Tag Archives: Beatles

The challenge of meditation

When a Korean soldier went berserk many years ago, and shot sixteen of his mates, his excuse was that they’d been making a noise when he was meditating.

My children roared with laughter when they read this, and said they knew exactly how it would have happened, remembering all the times I had exploded out of my bedroom when I couldn’t stand their unconscious attention seeking noise every time I went to meditate. (It was the same if I was on the phone to a friend – sure as eggs were eggs, they’d end up squabbling or making some commotion to get my attention again)

I learned to meditate in the palmy days of the Maharishi and his disciples the Beatles. Transcendental Meditation they called it. ‘Transcendental’ being the word that hooked us all in, thinking we’d find bliss in meditation and transcend our normal consciousness… it sounded safe and blissful at the same time… better than drugs…

It wasn’t like that of course… I went to a tatty hippy house, where a motley collection of us tackled the mantra, with lots of hocus pocus about it being specially designed for each one of us, hibiscus flowers, joss sticks and candles setting the scene for the whispering of this magic word.

And so I began, and found for the first few weeks that I fell into a deep sleep each time I meditated, but I felt ok about that, as they’d warned us that we’d catch up on what they called our sleep debt. Now with some experience behind me, I think that the tiredness which came up could have been the life-time’s effort of keeping feelings bottled up – for meditation, as it relaxes us – puts us in touch with our buried feelings. Then that anger started to rise, and I couldn’t handle the children’s noise. But I persevered, and had had so much practice at bottling up my feelings all my life that the meditation didn’t do too much harm. I remember a friend telling me she’d started meditating too: “I thought it was meant to make you feel peaceful, but I feel so angry.”

Some years later serendipity meant that I helped set up a personal growth movement in NZ, run by a talented and inspired couple who had realised what a powerful and sometimes dangerous practise unsupervised meditation can be ( see Korean policeman). They devised a series of courses designed to handle the emotions and buried feelings that meditation brings up in people. I remember at the end of one weekend a psychologist who’d just done the course, saying that people had cleared in a weekend what would have taken seven years in therapy.

One of the important lessons I learned  was not to treat meditation lightly. I read some comments the other day from people who said they’d given up meditating, they felt uncomfortable and didn’t enjoy it. I felt  sad – because they’d been given a powerful tool and not enough knowledge to use it, a bit like being given a piano and not knowing how to play it.

Meditation was the basis of the courses I did, and on one course, an old woman (she was about sixty, and I was a heedless forty-five) couldn’t settle while we meditated on the first day. As she fidgeted and shifted in her seat, the teacher signalled to me to take her out. We went into a counselling room where she lay on a mattress and I asked a few questions.

She started to tell me about her childhood with the step-mother she hated as much as she felt the woman had hated her. I noticed as she was talking, her right hand was fidgeting, so I suggested that she let it shake as much as it wanted. The hand took over, then her arms, then her whole body, and she shook all the bottled up rage of her childhood out of her body, on and on…  when she’d finished, she was gasping with joy at having shifted this huge burden, her eyes were sparkling, she moved quite differently, and went back to meditation calm and happy.

It was a graphic example of how powerful meditation can be, and why some people find it an uncomfortable experience. In all the great religions in which meditation is practised, it’s done with a mentor, precisely because it is a technique which can’t be treated lightly. It has to be done consciously, with awareness. But if we’re on our own, and aware of what meditation can do, we can start to deal with its side-effects.

When we feel fidgety or have some discomfort, it’s possible to look at where this energy block is. Some people become so in touch with their inner self that they can immediately identify what the feeling is, when they first felt it, what it’s about and then let it go.

Another way of dealing with it is to use something called the pain banishing technique which was very popular in the eighties, and even used in some hospitals, but now seems to have fallen into disuse. It can be used on a head-ache,(unless it’s a de-hydrating head-ache, in which case, drinking is the answer) discomfort in the body, or any sort of physical pain. If it doesn’t work then you need to see a doctor. So when I sprained a knee skiing, it contained the pain for three days until I got to a doctor, but when I fell last year and used it on the pain in my arm it didn’t work, because I ‘d broken it and needed immediate treatment.

The pain banishing technique consists of six questions. The person can ask the questions themselves, or they can get someone else to ask them.

Where is it? This needs to be answered in detail. “On my left leg two inches below the knee, on the left hand side….

How big is it? Sometimes it’s enormous. When I scalded my finger-tips, the pain was ten inches out from my fingers …

Has it got a shape? Has it got a colour? Has it got a texture? … like wire wool, steel, rubber?

On a scale of discomfort from one to ten, where would you rate it?

You do this three or four times, by which time the pain has diminished or it’s gone.

It works because the place that was crying out for attention has got the attention… whether it’s a physical pain or an emotional pain. With a child who’s fallen over, I say “Does it really hurt?” ”Yes,” they’ll answer tearfully. “Is it still there?” You can see them thinking at this point, and then they’ll say “No”, and skip off happy.

Any time a person is fidgeting during meditation, something is coming to the surface, and this is why it helps to have a technique to use if a person is meditating without a mentor. Sometimes even talking or reading about it makes a person feel uncomfortable. It brings up in us what we’ve been trying to ignore all our lives, which is why it often feels disturbing. But properly used, meditation does bring – if not transcendent bliss – certainly peace of mind, a calm spirit, and an ability to find a different way of being, instead of fight or flight.

People have written whole books about it, so it’s presumptuous of me to write this inadequate description. But if it helps explain why it isn’t always easy to meditate, it may have been useful to someone.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I needed a cake to take to a summer gathering, so made my quick standby, a lemon and olive oil cake – a Spanish recipe from Elizabeth Luard, an English food writer who lived in Spain with her children. Take 175 gms of flour, sugar and olive oil, three eggs, a pinch of salt and the zest and juice of a lemon. I also put in some drops of vanilla in memory of my grandmother who put vanilla in all her cakes! Mix everything together, and tip into a greased lined tin – I use a loaf tin. I then add a thick dredging of sugar on the top to cheer it up, and cook it in a moderate oven for forty five minutes or more, or until cooked.

Food for Thought

‘Do you pray for the senators, Dr Hale? ‘No, I look at the senators and pray for the country.’ Dr Edward Everett Hale 1822-1909  Chaplain of the US Senate

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Were You There?

‘They were the best of times and they were the worst of times’. They were times of magic and they were times of mayhem. They began with the election of John Kennedy and the creation of the Camelot legend… Kennedy’s inspiring, idealistic and often profound words spoke to the whole world of young people. His ravishing wife mesmerised them. His death devastated them.

It felt as though a light had gone out. Joseph Campbell in his powerful description of his funeral in ‘Myths to Live By’, described him accurately as “that magnificent young man representing our whole society… taken away at the height of his career, at a moment of exuberant life”.

But we picked ourselves up, and listened to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and began to see the world through different eyes. Mary Quant changed the way we dressed (her father had taught me history – a sprightly and kind, grubby little man with his daughter’s features, who told me their name came from the Quantock hills in Somerset, where their family had lived forever). Up went our hems and out went our stuffy classics – the clothes our parents wore.

A name we’d never come across before, began appearing on our TV screens – Vietnam. It crept up on us. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s haunting song ‘The Universal Soldier’ came out in 1964, but it didn’t mean much to us then. It took a few more years before it became our lament for the war.

And the Beatles came in singing, songs pouring out them, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and then Sgt Pepper, which took them and us to a whole new level. In their snappy suits and with their long hair – except that it wasn’t really long – they terrified parents who saw them as decadent. But they were innocent schoolboys compared with the Rolling Stones.

Vietnam rumbled along, spawning horrible words like overkill and escalate, which disguised the indiscriminate killing and the napalm. The soldiers came to Hong Kong from Saigon, for what was called R and R – rest and recreation – which really seemed to be exhausting themselves in the brothels of Wanchai. And all the really great newsmen in the world were stationed there in Hong Kong, the heads of NBC and CBS bureaus, journalists on the great newspapers from the capitals of the world, and the magazines like Time and Life. I was lucky to know many of them, and saddened when some of them never came back from Vietnam, and then Cambodia, and their broken-hearted wives and children packed up to go back home.

Maybe it wasn’t so, but it often seemed that the whole world was focussed on this part of the world from Saigon and Phnom Penh, to Hong Kong and Peking, as it was still known then. Draft dodgers from the US ended up in Hong Kong, refugees from the Cultural Revolution, as well as Quakers on missions of peace.

And as the news from Vietnam got worse, and then the news from the America, I hardly knew what to say to my closest American friends, as they grieved and felt ashamed for the assassination of Martin Luther King, and then Robert Kennedy a few months later. They shared the shame too, of Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. The students’ protests in the States, the rallies, the marches, the singing all reached us in Hong Kong.

But we were so close to the conflicts in Vietnam and then Cambodia,that these places overshadowed our lives as the correspondents and photographers flew in and out, escaped the Tet Offensive and Dien Bien Phu, or were ambushed and never came back. I lost several close friends, and their families lost fathers and husbands. And we were also sucked into Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which reverberated on into Hong Kong, with student rallies and bombs and Mao’s Revenge – cutting off our water for the whole summer of ‘68. We existed between the convulsions of China and the traumas of America.

And all the while we sang the songs of our time, and embraced what we called Women’s Lib, the gentler fore-runner of a later angrier and more effective feminism. We wore clothes with colours called psychedelic. And in ‘67 when we loved and danced to ‘When you come to San Franscisco,’ and the words, ‘there’s a strange vibration, a new generation, with a new explanation’ – flower power took over the world, and gentleness was fashionable. Girls in their long skirts, long beads and long hair, boys in ragged jeans, beads and beards were the symbol of those times. Hippies and alternative life-styles became part of our language and our culture.

They symbolised a youth who had turned their back on the values of the old world, the world of war and the assassination of all their heroes. They set their world on fire, marching, protesting, having sit-ins and singing, forever singing – ‘We shall overcome’, ‘Blowing in the wind’ … placing flowers in the mouth of the guns facing them on the campus. It was a conflict of established power against the youth of the world and the fulcrum was on US campuses. When firing erupted in May 1970 at Kent University it felt unbelievable. Did authority feel so threatened that they wanted to kill their own young?

Woodstock  had felt like the triumphant ending of the decade in 1969… the young really felt then that the world would change, that their good intentions and their ideals, their songs which mirrored their disillusionment with the past and their hope and determination for the future, were the beginning of a new Aquarian age of love and peace.

Some say it was all hot air and youthful rebellion. That all the idealism and hope were dissipated with adulthood and a mortgage and materialism. But a recent survey of people who participated in those days of flower power – who were committed to changing the world – has found that those people were, and are still committed to their beliefs – that they had worked in places where they could help people, and live out their beliefs in love and peace, trying to bring hope to those who had none.

They had been volunteers in shelters, social workers, overseas volunteers and teachers, some were Buddhists or Quakers, or had found other spiritual beliefs. Some had none. Some were simply committed. But they hadn’t given up, the sixties did change them, and at grassroots level they are still putting into practise their songs and protests and beliefs about love and peace.

Those of us who lived through the sixties wear it as a badge of honour. This was our time, and Christopher Fry’s poem says it for us:

The frozen misery

Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move,

The thunder is the thunder of the floes,

The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.

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….’

Those words are as true today as when they were written, but perhaps more urgent.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

When I have stale bread, I use it in two ways, unless there are ducks to feed! I chop it into cubes, and quickly fry them in hot olive oil (light). They can be used straight away in soups, or frozen and re-heated in the oven. Good bread like sour dough or wholemeal is best for this. Supermarket soggy reverts to type as soon as it hits the soup.

If I have stale sliced bread – supermarket soggy – which I’ve bought for indulgent sandwiches, (love egg, and cucumber sandwiches in soft white bread!) I lightly toast it, and cut the crusts off. Using a very sharp knife I slide it down the soft middle, and then have two very thin pieces of half toasted bread. I put these in the oven on medium for about ten minutes, and they curl and become wonderful melba –like toast for pate or spreads. Make sure they don’t over brown…if you have toast bread, it’s even better.

Food for Thought – Christopher Fry’s poem has given us that!

 

 

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