Monthly Archives: May 2015

When the cows come home

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The cows were lined up by the fence as I drove to a halt by the stop sign and orange traffic cones. Lovely chunky brown and white ones with thick white curls on their foreheads.

They were curious, and interested… this small hiccup on the road was a break in the monotony of their lives in a field hemmed in by fences. Back in the mists of time they would have roamed free, grazing, not just on boring green grass, but also on a variety of herbs and other grasses they were drawn to in order to maintain their good health. They reminded me of when I was staying with my best friend in the Forest of Dean in England. We were crossing a field to get to the Forest for a long walk.

The notes of a flute floated across the meadow, and then we saw a ring of cows –in fact every cow in the vicinity – gathered around the tree from whence came the music. Black Friesians. A man was sitting in the tree playing to them… a delicious eccentric – and after an intriguing exchange – my friend was mystified by the idea of a man playing music to cows, we carried on down to the Forest. I was fascinated… the cows confirmed all I had ever wondered about them. They were so curious and fascinated themselves, they couldn’t tear themselves away from the tree and the new sounds.

The definition of curiosity is a desire to learn and acquire knowledge… and how often do we credit cows with these qualities? When we want to describe someone disparagingly, who is slow, we call them bovine, and the dictionary definition of this word is being ‘slow and un-intelligent like cows and cattle.’

I think of the Welsh farmer who was gored by his bull, and fell to the ground unconscious, his leg broken. When he recovered consciousness, all his cows were spaced in a ring around him, protecting him from further attacks. As he began to drag himself to the gate at the edge of the field, his cows moved with him, keeping him safe. Faced with an emergency they had never encountered before, they solved it efficiently and cooperatively. What an example of goodness, intelligence, and can I say it – humanity? We credit mankind with humanity as though it was something unique to mankind… though sometimes one wonders what has happened to humanity in today’s world.

The dictionary defines humanity as having the qualities of compassion, brotherly love, kindness, understanding, consideration, mercy, generosity, sympathy, goodness… I find that all these words could be applied to the actions of these cows in protecting their owner… plus two more, intelligence and imagination.

In New Zealand we have an annual country custom called calf club day. Every year a child on a farm is given a lamb or a calf to nurture and train, and on calf club day they all bring their pet lamb or calf to school, and parade them and they are judged – most obedient, prettiest etc. When I was asked to judge, I couldn’t and gave everyone a ribbon … and then the next day, life is turned on its head for these gently reared and nurtured creatures.

The lambs go off to market in a trailer to be sold and eaten, the calves get turned out into the field with all the others. Once as we walked past a herd of jerseys grazing peacefully, admiring their long lashes and silky coats, one of them broke away from the herd, and ran towards us. As we talked to her and stroked her, we sighed – someone’s pet calf we murmured.

And so, lonely, missing her childhood companion, she was doomed to the monotony and heartbreak of a cow’s life – doomed to breed and produce a calf every year, doomed to have it torn away from her within a few hours or days, doomed to give up her milk and live her life in boredom and sadness. The sound of a cow bellowing in anguish when her calf has been taken from her, and the pitiful cries of the calves as they get used to being parted are part of the nightmare of country life.

Not to mention the terrified male /bobby calves lying in crates by the farm gate waiting to be gathered up in a cattle truck and after long hours of being thrown around the truck, ending up at the meatworks… I haven’t been able to eat anything with gelatine ever since I discovered how we get it… much of it derived from the skin and bones of calves… and hidden even in products like yogurt to bulk it up and make it creamier.

This is the reality of modern farming many will say, and so it is…. and yet organic farmers show how it can be done differently, keeping calves with their mothers, and still getting milk from the cows. Remembering that cows are not milking machines, but intelligent, loving consciousnesses could make a difference perhaps to the lives of millions of creatures who share this planet with us… and who as sentient beings, need the same protection and consideration that all life deserves.

My heart stopped at the pictures the other day of a woman matador in the South of France, holding aloft in gleeful triumph the ears of the magnificent bull she had just killed in torment, its blood running down her hands. Killed in torment to give so-called humanity some fun…

Yes, creatures have a different consciousness to human beings, and yet also share many of the same emotions… but since we have established – in the words of the Bible – ‘dominion over all creatures’ so we also have the responsibility to make sure that life for the creatures who give us life, is not also hell on earth.

‘We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals’ wrote the great writer on the natural world, Henry Beston… ‘Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilisation surveys the creature through his own knowledge… and the whole image in distortion. We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate in having taken form so far below ourselves.

‘And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow travellers of the splendour and the travail of the earth.’

Many years ago a group was formed in Wales, calling itself Women for Life on Earth… I like to think that we could all be un-official members of this wonderful sounding circle of goodness.

Food for threadbare gourmets

Sometimes I just need a quick and easy something to give guests at morning coffee time, or to cheer up a soup meal. These cheese muffins do the trick. I always have grated cheese ready in the deep freeze, so with a heaped cup of grated cheese, and another of self raising flour, I add a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper, and mix it all with one egg and three- quarters of a cup of warm milk. Spoon the mixture into greased muffin tins – I use tiny ones- and these take fifteen minutes in a 200 degree oven.

Food for thought

O servant, where dost thou seek Me?
Lo! I am beside thee.
I am neither in temple nor in mosque: I am neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash:
Neither am I in rites and ceremonies, nor in Yoga and renunciation.
If thou art a true seeker, thou shalt at once see Me: thou shalt meet Me in a moment of time.

Sufi poet Kabir, translated by Rabindranath Tagore

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Filed under animals/pets, food, kabir, kindness intelligence, rabindranath tagore, spiritual

That road less travelled

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The man who wrote ‘What is this life, if full of care, We have no time to stand and stare’ was a tramp for most of his.
And this was where the inspiration for his lyrical poetry about nature came from. He lived and moved and breathed nature, slept under the stars, lay in long grass, watched the seasons, observed the butterflies and flowers and birds.

And is it just coincidence that the man who wrote: ’Turn but a stone, and start a wing! ‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estranged faces that miss the many-splendoured thing’, was also a homeless street sleeper. One who lived beyond the fringes of the well-ordered world of habit and conformity.

Their words have been echoing round my mind in the last few days as I look at my life. Thoreau set me off with his magic words written during his time-out at Walden Pond:

‘There was a time when I could not sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hand. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a reverie, amidst the pines and hickories and sumacs in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flirted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.

‘I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works.’

I think we all know these days that we need time for ourselves, but it seems to me that there is something deeper than that in the words and thoughts of these people who would probably have been called drop-outs today. At the end of his book ‘A New Earth’, Eckhart Tolle talks of such people, and says that in other ages they would have been called contemplatives, and he calls them the frequency- holders … ‘here to generate consciousness through the activities of daily life…. they endow the seemingly insignificant with profound meaning.’

He says the task of such people is to be absolutely present in whatever they do. ‘There is consciousness and therefore quality in what they do, even the simplest task…’, and Tolle goes on to say that since we are all connected, ‘they affect the world much more deeply than is visible on the surface of their lives’…

Depending on where we are on the spectrum of consciousness ourselves, depends on whether we accept this concept and deem these people valuable. For me, part of the significance of the outsiders and their lives on the far side of accepted modes of being, is that they had the courage to live their lives the way they wanted.
Most people, including me, struggle along doing what we think is expected of us. We accept and fulfil roles, which may range from our occupations – nurse, teacher, lawyer, sales rep, or our place in family and society – wife, husband, mother, brother, sister, daughter – or a persona we project – dutiful daughter, conscientious employee, playful friend, and try to fulfil the expectations of those around us.

Everyone else around us – fulfilling their roles too – expects that like them, we should do our duty, stick to our place in the scheme of things, and above all – not step out of line, rock the boat etc etc…
But to some, there comes a time, when the soul, or higher self or whatever you like to call it – but it is an inward voice – demands to be heard. Ibsen put it so well in ‘The Dolls House’ when he wrote the revolutionary lines:

HELMER: But this is disgraceful. Is this the way you neglect your most sacred duties?
NORA: What do you consider is my most sacred duty?
HELMER: Do I have to tell you that? Isn’t it your duty to your husband and children?
NORA:I have another duty, just as sacred.
HELMER: You can’t have. What duty do you mean?
NORA: My duty to myself.

By recognising her duty to herself and breaking out of her expected roles, Nora cracked open her life and the lives around her. She had found she couldn’t go on playing the part assigned to her by society, custom or duty. Her whole being demanded a greater authenticity from her, whatever it cost.

And it always does cost, because when a person takes this sort of step, it rattles the bars of the cages of those all round him or her. When Jesus said the truth will set you free, he didn’t add the other half, which is that the truth may also make you angry, but even more likely, the truth will probably make others angry too.

“Take what you want and pay for it,” goes the Spanish proverb, and resistance or hostility from others is often the cost of taking that leap into the unknown when a person listens to their inner promptings, and which if denied, makes them unhappy, frustrated, depressed, and feeling that their life is pointless and wasted.

Making a grab for freedom from the concepts of society can trigger many unforeseen consequences, but even in the dark night of the soul which is so often the lot of the person trying to become free and self-actualising, the one thing they can say is that however lonely or isolated they are, they are not a victim, for this is what they have chosen, whatever it costs.

“What price loyalty?” demanded one angry person, and the reply they received was: “I had to be loyal to myself.” As we all know this is a hard choice when all our conditioning is about putting others first…

Maybe Oriah Mountain Dreamer put it best when she wrote those telling lines in The Invitation:
‘I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.‘

Tough words, and like love only ‘for the strong’… but those who choose the fork in the road less travelled can console themselves with the knowledge that they are part of a growing band of brothers, who are all at this time in the world’s turbulent present trying to listen to their inner voice and act on it, whatever it costs. It may mean losing everything but it also means gaining the things that matter – like self-respect and authenticity – and maybe too, discovering those broad margins with that time to stand and stare, and savour those many- splendoured things.

Food for threadbare gourmets

Raw food isn’t really my thing, but I found this recipe for mushroom pate rather delicious. Chop twelve to fifteen baby mushrooms or two really big portobello mushrooms, and marinate them in two tablespoons of olive oil and the same of tamari soya sauce, for half an hour. Put half a cup of walnuts in a food processor and pulse until slightly broken down, and add the mushrooms and a clove of garlic. Pulse until the mixture is slightly chunky and add salt and black pepper to taste. It’s good on crackers with a glass of wine, or sherry…

Food for thought

Evolution takes place inside. It isn’t a matter of pilgrimages, observances, and obeying religious rules. No code of conduct can alter the fact that every mind is on a soul journey. Dipak Chopra

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Could this experiment change the world?

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Andrea was a Dutch woman who had lived through the German occupation of Holland. Her brother hid in a wardrobe in her bedroom for the whole five years of the war to avoid being carted off as slave labour to Germany. When there were searches by Nazi soldiers she had to fend them off to save her brother.

When the war was over, after a stint as a glamorous air hostess with KLM, she emigrated to this country to put the miserable years of her adolescence and then a failed marriage behind her. Her degree in social science was a passport to nowhere in the early sixties in New Zealand. The only work she could find here was teaching; and the only teaching domestic science, which was called “manual”- which meant cookery and needlework.

Her resourcefulness raised these two domestic chores to an art form. The children didn’t actually learn the boring basics of scones, custard and rock buns like most other unlucky students back then. No, they learned to cook with garlic and herbs and spices, unheard of in the days when the only use for olive oil was for curing earache with a few drops on a dab of cotton wool, and garlic was a wild flower…

Her manual classroom became a mecca for school inspectors when Andrea transformed it with the glorious colours and designs the children created in sewing, and was a source of chagrin to the resident art teacher. Andrea taught both boys and girls, and I still have one of the vivid embroidered hangings they made.

To keep the whole class occupied while she taught them one by one to thread the sewing machine, she tossed a selection of brilliantly coloured wools on the floor, with some square pieces of hessian, and told them to make shapes with the colours and embroider them onto the squares. These wonderful squares still vibrate with colour and spontaneity. Andrea then sewed all the squares onto large sheets of hessian, and had these amazing techni-coloured wall-hangings draped across the drab manual classroom walls.

She taught the children how to thread a sewing machine by giving each step of the process a phrase about an animal – “Catch the fish, watch the bird……” Twenty years later, at the testing station for a warrant of fitness for her car, a tousled head popped up out of the inspection pit beneath the car, and said delightedly: “It’s Mrs Winter, isn’t it ? ” and then proceeded to recite his sewing lesson – “Catch the fish, watch the bird… !”.

These sewing classes were heaven on earth for one little Indian boy, who seemed to have been born as a master tailor. One day, he made a wonderful waistcoat, but there was only enough material for the edges to meet, and he and Andrea were puzzled as to how to fasten it. At the next lesson he told her he had had a dream and had solved the problem.

He then solemnly created frogging and bobbles to loop across and fasten it. When Andrea told this story in the staffroom, everyone was amazed. This child had long since been written off as so dumb that everyone else had given up on him. He sat in class, one of the silent, forgotten army of apparent no-hopers.

So, one by one, each teacher crept into the manual class to silently observe this child, and was blown away by his vivacity and calm confidence, and how all the other children deferred to the “master” of this skill. It changed his life.

I thought of Andrea and her little master tailor who moved from miserable anonymity to confident authority when I read the story of Japanese scientist Professor Masaru Emoto. He’s already famous for his discoveries about water and how it absorbs and reflects both good and negative energies. His latest experiment was with rice.

He put a handful of rice grains into three glass beakers and covered them with water. Placing them on a table, he visited them every day for a month. The first glass he thanked every day. The middle glass he ignored. The third glass he insulted every day.

At the end of the month the rice in the first glass was fermenting gently and emitting a sweet smell. The insulted rice had mouldy patches and didn’t look very good. The ignored rice in the middle glass had rotted and turned black.

What a metaphor for how we treat people, and how we can actually change the world by appreciating everyone. Could we turn around the brutality and pain that rages in places like the Middle East, in ghettoes all around the world, in zoos and in jails if we all stopped judging people and creatures in our minds, stopped writing them off, or ignoring them?

Andrea changed one little boy’s life by acknowledging and thereby encouraging him, and giving him self- respect, and this changed everyone else’s minds about him. What could we do for the sulky hurt person on welfare who feels judged, for the dunce at the bottom of the class who has no-one to encourage him and root for him, for the pining desolate animals in zoos far away from their natural habitat and their fellow creatures. What could we do to heal the ignored and insulted planet by acknowledging and thanking it every day?

If we all sent a different energy to thugs and terrorists of any creed or colour, suspending judgement, anger, condemnation or horror at their actions, could we change our world and help to spare their victims? If parents found new ways of talking to their children and encouraging them instead of criticising them; if they treated their children with the same respect and courtesy as their friends, so that children didn’t lapse into desperate negative attention seeking, could we have a world of happy loving children growing into loving adults?

Utopia has been a dream for centuries, but maybe this simple experiment, showing us that words can make a difference, that the right words can create miracles, and that the wrong words can destroy, could be the breakthrough. This simple experiment shows us that with our words and our feelings we can create the energy of life or death, of happiness or misery: that we can all be responsible for our own world, and we could each make a world in which only goodness and mercy exist and where only love prevails.

It’s like the prayer that Jesus taught – not something to publically parade and talk about, but something we can do privately for the world, and no-one need ever know… Could we change our world? I’m going to have a go… maybe you will too – in private…as I said to a friend – think ‘rice’.

The video on youtube is worth watching https://talesfromthelou.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/can-thoughts-affect-the-environment-masaru-emotos-rice-experiment-120/

Food for threadbare gourmets

Sticking with no sugar, and loving sweet things, I found this cake was delicious. Take two cups of chopped baking dates and gently boil them in half a cup of water… adding more water if they get too dry… they need to be moist and soft. Stir or mash to a mush.
Put them in a bowl and stir in half a cup of oil – I used light olive as I’m suspicious of some other manufactured oils ( the recipe said to use melted butter, but I wanted a dairy free zone too). Grate a courgette, a carrot and 200grams of sweet potato/orange kumara. Stir them all into the date mixture.
Then add four beaten eggs, grated zest of two lemons, three teaspoons of mixed spice, 200 grms of almond meal, a 100 grms of self rising flour, either gluten free or ordinaire, a teasp of baking powder and quarter of a teasp of salt.
Mix everything together with a slotted metal spoon and tip into a prepared greased and lined cake tin. Bake for an hour in 180 degree oven. If it starts to brown, cover the top with tin foil. Leave in the tin for ten minutes before turning out. (I used a loaf tin)
The recipe suggested icing of cream cheese, zest of 2 lemons, two tablsp of lemon juice and three or four tablesp of maple syrup.
Sounds delicious but I decided not to despoil the sugar free zone, contenting myself with a little sprinkling of sugar on top of the cake before it went in the oven just to make it shiny and sweet.
It’s good while still warm and keeps well wrapped in foil in the fridge for several days. I sometimes had a slice spread with butter too.

 

Food for Thought

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

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Waving not drowning

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I’m slowly sinking beneath the tide – not drowning but waving – to bowdlerise Stevie Smith’s poem.
And not a watery tide either. My whole garden seems to be subsiding beneath a sea of flaming leaves. Years ago I planted a row of liquid ambers, and sought out the brightest, most vivid species of autumn leaves, and it has proved true to its promise.

The colours, orange and purple, deep red and gold never fail to thrill me.
But now with the end of the golden weather, and autumn sliding into winter, these trees are revealing the bone structure hidden all summer under their luxuriant foliage.

Today, with pouring rain and cold blasts of wind I look out of the window at these grey skeletons and savour the fag end of autumn and the idea of winter settling in – and I love it… the fire’s lit, a pile of logs sitting smugly on the hearth, soup on the menu for lunch, and the pleasure of wearing a bright red wool jumper.

In my other life, the other side of the world, May and June in the northern hemisphere meant the opposite. I loved them then for may blossom and blackbird song, honey- suckle beginning to bloom in the hedgerows along with pale pink dog roses, and the pale translucent green leaves of beech trees with the sun shining through them… and a full moon shining over a loved wych elm on the sky-line. As the days grew warmer, the cooing of wood pigeons in the woods and the murmuring of innumerable bees in lime trees announced those hazy lazy days of summer.

In this country these months mean returning to those well loved clothes which never wear out, the wools and coats of winter, with the rich colouring and textures that summer clothes rarely possess… the sybaritic pleasure of a piping hot electric blanket on a cold wet night, and the glowing starlit sky of a frosty one.

So now I love these months for different things. I savour the bare hard look of ploughed fields, and stripped trees for silver trunks and shades of bark never noticed when the leaves were green. Mole said it best in ‘The Wind in the Willows’: “It was a cold still afternoon with a hard steely sky overhead…

“The country lay bare and entirely leafless around him and he thought he had never seen so far and intimately into the insides of things …Copses , dells, quarries and all hidden places which had been mysterious mines for exploration in leafy summer, now exposed themselves… He was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple…”

And in his diary for December 12, 1874, The Rev Frances Kilvert described: “… a beauty in the trees peculiar to winter, when their fair delicate slender tracery unveiled by leaves and showing clearly against the skies rises bending with a lofty arc or weeps gracefully drooping.

“The crossing and interlacing of the limbs, the smaller boughs and tender twigs make an exquisitely fine network which has something of the severe beauty of sculpture while the tree in summer in its full pride and splendour and colour of foliage represents the loveliness of painting.

“The deciduous trees which seem to me most graceful and elegant in winter are the birches, limes, beeches”.

The rhythm of the seasons is felt less in the gentle micro- climate where I live, than in the colder regions of the country, but I still revel in them. When I lived in the tropics for years, I ached for the regular changing of the seasons, for cold and bleak or warm and balmy. The lack of variety of perpetual warmth, perpetual sun, perpetual foliage, flowers and fruit, unchanging as the months went by, were in the end, utterly boring to a westerner born and bred to the rhythm of the seasons.

Subtle Screwtape, the senior Devil, writing to his nephew Wormwood puts it better in CS Lewis’s ‘The Screwtape Letters’: “He (God )has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm.

“He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is felt as a novelty yet always as an immemorial theme… men will be transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas…”

Yes. The devil is right, it’s the constantly changing seasons, the beauty we cannot grasp and keep, and at the same time the pleasure of doing what we did last year and the year before which gives life a richness and satisfaction. Children feel it as keenly as adults – who is as insistent as a child that we do the same as we did last year, especially at Christmas?

What the elderly devil Screwtape didn’t mention to his nephew Wormwood, who he was teaching to capture souls, was an even more regular pattern of rhythm – the poetry of the waxing and waning of the moon, and also the moods and feelings which are so often influenced by those rhythms. So often in the swings between euphoria and despair it’s easy to lose the way, and forget that these highs and lows are also part of the rhythm of life and of the human soul.

Yet ataraxia, which is an arcane word for: “ a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety “, coming from a Greek word meaning impassive, really sounds rather boring I commented to my dearest friend as we laughed over this definition. Who would want to be in a permanent state of valium-like tranquillity and never experience all the excitement of living, never to enjoy anticipation, exhilaration, or spontaneous joy. Without the rhythm of our emotional ups and downs, the waxing and waning of feelings and fun, life would lose its zest.

That isn’t to say I actually enjoy the downers… and usually I realise I’m using the left side of my brain when I’m depressed so I can do something to rise again. The left brain is the one that presses logical solutions and sensible brakes on hope and enthusiasm and joy. The voice that says you may not be able to do this – it’s too difficult – you’re not up to it…

Maybe that’s where Screwtape and his ilk gain their footholds on the human soul. The antidote to all this is the shift across to the right brain, the seat of intuition and inner knowing and the accepting and optimistic view of oneself and the world. And so back up into the rhythm of light and dark, warmth and cold, summer and winter, and savouring the joy of them all. The sun and the moon, the movement of the stars, the tides and the winds, the leaves budding and opening and falling, all swing us along through the seasons, and somehow, for me, as each season comes round again, it seems as safe an anchorage as home itself.

Food for threadbare gourmets

When I want a quick sustaining lunch, this is one of my favourites. I grate a medium sized potato, mix it with an egg, season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and tip the whole lot into a frying pan with hot olive oil. I turn it like a pancake when the under- side is done. While it’s cooking I grill a couple of rashers of free range bacon, and… quick, tasty and satisfying.

Food for thought

Even as our few remaining wilderness areas are threatened, each day more of us venture into these beautiful landscapes to experience the energy for ourselves. And, immersed in the natural rhythms of the earth and the wind and the sky, our minds relax and we view our lives with quiet perspective. We can see our paths and can recognise the synchronicity that has guided our footsteps.
James Redfield from The Tenth Insight

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Searching for me

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My horoscope today told me: ‘it may feel strange to feel sad or melancholic since you’re so light hearted by nature …’ Really ?
Know thyself the Greek oracle said… but that’s easier said than done…. they also said – or maybe it was just Socrates, who said that the inner and the outer man should be one. Again, easier said than done… and maybe not for the faint-hearted.

I always found that the enjoyment of palmistry, astrology, even tarot cards, had less to do with curiosity about the future and more to do with curiosity about that unknown quantity – me. I pursued astrology for years driven by hope for better things – the Gemini sign which was mine infuriated me.

Yes, I hoped I really was adaptable, versatile, intellectual, witty and logical, busy, lively, talkative and amusing, having a flair for writing and language, youthful and up to date in outlook an appearance.
But no, I was not prepared to accept that I was changeable, restless, cunning, inquisitive, inconsistent and two-faced, as some perceptive people in the past, perceiving that I am Gemini, have charged. Nor am I prepared to admit that I’m unable to control my nervous energy – and I refuse to answer to being called superficial and a gossip.

Yes, I am delighted to agree that I’m a wonderful parent whose own wide interests will foster the waking interests of my children ( and grandchildren now ) but no, I am not prepared to concede that I’m a flirt and emotionally superficial.

My old copy of Webster’s Dictionary gave me this information, believe it or not, so I felt considerably mollified when I went to a ‘real’ astrologer, whatever that may mean, and he informed me I also had a streak of Pisces, hence my ready tears – Aquarius and Sagittarius. So when I’m accused of all the negative Gemini traits I now claim dispensation by latching onto the positive aspects of Pisces, Aquarius and Sagittarius.

So I thought I’d got myself neatly labelled and was getting to know myself, until I stumbled on a book called ‘Colour in your world’ and found a whole new world of code signs with which to read the personality.
Colour is one of my passions so I was sure to discover a bit more psychological know- how I thought. We began with red… yes, I liked to flatter myself that I was ‘vital and outward’, a person with an appetite to live life fully… yes, I hoped, I was integrated and oriented which the book told me meant I am impulsive and quick to release my feelings and emotions. I ignored the bit about manic depressives liking red… and anyway only my dressing gown, a coat and a handful of jumpers, and underwear is red… and my kitchen was painted red only once.

So I moved on to orange. I had one house where just the hall and the bathroom and bedroom were orange – or pumpkin as I liked to call it… the bedroom toned down with blue. This revealed that we oranges were generally good-natured, likeable, sociable, have an easy smile and – no I don’t have a remarkable talent for small talk, it’s one of my fiercest hates.

Yes, I can accept if I am an orange, that I care profoundly for people and that they will care for me in return … if only the world was peopled with oranges… but hell no, I don’t ‘lack grand passion and may never marry’ – so far I’ve married twice … no – orange is out… definitely not an orange. So I moved on to the next colour…

Yellow goes with high-mindedness… ah yes, that must be me – I’ve always had yellow rooms… yes, I’m sure I have a superior mind and enjoy using it… Oh blow Van Gogh, who loved yellow and was morbid and deeply disturbed. Yellow cannot possibly be me.

The one colour I could say definitely was not me was green, I hate parties, my social standing and financial position aren’t important, and I am rarely prudent. No, there is not even a soupcon of green in this house.
By the time I’d worked through blue-green, blue, purple, brown, white , grey, black and pink I was more muddled than ever, and farther off knowing myself that I was in the beginning.

But then, back in the day, I had a break-through. It was an innocent enough sounding book called ‘Sleep positions’, the night language of the body. I read it at one sitting – or lying, I should say, as I waited for my significant other to come home later that night.

By the time he had arrived I had worked out what my present sleep position revealed, what my recent sleep position revealed, and what my childhood sleep position was saying. I learned what my other half was trying to tell me by the way he slept, and I had reviewed our relationship and assessed the chances of working our way through to old age on the strength of a chapter called: ‘ sleep love and sleep hate’.

I expounded the early warning signs and sleep-position analysis, and when asked how I had slept the next morning, replied with an analysis of our sleep positions that night and how upset I now felt by his sleep position. As the nights went by and I continued to review our sleep positions every morning the poor man began to fear for the stability of the relationship too.

“It’s all that expletive- deleted book,” he exploded one morning. It’s a funny thing – he had endured dissertations on the Coburg and Hohenzollern family trees spread across the bed, explanations of the Arian heresy and the origin of the Gospel of St Mark, even put up with me reading TS Eliot aloud, but he just couldn’t seem to handle sleep analysis.

Ah well, as TS Eliot once wrote, ‘humankind cannot take too much reality.’ I have long since given up worrying about other people’s sleep positions and begun puzzling over mine. My most recent change of position seems to be telling me that I am trying to retain control over my life.

That would be right… and since those long-ago days of astrology and palmistry, colour and sleep positions, the Enneagram, a product of Sufi and Gurdjieff thinking, as well as other forms of character analysis, has given me many happy hours of cogitation– am I a tragic romantic or a perfectionist or a boss or a devil’s advocate, and why those near and dear to me respond the way they do, and whether I cope with aggression or depression… or tears! The riddles of character sometimes seem unsolvable – to me anyway.

In my beginning is my end, as TS Eliot also said, and Webster’s Dictionary has my interests at heart. It warns me that as a Gemini I am always doing more than one thing at a time, (isn’t it called multi-tasking these days?) and living on my nerves, and should be careful not to overstrain my sensitive and highly strung system which will break down under pressure. I think this must mean I should coddle myself – quite the nicest advice I’ve had for a long time…

So as I have long suspected, it is more helpful to read the dictionary than any other form of the printed word. None of this has given me any reliable clues to that Greek ideal of knowing myself, but maybe I won’t be able to stand too much reality either. Do I really want to know myself as well as everyone else does? ‘O would some power gie us the giftie to see ourselves as others see us’ … wrote Burns… but I think that’s taking a big risk, so perhaps not. Ignorance may be bliss after all.

Food for threadbare gourmets
I love dressings and marinades. This is a tasty little mixture that gives a bit of zing to a stir-fry, or a plain bowl of noodles, and is also a delicious marinade for chicken or fish, especially salmon. Just mix a quarter of a cup of sesame oil with an eighth of a cup of rice wine vinegar, one deseeded and chopped chilli, some garlic cloves to taste, and chopped ginger, a splash of fish sauce, a squeeze of lime, and some chopped coriander… (I often just use ground coriander and ground ginger) It’s a useful little standby.

Food for thought
I don’t want to get rid of poverty just to ensure that prosperity is maintained: I want to get rid of poverty because it is bad, it is wrong, it is immoral, it is un-ethical, it is un-Christian, it is unfair and it is unjust and it is everything that is bad. I mean involuntary poverty – where a man is told that his hands are not wanted, and his wife and his youngsters will be deprived of the necessary things for health.
Walter Nash, NZ Prime Minister, speaking in Philadelphia at the International Labour Conference in 1944

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