Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Poppy Field

A sea of living crimson caught my eye
Of oriental splendour, out of place
Beneath the pastel of an English sky
Where soft-toned pastures etch the tranquil face
Of Summertime. A silken, poppied sea
That shimmered in the early morning sun,
And with true beauty's generosity
Held out its cup of joy to everyone.
The sober hedgerows glowed a richer hue,
The willow-herb a dainty blush revealed,
And I have never seen a sky as blue
As that which smiled upon the poppy field.
Sweet flowers that bring men sleep, you brought to me
A wakened joy that lives in memory.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Here and Now

No-one will ever convince me that a sense of humour isn't one of the greatest attributes of divinity. If not, how is it that we are so often jolted out of our everyday stupor by delightful absurdities?
May I share one such instance?

The other day, on Monday to be precise, I had several letters to post. On reaching the post-box I pushed the envelopes through the opening. As I did so, my eye was caught by the small metal tag giving details of the next collection. I was somewhat startled to read that the next collection was to take place NOW. It took me a moment to realise what must have happened. The postman, probably a little behind schedule on his rounds, had been clumsy in handling the small metal tag and had inserted it upside down. What should have read MON, instead read NOW.

The experience pulled me up sharply and gave the moment a wonderful sense of immediacy. I was brought into the 'now' with a vengence! And, of course, the small metal tag was perfectly correct, at whatever moment the postman chose to arrive it would undoubtedly be NOW.

I don't know about you, but I find it hard to stay in the 'now'. The temptation for me is always to slip back into an edited version of a remembered 'then', or to reach out towards an imagined 'when'.
To be honest, I think I'm a little scared of 'now'. Anything can happen in 'now'. It's new and totally unpredictable. There are no sign-posts, no landmarks.

It has been said that we spend at least ninety-per cent of our time not in the 'now', but cruising on auto-pilot. Our physical functions need no attention from us. Our breathing and digestive systems are automatic, our hearts are programmed to beat. It all works far better without our interference. Even the thoughts and reactions, which occupy us and colour the present, are largely products distilled from the past.
The past may not be ideal, but it's familiar.
Heaven knows (quite literally!) what we'd find in the 'now' if we were rash enough to investigate!

Reflecting on the postman's unintended message, I was struck by the thought that everything is contained in the 'now'. Quite apart from there being no past and no future, there are no memories, hopes or anxieties. It is total, self-contained and perfect. There is no way that your interfering thoughts can improve on 'now'. It is also, as I realised to my surprise, somewhere where the colours are brighter, the sounds are sharper and where, suddenly, the world, of which we are all an integral part, seems fully and vibrantly alive.

So . . . where am I in time when I'm writing this to you?
It's a sobering answer: finding words from the past to express memories of last Monday!

But, let's learn from last Monday.
Let's switch off the computer and go out into the garden . . . who knows, the impact of a rose could prove every bit as powerful as that of a clumsy postman!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A flaw in the carpet . . .

I remember, when I was a child, being told a beautiful Islamic story. I loved it then and it has never ceased to please me.
May I share it with you?

The story goes that, woven into the fabric of every one of those magnificent, traditional Persian carpets, there is an intentional flaw.
Why? Because, so it is said, man cannot create perfection. Only Allah is perfect.

Isn't it a lovely story? It allows us the freedom to acknowledge our flaws and shortcomings, and to accept that perfection is the prerogative of the divine. True, we are a part of that divine substance, but we have, individually and as a species, accrued quite a few flaws - intentional and unintentional - along the way.

What reminded me of the Persian carpet? Well, a friend of mine is working on her first novel. She is enjoying herself enormously, but the further she progresses into her book, the more she
realises the need to adjust and improve the early chapters. When she wrote these early chapters she barely knew the characters she was creating, now that she has grown to know them she needs to go back and make adjustments.

I tease her that she'll never finish and, as a counter to perfectionism, tell her both the story of the Persian carpet and a recollection of my own.
If you're a perfectionist this could help you, too!

Several years ago, when I was a proof-reader for a publishing house, I was asked to proof-read a new edition of Shakespeare's 'Sonnets'. What made this new edition special was the fact that it was to be written in calligraphy. Not only that, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre had agreed to give it their endorsement. The skilled calligrapher chosen for this task was Fred Marns. Taking up his pen and ink, he set to with a will.

The first few sonnets penned by Fred were truly beautiful. However, the next few were even more exquisite. By the time he had reached Sonnet Fifteen such was the standard reached that Fred insisted he should go back and improve his early efforts. By the time he was halfway through the book the calligraphy, that had originally seemed incapable of improvement, had attained such a degree of artistry that, once again, he needed to return to and rewrite the earlier sonnets.

I began to grow a little worried, would he ever finish? There was a dead-line for publication day and it seemed as though Fred, through this estimable search for perfection, would never reach the end!
It was not so much, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" as "Shall I compare thee to the sonnet I wrote last week?"

Finally, Fred and I acknowledged that we had to do what every good Muslim has to do . . . to accept that only Allah is perfect!
Fred stopped re-writing . . . the book was published . . . and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre was delighted with this new edition. Only Fred and I knew that there some sonnets that were even more beautiful than the others!

There are flaws in this letter . . . flaws in the argument . . . possibly flaws in the grammar . . . but, there you are, it comes with my love, and only Allah is perfect!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Going up . . . ?

May I ask you a question?
Tell me, is your hair growing more quickly than it did, say, a year ago?

I know that sounds a rather odd question, but I had a strange experience this week. Finding that my hair needed cutting sooner than I had anticipated, I went to my hairdresser for a trim. On making the comment that my hair seemed to be growing more quickly than normal, I was surprised to learn that I was not alone. All her clients, my hairdresser told me, irrespective of their age or state of health, were experiencing the same thing.

Why? She had no idea. As the scissors snipped we pondered on the possibility that it could be something in our food . . . something in the water . . . in the air . . . a side-effect of climate change . . . but we were doing no more than guessing. In truth, we were both completely flummoxed.

Is this phenomenon (beneficial to hairdressers, but expensive for the rest of us) restricted to Londoners? Is it general throughout the UK . . . throughout the world? And is it no more than yet another aspect of the speeding-up
process that we are all experiencing in every aspect of life?

Although it would seem contrary to logic, time does appear to be speeding up. How can this be when it should be the most constant and steadfast of our guiding forces? A process governed by the spinning of our planet and its rotation around the sun. Nonetheless, scientists agree that time has elasticity, and haven't we have all experienced some moments that seem to last for ever, whilst other hours have disappeared unnoticed?

If time is speeding up, then so, it appears, is our way of life. Before we have fully grasped their complexity, today's technical marvels will be relegated to tomorrow's scrap-heap. As for today's dramatic headlines, they will be chased away by tomorrow's dramas. What happened to those people who were suffering so badly on yesterday's front pages . . . ? Who knows . . . they've vanished along with the rest of yesterday's news.

Surely there must be a limit to time's apparent acceleration, an acceleration that could take us spinning into free-fall? On the other hand, could this very impetus, this increase in energy, be carrying us in a direction which many, far wiser than me, have named our metamorphosis?

If this increase in tempo in all areas of life is part of a build-up, a build-up to raise the energy frequency of existence . . . if, as many believe, we have reached a point which offers us the potential to make the so-called shift from ego to essence, to emerge from the state of rapacious caterpillars into liberated butterflies . . . then this time of rapid change that we are living through is critical.

The musician and teacher, Mark Romero, expresses it beautifully. The butterfly, he says, struggles painfully in its efforts to break free from its clinging chrysalis. Yet, were an observer to give assistance, the butterfly would die. That very struggle is essential in order to test the butterfly's developing wings and give it the strength to fly.

So, if we are finding it hard to lift our consciousness in the face of all the current challenges. If time, in its rapid acceleration is putting pressure on our lives - not only on our hair. Might it not be worth the stress and the struggle, if, like fledgling butterflies, we are in the process gaining the wisdom and strength that will eventually mean liberation and flight?

There is a story about two caterpillars munching on a leaf. A butterfly flutters past and captures their attention.
"You wouldn't catch me going up in one of those!" one of the caterpillars mutters with conviction.
Little did he know what the future held in store!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Truly Rural Royal Wedding

Now . . . let me ask you a riddle. What is the link between a Royal wedding and a pregnant pony?
Give up . . . ?
I'll tell you the answer . . . cow parsley!

If that sounds a little unlikely, let me tell you a story.
Two days before the Royal Wedding I was in Central London. With half-an-hour to spare, I decided to walk through Green Park and take a look at the growing preparations.
Large flags were flying proudly in The Mall, excited visitors thronged outside the palace, whilst a positive encampment of international media had claimed squatting rights in the park.
But what brought me up short, and held me entranced, was something far less predictable.
I looked down in amazement. Had I been transported to a rural idyll . . . to a wildflower meadow?

Improbable as it sounds, the wide, grassy area that runs behind the pathway flanking The Mall was carpeted knee-deep in cow parsley!
Cow parsley . . . ? In Central London . . . ? Along the route of the Royal Wedding . . . ?
It was wonderfully incongruous, and quite ethereally beautiful.
With cow parsley in The Mall and an avenue of maple trees in the Abbey . . . this, it seemed, was going to be a truly rural Royal Wedding!

The sea of white blossom transported me back to a time when I lived in Somerset.
It was late spring and my pony, Jennie, was about to give birth to her first foal. During the latter stages of her pregnancy, she surprised us all by developing an enthusiasm for something that had never interested her before . . . Jennie had a pregnant passion for cow parsley.

In April the Somerset hedgerows are lush with cow parsley. Each day I would gather armfuls of frothy white blossom and take them to my demanding pony . . . who obligingly produced a beautiful foal to reward me for my efforts.

Yes, I know. It's a strange combination of images . . . a pregnant pony and a Royal Wedding.
It would have little to say to the majority of happy onlookers who lined the route, attended street parties or were captured by the events unfolding on the television screen. It would, in all probability, mean little to the bridal couple.
But, who knows, it might have a certain quixotic appeal to the horse-loving, country-loving Royal Grandmother!