovering much they’d left behind, and a few things lost. As I folded and swept and tidied, the ‘You can’t take that away’ song came to mind again. I thought about what treasures can never be lost – though the externals of a situation may be shocking or distressing.

Somehow the experience highlighted and affirmed some beautiful, subtler things — the chance to call upon friends in a time of fear and distress; to experience their protection and love; to realise that even if some valuable items were taken – that the most precious things were overlooked because their value is not monetary; to experience the care and concern of neighbours I rarely speak to beyond ‘Good mornings’; to know that I am never alone.

On a day that I felt a little heart sore, in a most unexpected way, I ended up receiving love from all sides. Acknowledging that the ultimate source of that love is the Supreme Person, Shri Krishna – the refrain echoed in my mind again and again – ‘No, no, they can’t take that away from me…’ I thought again of the lady dancing on ice – how even in moments of solitude, or bitter loss – joy can still burst through the cloud – the freedom of knowing that the most precious love is eternal and deep beyond fathoming.  True, there were no red roses. But it was a Valentine’s day I’ll never forget.

 

Instant Mash and the Struggle to be Honest

February 5, 2017 | 2 Comments

 

On a winter’s sunset walk last night I saw a patch of pale, papery honesty growing in the hedgerow, the distinctive circular seed pods looming from the grass. I always notice the plant- but tonight it seemed to jump out at me for more reasons than one. Some say the name came because of the translucency of the silvery pods – but whether true or not, the name does always spark deeper thoughts for me.

The day before I had attended a small reading group with some friends. We’ve just started it, after many years of saying we will. Our aim is particularly to dive into the books of the bhakti tradition. We started modestly with a book called ‘Nectar of Instruction’  or ‘Shri Upadeshamrita’ written by the 16th century saint Srila Rupa Goswami. It’s small – just eleven Sanskrit verses, with an English commentary by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. In essence it is a summary of the proper behaviour and activities that a person should adopt on the path of bhakti yoga. We read the first verse together – which speaks about control of the mind, senses and urges of the body.

The discussion afterwards turned to how honesty is vital to physical and spiritual health – both honesty to oneself and with others. Every generation seems to learn the hard way that dishonesty only brings pain in the end. All of us that sat in the circle had grown up in spiritual communities where the keeping up of appearances can unfortunately seem to encourage dishonesty. We talked about how that cycle can lead to no progress being made at all, and ultimately unhappy, spiritually malnourished people.

The next day, in my kitchen I noticed the sachet of ‘Honest Earth’ instant mashed potatoes, and the fruit and nut ‘Kind’ bars. These aspirational types of names are pretty common these days – goodness – honest goodness – sells, because we all crave it. I normally think myself aloof to the effect of such marketing, but when I envisioned the products without labels for a moment I realised that just seeing those words on the packaging really did make me feel better about the contents, even though I already know the ingredients don’t match up to the image. Kind of like politicians…

There’s so much one can say about honesty in the current climate. Whether it’s instant mashed potatoes or Trump’s latest tweet – I feel more savvy (and more in control) if I expect to be cheated at every turn. That’s a bit sad, but it does seem realistic. What I do know is that even if the wider world may lead me to take dishonesty as the norm – and even facilitate, and reward it (think about it…), in my small world – in the day to day, I need honesty like I need fresh air.

In the bhakti tradition, honest revelation in confidence is an exchange of love. There’s definitely nothing like it to humble the heart and deepen friendship. But it can be tricky to navigate who to be honest with, and how much. Since Facebook galloped into my life like a crazed horse ten years ago, I have way too many people who I count as ‘friends’, and who know me, and quite a bit about my life. I’ve also travelled a lot, so the numbers of people continue to rise, even if I ignore the friend requests.

But away from the madding crowd, this year I’m realising the importance of making time for those few relationships where everything can be laid bare. To be truthful, sincere, honest – yes it is hard…it demands vulnerability, and that can be so daunting. In Ancient Roman times, marble sculptors sometimes used to use beeswax (cere) to fill small cracks or holes in inferior quality stone. Salesmen would use the word sincere, meaning ‘without wax’  to assure prospective buyers of the quality product. The example always sticks with me. Tempting as it is to disguise the cracks, it does no good to anyone.

Those little seedpods rising out of the dark brush the other night reminded me that transparency is freeing. Before I expect or demand it from anyone else, there is a lot of work to do on myself.

 

 

 

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