The meaning of the world?

Image result for van gogh

I’ve been having some time out with leisure to read and re-read some of my old favourites. A sentence from one of my favourite thinkers, Ken Wilbur, jumped out at me on a day when I was trying to avoid knowing what news of disaster, human misery and insensitive ineptitude were filling the airwaves and media.  Ken Wilbur wrote that: “Every single thing you perceive is the radiance of Spirit itself, so much so that Spirit is not seen apart from that thing: the robin sings, and just that is it, nothing else…”

And yet when I wrestle with the harsh prospect around the world, terrorism in the name of ‘God/Allah’, threats of war, lack of love, and try to accept that this is Spirit, that everything is perfect, I also see that man has created so many seeming imperfections that these beautiful words are hard to swallow. Violence has spread from strife between people and nations to the destruction of our planet and robins singing are harder and harder to find.

This violence and lack of reverence for all forms of life has meant tampering with our world’s ecology; from re-shaping the climate by destroying forests and draining lakes and rivers; spraying with chemicals which interfere with wild-life as well as food, to over-stocking, whether it’s Mongolian tribesmen whose herds die from starvation in a terrible winter there, or New Zealand farmers cramming fields and hills with livestock- all these actions and many others in order to make as much profit from the land as possible.

All this is not the radiance of Spirit, is it? And yet all is perfect the mystics tell us… that paradox that sometimes seems resolvable, and sometimes isn’t. In fact, to resolve it, one has to rise above it, and accept that there is a bigger picture. If one could understand the Mind of God, all the human circuits of the mind would probably blow.

As I mulled over these negative ideas an unlikely gentleman cheered me up and led me into another train of thought on how to live in, and on our tiny world… I’ve been reading an interpretation of Crito’s and Phaedo’s Dialogues about the death of Socrates.

After Socrates’ trial when he was found guilty and sentenced to death for corrupting the young, and the impiety of inventing new gods  – neither of which charges he was guilty of –  Crito, a friend, urges Socrates to escape and go into exile. But Socrates refuses, and discusses his philosophy.

He says that the important thing is not just to live, but to live well, which means doing no wrong. He explains that by evading the sentence of the court, he would be breaking the laws of Athens, which he has agreed to live his life by. To run away would break the contract that he has with the state, and would be dishonourable.

Phaedo then describes Socrates’ last hours in prison before taking hemlock. (It’s always seemed to me the most humane form of death sentence I’ve heard of. Just a herbal drink, and slow coldness and paralysis until it reaches the head, and death. I hope they invent a hemlock pill quite soon for those us who have no ambition to dwindle into helpless old age)

Socrates, while he waited for the hemlock to be delivered, had a bath, said goodbye to his wife and children, and then discussed with his friends, his acceptance of death. He felt that our souls are immortal, and that a good man had no need to fear death.

The prison guard came in apologising for what he had to do, but Socrates told him not to delay. As the poison worked, Socrates’ last words were to Crito, telling him to sacrifice a cock to Aesculapius. Aesculapius was the god of healing, and sacrifices of gratitude were made to him by those who had been healed.

What a way to go, with gratitude! After a life of integrity, a death with serenity. What a man! I’ve read this account many times, but it has never struck into my heart before. Socrates joins the short list of heroes I love, which includes the Venerable Bede, William Penn, William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, and Nelson Mandela. Gandhi, I admire, but do not find lovable.

I look at this list, and wonder if there’s a common denominator… Bede I love for his trust in God, goodness and erudition, Penn for his trust in God, idealism, determination and courage, Wilberforce for his trust in God, goodness, courage, and compassion for animals and all people, as well as slaves. Lincoln, I loved for his goodness and courage, and compassion, and Sam Grant for his integrity and simplicity, love of animals and commitment to civil rights for black Americans and American Indians. Mandela also, for his courage, and for living his beliefs. They all had integrity. What is interesting is how many of them were involved in the struggle to make a better world for black people, from Wilberforce through to Mandela.

When I look for women who inspire me, the list of specific women is shorter, for historical reasons, since we know less about women, and their achievements. Also, because women’s heroism is often the hidden sort, caring for the young, the handicapped, the old, the sick, quietly at home for no reward or recognition … nurturing the talents and gifts of husbands, and sons, who so often had better opportunities for public deeds, heroism or philanthropy.

My short list of heroines includes Elizabeth Fry, the Quaker who revolutionised the treatment of people, especially women, in prison, worked to abolish the death penalty, and among numerous other philanthropic deeds, opened a school for training nurses. She is said to have inspired Florence Nightingale, who I admire for her fierce intelligence, compassion, and persistence, but don’t find lovable. Then there’s Edith Cavell, the English nurse shot by the Germans for helping British soldiers to escape from Belgium into neutral Holland in the First World War.

Knowing how dangerous this was, she persisted, saying: “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved.” Before she was executed, having also helped wounded German soldiers, she spoke the famous words: “Patriotism is not enough”, words of insight and spiritual understanding which were probably not appreciated or understood in those days of jingoism and chauvinism, and maybe, not even today. Another woman I love and admire is Helen Suzman for her courage, persistence and compassion in a life-time of resisting Apartheid, and then there is the utterly lovable Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Compassion. So the thread which binds these women is courage and compassion, not so different from the men I admire.

The courage and compassion of my heroes and heroines are the inspiration for me to try to live Christopher Fry’s words: ‘We must each find our separate meaning in the persuasion of our days until we meet in the meaning of the world’. To understand those words and the meaning of the world is also the path to understanding that radiance of Spirit which Ken Wilbur describes. Like all great truths, it’s very simple and yet very puzzling, until it’s felt and seen. So I’m still working on it…

PS So many pictures by Van Gogh are shining with radiance of Spirit, and it’s so hard to choose just one….


Food for threadbare gourmets

One of our winter favourites is macaroni cheese – a nice cheesy thick sauce stirred into macaroni, and the top grilled to a golden brown. I try to make it more interesting as the weeks go by… adding chopped hard boiled eggs, or stirring through onion and tomato fried until soft. Or I sprinkle the top with grated parmesan which makes a lovely crisp topping. And then there’s the trick with leftover bolognaise sauce. The macaroni and the cheese sauce transform it into a sort of poor man’s lasagne – just three layers, meat, macaroni and the cheese sauce poured over and stirred through the pasta. Quick and easy and comforting! I’ve also tried this with a tin of salmon as the bottom layer, and the macaroni cheese on top…


Food for thought

Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to face us everywhere.

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride of soul men ever took.

Affairs are now soul size…

It takes so many thousand years to wake,

But will you wake for pity’s sake?    Christopher Fry


Filed under birds, books, consciousness, cookery/recipes, environment, love, philosophy, poetry, spiritual, uncategorised, Uncategorized

17 responses to “The meaning of the world?

  1. First is last: your mac and cheese ideas are fabulous. The salmon on the bottom. The fried tomatoes and onions. Yum. Thank you for this.
    Thank you also for making me think about female heros. I love Kwan Yin. Her statue is in my garden where I can see it from my window. You are right that most female heroes we don’t know because of their work behind the scenes. But I would like to add Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey and Doris Day. And so many others that I can’t even conjure up their names all at once.


  2. Angela

    Ah Valerie…..such delicious food & such delicious ideas…I’m adding you to my list of admirable women! Please keep on keeping on….your common sense & wisdom is sorely needed in these strange times.


    • Angela, I really loved your comment, thank you so much .. strange times is so true….I always wonder whether you are the Angela I know or another lovely Angela ???? Anyway, I always love to hear from you ….


  3. As a lover of pasta, I am sure the meaning of the world can be found in a beautiful dish of macaroni. 🙂 I have just finished reading Jim Henderson’s Gunner Inglorious. He writes of red macaroni being a staple of POW life. I am not sure what is meant by red macaroni but I did get the impression that sometimes the entire meaning of his world centered around whatever food was available.


    • Good morning Amanda… I was tickled reading your comment… red macaroni is a good old Noo Zlllan’ version of pasta, the macaroni is dumped into a tin of tomato soup… they obviously managed to get both in Jim’s POW camp… ( we crossed paths occasionally back in his Radio Pacific days..). I can well imagine his thoughts were totally centred on food. My uncle was also in Italian POW camps, and according to him, and my father’s friends who’d been in both German and Japanese camps, nothing mattes more than food… sex became a distant and unimportant memory according to them…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Valerie,

    I understand the dilemma of choosing just one Van Gogh painting. 😉 It seems that it’s taken age and adversity in life for me to truly appreciate his divinely emotional works.
    One of the women on my list of those I admire is Jane Haining who worked in an orphanage in WWII Budapest. She died in Auschwitz giving her life for the Jewish children. I can’t find the link I’m looking for but here’s a short short I wrote two years ago.
    Thank you as always for sharing challenging truths. I always leave this place feeling enlightened and nourished.




    • Hello Rochelle, thank you for your comment… interesting isn’t it, how Van Gogh suddenly hits you between the eyes when one is old enough to appreciate him…
      Loved the story about Jane Haining… you may enjoy the story in the comment below yours on this blog…
      And thank you for your lovely words about this blog,
      Love Valerie


  5. You are so right…I loved every word you wrote and marveled at the fact I too have women I admire…some I know much about…Like Corrie ten Boom. Then those, who one never knows anything about through history…those women who stayed at home, or traveled long and far because that is what their husband wanted to do…women who gave birth in wagons traveling west, or my neighbor who had her baby while escaping the Germans during WWII walking all the way in shoes gone to rags, her sister carrying my neighbors five year old son…two Jewish women, and their dad walking out of a war torn land, heading toward the world of freedom.
    The son still remembers that harrowing journey.
    My wonderful neighbor has passed. She and her sister and her father are hero’s no one really ever knows or reads about.
    From your Land Down Under Comes this quote from the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the king—“Deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.”–Aragon
    Love you, My Dear Friend

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dearest Linda,
      How I loved Aragorn’s quote – wonderfully affirmative and inspiring… and what a story you tell about your neighbours… what human beings manage to survive always amazes me…Pioneer women, both in your country and in this one, and other settled lands have my undying admiration, as they cooked and cared for their families, ground flour, gave birth, taught their children, made clothes, and made homes wherever they were…heroines indeed.. one of my favorite books are three volumes of ‘Petticoat Pioneers’ about those women whom came to this country… humbling and inspiring to read…

      Liked by 2 people

  6. On a question such as this, I turn to the Hitchhiker’s Guide and pronounce
    ‘Forty Two’. It is as good an answer as any!
    I am inclined to think that the Creator was doing pretty well — even with flies and mosquitoes — until getting to mankind. Then he messed up big time.
    My admiration for Nelson is qualified. If only he had not prolonged the armed struggle beyond what it needed to be.
    An almost unqualified admiration goes, however, to Queen Elizabeth ii. I feel I know where she was coming from even on the issues where she has taken criticism, and feel that she was right.


  7. AS always you give me food for thought…the trouble with mankind is the Creator’s gift of freewill, it seems to me, and yet what options are there, apart from being automatons??? Evolution was supposed to improve things I thought… but we still have cohorts following behind learning what civilisation is, and just as many, who don’t care that they are destroying civilisation… but this is opening a can of worms,…
    I obviously need to learn more about S African history, re your remark about Mandela…
    And I agree wholeheartedly on your opinion about QE2… amazing that such an intelligent woman of such integrity should have been in the right place at the right time – a gift history rarely grants…


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