Tag Archives: Consciousness

War and Peace

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I stumbled on a quote from Winston Churchill at the beginning of the chapter of a book I was reading. He was talking to the boys of Harrow, his old school, just after the Battle of Britain… the leader of the free world with his back against the wall, found time to talk to schoolboys in the middle of a World War when his capital city was being pounded in the Blitz…

He said: “Do not let us speak of darker days, let us rather speak of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are the greatest days our country has ever lived.” (I can just hear him growling through his speech impediment and his false teeth)
Those words made me think of those sterner days, and what stern days we have all lived through since the end of the long peace from Waterloo to the First World War.
My ancestors lived peaceful lives between the downfall of one warlord – Napoleon in 1815, and the attack of another warlord – the Kaiser in 1914.

But things changed for them then, as for everyone, and my family would be a microcosm of that change. My grandfather fought at Gallipoli of tragic memories, my great- uncle was one of eight hundred men who ‘went down, “as my grandmother would say – in the Vanguard, when it exploded and sank in 1917.

My step-grandfather was one of the 60,000 men killed or wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in June 1916, when he was shot as he stepped out in the first line after the whistle blew to advance in the early morning sunshine. Unlike that heart-stopping last scene in ‘Blackadder goes forth’, they didn’t run, but stepped out to a measured pace, and were mown down by machine guns raking along the long lines of men moving across the grass as they walked into the ‘jaws of death’….

These were peaceful men, called up from their homes and villages to fight for their country and for peace – they thought – unlike the highly trained aggressive army of martial men which faced them. They had actually thought that the Battle of the Somme would end the carnage.

The next generation faced the sterner days of another warlord, Hitler. My father escaped from France a fortnight after Dunkirk, and then spent the rest of the war as a famed Desert Rat, escaping from the siege of Tobruk, fighting across North Africa and then up through Italy. After the war he was stationed at Belsen, the concentration camp where I joined him to live with him for the first time since he had left when I was ten months old.

His brother served with the Long Range Desert Group which fought behind the German lines in North Africa waging guerrilla war. Captured, and ending up in prisoner of war camp in Italy, he escaped and hid and starved in the mountains, until rejoining the Allied Armies as they fought their way up Italy. My only other uncle manned anti –invasion posts around England before becoming part of the liberation forces in Europe. He listened in horror as they drove away to the sound of gun-shots after handing over Russian PoW’s back to the Soviets, who shot them all, there and then. My former father- in- law, a padre, landed on the beaches of Normandy and was so badly wounded that he lived with the after- effects for the rest of his life.

My first memory was of watching the Battle of Britain – not that I knew it was – I just saw white crosses diving across the sky and puffs of white. I was looking for dogs, since I heard the adults saying there’s another dog-fight. That summer has remained in the memory of those who lived through it – even me at two – as being one of unforgettable beauty. Historian Sir Arthur Bryant wrote of England then: “The light that beat down on her meadows, shining with emerald loveliness, was scarcely of this world… the streets of her cities, soon to be torn and shattered, were bathed in a calm serene sunshine…”

Later, I cowered in bed hearing the dreadful wail of the air- raid sirens, trailed downstairs in my night clothes to crouch in the air-raid shelter, listened for the planes overheard, saw with terror the flames in the red sky, and the next morning gathered up shrapnel in the garden and once, stood on the edge of a huge bomb crater, marvelling. And finally traversed bombed- out Germany on the train to Belsen.

I spent much of the rest of my childhood living in army camps around the world, hearing the sound of reveille across the fields where the soldiers lived in barracks, and drifting off to sleep to the haunting strains of the Last Post.

Inevitably I joined the army, as did both my brothers, who saw service in Aden, Borneo, Germany, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar… and as my first child was born, my army husband was posted at twenty four hours notice to a sudden outbreak of warfare in Cyprus. I came out of the labour ward to find a telegram: “Gone to Cyprus”. So my daughter felt the effects of war as soon as she came into this world and didn’t meet her father until she was six months old. Later her father served in Hong Kong and Germany and Northern Ireland.

My grandchildren are the fifth generation and the first not to feel the effects of war. They‘re aware of violence – who could not be after the world-wide shock at the attacks on the World Trade Centre. But like other children of the West, they seem to see their future and their challenges differently. Unlike the children of Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, my fortunate grandchildren have known only peace, and tucked away in the farthest corner of the globe, they have optimism. They do not see these days as stern ones, though the children in war-torn Middle East must do. They do not see the anxieties that older people agonise over, pollution, dwindling food supplies, over-population, melting ice-caps, ravaged oceans…

They see instead the solutions. One grandson, having gained a degree in philosophy, transferred his search for truth to science, and from first deciding to tackle world hunger by experimenting with growing food from the spores of mushrooms ( I’m sure I’ve hopelessly oversimplified that ) he’s now embarked on a project to discover new forms of anti-biotics, and combat disease.

The other youngsters all have a serene belief that science, and creative understanding will solve the problems that loom so large for older generations. They’re not worried! I find that’s magic. Is this because they live in this peaceful place in the Antipodes, or do all young people have this calm belief in the future?

A friend told us that she had always loudly proclaimed at home that it is selfish and self-indulgent to have a child and bring another soul into this troubled world. She told us with great joy, that her fifteen year old grandson said he didn’t agree. “Life is a gift” this wonderful boy told her. Hearing that wisdom was a gift to us oldies.

Hearing that made me feel too, we can all rest easy. Young people know where they’re going, and know what they can do. Though we hear of mayhem and misery every day, if we oldies step back from it, avoid reading the stuff that make us sad (young people don’t seem to read newspapers! ), we can remember to be as positive and imaginative as that young generation.

And maybe too, to bowdlerise Churchill’s words – these are the greatest days our world has ever lived, when consciousness takes the leap into other dimensions of unity and peace. Christopher Fry wrote that: “Affairs are now soul size,” and that we are ready to:” take the longest stride of soul men ever took.”

This is what we can feel in the hearts of this generation that does not want war and dissension –  the domain of the grey tired thinking of politicians of old. Young people want peace and hope and they deserve it as they face the new challenges that baffle older people. “Young people”, as a friend once wrote in Latin, in a card to me, “are the hope and salvation of the world”. And they need all our loving support and belief in them, as they take that long stride of soul into a future we oldies cannot even imagine.

Food for threadbare gourmets
I had some dainty ham sandwiches left over from a little gathering. Rather than waste them I had them for supper. I whipped up an egg with salt and pepper and a soupcon of milk, and poured it onto a plate. I dipped the sandwiches in on both sides, and the egg mixture glued them together. Fried in a little butter, they were delicious. And no waste!

Food for thought
Close your eyes and you will see the truth,
Be still and you will move forward on the tide of the spirit,
Be gentle and you will need no strength,
Be patient and you will achieve all things,
Be humble and you will remain entire.
Taoist meditation

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Filed under army, battle of somme, consciousness, cookery/recipes, family, great days, history, human potential, life and death, life/style, military history, peace, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, world war one, world war two

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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Voices from the Void

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My accident was a fascinating experience – in retrospect! I was driving happily down the main highway to the village crossroads in my little silver car about ten years ago, when a large, heavy old car – solid as – shot out of the side road, without stopping at the Stop sign.

 

The daffy woman driving it was oblivious to me, and was going to hit me right in the driver’s seat. I had less than a second to brake, turn the wheel to the left to try to lessen the impact and hurl a prayer into the void as I faced what I thought was certain death. “Help me”, I silently implored. The braking meant that she hit more of the right side of the bonnet than me, and the deafening sound of the impact nearly shocked me into the next world.

 

In what felt like slow motion my car ricocheted away from hers, with my hands still on the wheel, and I just wanted to hit the brake and stop. But if I did, I was going to hit a line of parked cars. As the impact shot my car towards a parked blue car, I heard a voice say: “keep going, keep steering”. I did as I was told, using every ounce of my shattered will power to do it, and as I longed to stop, a red car loomed in front, and the voice said: “keep going, keep steering”. I thought, at the end of my endurance, surely I can stop now, but another car loomed. “Keep going”, the firm imperative voice instructed. I did as I was told, and finally, still steering, still going, came to rest safely 180 degrees from the impact, on a  side road where there was nothing. And by now people were running out of their shops having heard the big bang.

 

I was reminded of that Voice last night, when I was re-reading Joe Simpson’s incredible account of nearly dying, and surviving, on a Peruvian mountain. He had broken his leg and his ankle, and then slipped into a crevasse, so deep and dark he had no idea where it ended. His climbing partner thought he was dead and cut the rope between them in order to survive himself, and Simpson fell even deeper into the terrifying black space.

 

Somehow, using climbers’ skills I don’t even understand, using his ice axes, he eased himself endlessly up the icy sides of the crevasse and out onto the cruel mountainside. Then, without food or drink for over three days, he dragged, hopped, and hauled himself over rocks and glaciers, ice and snow; he got himself back to base camp about eight miles away over terrain, and through cold that I cannot even imagine. And he would never have made it without the Voice.

 

” It was as though there were two minds within me arguing the toss. The Voice was clean and sharp and commanding. It was always right, and I listened to it when it spoke and acted on its decisions. The other mind rambled…. as I set about obeying the orders of the Voice….”

 

When he wanted to rest or sleep, the Voice would wake him : “go on, keep going… faster. You’ve wasted too much time. Go on before you lose the tracks”… Later, as he fumbled blindly, wanting just to sink into the snow and sleep, the Voice urged him on: “don’t sleep, don’t sleep, not here. Keep going. Find a slope and dig a snow hole… don’t sleep”.

 

The Voice got him back to base camp the night before the other climbers were leaving first thing in the morning. The rest of the story is in his book ‘Touching the Void.’

 

His story reminded me of Charles Lindbergh’s experience when he flying The Spirit of St Louis over  the Atlantic on his historic 34 hour flight across to France. Lindbergh, not noticeably a spiritual man, but one who was very impressed by the Nazis, had a unique experience, in which, unable to keep awake, his conscious mind fell asleep, while a mind entity standing “apart” held firm.  This state gave way to a new extraordinary mind, which at first he feared to trust, and which took over.

 

‘He became conscious of other presences, advising him on his flight, encouraging him, conveying messages unattainable in normal life… He felt himself in a transitional state between earthly life and a vaster region beyond, as if caught in the magnetic field between two planets and propelled by forces he cannot control, “representing powers incomparably stronger than I’ve ever known”.’

 

Battered by winds and storms, and guided and supported, he arrived safely in France. This was like the experience of some of Ernest Shackleton’s men. As they struggled through the Antarctic snows at the extremity of their strength they became conscious of another member of the party, ‘who could not be counted,’ but who was always with them.

 

Whatever we call them… angels, spirits, voices, these visitations are always helpful and benevolent. In each of these cases – and there are many more – these unseen energies are rescuing us from situations in which we are powerless. Regardless of belief in a god or not, these inexplicable and indefinable happenings make me feel that the world is a supportive and benevolent place, with Resources to help us all, whatever our beliefs, if we are open and available for help.

 

Sometimes we ask, sometimes the help comes unbidden, as when an accident happened in Wellington at a Christmas party a few years ago. A balcony collapsed on a two story house, hurling all the party-goers to the ground. A heavily pregnant woman said she felt perfectly safe because a great white angel was holding her, and put her safely on the ground. She was unhurt.

 

Some people find it hard to believe these things. But it doesn’t really matter. When they happen, they happen because they’re needed. But a faith that there is help available does seem to make things fall into place quickly and more often. I sometimes think that there is more preventive thinking in that other Reality than we realise, so that we don’t have to be rescued from the big dramas. So deciding to drive another way today, may mean we’ve been prodded to avoid an accident. Locking a door we never normally lock, may be a message from our helpers because we need protection on that day. When we listen, there are so often messages to hear, and when we look, so many subtle signposts.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 

Not much in the house until I go shopping, so I’ll cheer us up with a cheese soufflé – quick, cheap and easy. The most difficult thing about it, is tying some greaseproof paper round the outside of the soufflé dish so that the soufflé stands up above the brim of the dish, and looks spectacular.

 

Next step is to separate three eggs. After greasing the dish, I make a thick white sauce, with two ounces of flour, two ounces of butter, and half a pint of milk, salt and pepper. When it’s bubbled a few times, so you know it’s cooked, stir in four or five ounces of grated cheese with a pinch of cayenne. I often add Parmesan to strong cheddar.

 

Stir in the egg yolks. Putting this aside, whip the egg whites until stiff in a large bowl. Then gently stir in the cheese mixture in three lots. I use a slotted spoon to make this process as gentle as possible. All you have to do now is pour it into the soufflé dish and cook in a moderate oven. Serve at once. I often make a little tomato sauce to go with this, and maybe some thinly sliced green beans. Salad if you’re feeling healthy. This is enough for three, and masses for two- but easy to eat too much…

 

Food for Thought

 

Notice in the grandest and stuffiest club in London, the Athenaum: Will the clergyman who stole my umbrella kindly return it. This club consists half of gentlemen and half of clergymen, and it is clear that no gentleman would steal an umbrella.

 

 

 

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