Tag Archives: Eckhart Tolle

The magic and mystery of cats

Cat, Black, Sun, Meadow

“I have lived with several Zen masters”, wrote master and mystic Eckhart Tolle, and went on to say they were all cats. Well, I have lived with one zen master, a small black witchy cat who entered my life with purpose. Black cats are notoriously hard to adopt from rescue centres because so many people associate them with the myths of witches, having absorbed the ancient male propaganda about women and healers (but that’s another story).

I’ve always thought I was a dog person, having nurtured seventeen rescued dogs (three at a time, but that’s also another story), yet when I look back on my chequered past, I see there are just as many cats as dogs who have entered my life – some  at a distance.

All those cats who did, had those mysterious feline qualities of dignity and free spiritedness. Two strays were the first, Black Kitty and Wild Kitty – a beautifully marked tabby – both unnamed, a subtle way of not alarming my parents into thinking I wanted to keep them, and also I couldn’t bear to give them names and then have to relinquish them. But after a few weeks my parents softened, and expertly using the thin end of the wedge, I managed a balancing act between the kittens and the puppy I had also acquired over my parents’ dead bodies.

I was eighteen and I wonder now how I could never have looked into the future and realised that I wouldn’t be around to care for these fragile little creatures. We moved house a couple of months after acquiring them, and I was immensely relieved  to find that my parents were including my animals among items to come with us.  The journey in the back seat of the car with an excitable puppy, two terrified kittens on the loose with long claws, and my loudly protesting eight-year-old brother was an ordeal never to be repeated.

At the new house, Black Kitty was run over, but Wild Kitty established a comfortable possie behind the warm boiler in the kitchen. I left to join the army a few months later.  When I returned months later for a weekend leave, the parents had moved to another house the other side of the town, and Wild Kitty was missing – apparently she had left home when I did. The family moved back to an army quarter a year later, half a mile away from the house I’d left, and miraculously Wild Kitty turned up when I came home for the weekend.

From then on Wild Kitty appeared when I came home on leave and then pushed off when I left. The last time she was seen was when she walked across the grass to show us her line of tiny kittens straggling behind her.

Decades later in this country, I received the usual Christmas presents from irresponsible townies who dumped two tiny tortoiseshell kittens at our gate. Tins of cat-food for a year until they were caught.  Another pair again another year, and then a cat and her kitten when we moved to a new house, a gentle stray in Norfolk Island who nestled on our bed, and waited for us every day while we were on holiday, more tins of cat food, followed by starving kittens in Fiji outside a restaurant…only scraps for them…

Some years later, back in town to be near new grand- children, we lived in a house on the side of Mt Eden, an extinct volcano. Our garden stretched steeply up the slope and ended in overgrown shrubs and trees and wilderness. One day I noticed a stray cat in the garden. Feeling sorry for it, I put out some food the next day. In a few days there were five cats, so carefully keeping the doors shut so no cat-chasing King Charles spaniels could do their worst, I put another dish or two out.

By the end of three weeks I had fifteen stray/ wild/dumped cats waiting neatly and patiently on the steps leading up the hillside. I put out five bowls night and morning, and they shared with perfect good manners, and then quietly left with dignity. They always knew the time I would put the food out, and would be lined up expectantly and hungrily for about twenty minutes before, and there was never any squabbling or pushing in when the food arrived .

When we downsized to a little town house, and I had to leave them, I used a possum trap to catch them one by one, and take them to the vet, as I couldn’t bear to think of them starving on the hillside. I caught them all except three tom cats who were too clever to get themselves trapped.

Then, not enjoying living in town, we moved back to the country. We’d only been there a week when we went out into the garden, and there on a log in the sun was a tiny black cat. She got up, stretched, and came over and nuzzled us endlessly, followed us inside the house, and all but said: ‘I’ve been waiting for you’.

She refused to go back home, which was on the next-door acre of land. For weeks I resisted, refraining from feeding her, and yet every time I opened the door, there she was on the front door mat. Eventually I put a deep linen basket with a soft cushion in the bottom for her by the front door, and finally, when I heard a fight  in the middle of the night, with the big marmalade tom cat who had come- it seemed- to fetch her back home, I opened the door to her. She ran straight in and settled down on the bed, and for the next ten years ran my life. She was a small oasis of calm and character, whose endless antics amused and entertained; while her wilfulness and intelligent curiosity and mysterious inner life fascinated me.

Whenever her previous owner saw us out walking the dogs with Cara, the cat, skipping along with us, he’d wind down his car window and shout “traitor! “at her. The end of Cara’s story is in the first blog I ever wrote, called ‘Goodbye Cat.’

My last encounter with a cat was more like sitting in that boat with a tiger in ‘The Life of Pi.’ A panther-like black cat had terrorised both cats and owners in our small village for many years, and my friend who had a small gentle cat who was being monstered, decided something had to be done to save her cat. I arrived at my friend’s house just as her Altzheimers husband was putting a blanket over the possum trap and cat, which they had arranged according to my instructions!!!

Feeling responsible, I volunteered to drive friend and captured cat to the vet. We carefully put the trap on the back seat, which was covered in a rug to protect the seat. Chatting happily, I suddenly felt sharp claws dig viciously into my back and shoulders, and a black body hurtled past my ear to land on the dash board. A panting black creature with blood literally dripping from its fangs from where it had forced the door of the cage up, using the crack from the seat rug to lever it, and with fierce yellow eyes glaring at me, crouched there – ready to spring.

It did, back into the back seat, shaving my ear the other side as it hurtled past. Driving was impossible … I pulled unsteadily into a farm drive, not having the faintest idea what to do, and my friend, who was bulky enough for the angry desperate creature not to tackle her side of the car, cringed in horror. The cat continued to leap back and forward past my ears in a frenzy, raking my shoulders and back with its claws each time. Luckily a car was coming down the drive… I flashed the hazard lights, tooted and did everything to show I needed help.

We dared not lower the windows to talk in case the frantic, mangy, bleeding animal escaped to terrorise a fresh territory. The farmer shouted through the glass, telling us to go to the vet – impossible – which he soon realised as the cat continued to launch itself to and fro past my head. The end of the dreadful story came when we quickly eased ourselves out of the car doors, and while we cowered in a farm shed, the helpful farmer opened the car, and shot the poor creature as it made a dash for freedom.

I took my expensive blood-stained cream cardigan straight to the dry cleaners, and had a stiff cup of coffee- I really needed a stiff glass of something stronger. Back home, I washed the blood off all the windows and the dashboard and rubbed antiseptic cream into all my weals and wounds. The next morning, I went out to go shopping, and found to my dismay that there was still blood everywhere. As I washed them off, I counted twenty-eight blood-stains on the inside roof of the car alone. Alas, the blood never came off my cardigan.

Cats – here? No, no danger of strays or bullies here. We live in a covenanted forest with an agreement that we have neither cats nor dogs in order to preserve the native birds, most of whom don’t fly. So no more temptation, no more catching or herding cats, or even black panthers. Sadly, all these encounters with cats have mostly been the result of man’s inhumanity, or irresponsibility.

Unlike the dogs we rescued, I was usually unable to do anything to better their lot, and also unlike the wonderful people all over our city who visit colonies of strays every night to feed them. Sometimes these cat-lovers manage to catch them and get them de-sexed or healed of their illnesses, but I still feel sad that they don’t have homes, which once-domesticated animals long for.

Robert Heinlein, science fiction writer who some feel was also a seer, once wrote that: “How we behave toward cats here below determines our status in heaven.” He may well be right – if there is a heaven – so maybe I’ll see you there! And maybe those dignified, elegant creatures we have encountered in this life will be there too in all their mysterious beauty to love us still, in their own idiosyncratic way.

Food for threadbare gourmets

I had some chicken nibbles in the fridge bought to use for a chicken risotto, but when it came to it, boiling them up for stock etc didn’t appeal, so instead I marinaded them in half a cup of honey, nearly the same of soy sauce, a good glug of sesame oil, lemon juice from a juicy lemon, a generous teaspoonful of minced ginger and the same of garlic. After a couple of hours resting in this mixture, thirty-five minutes in a hot oven, and eaten with sour dough bread, they made a quick tasty lunch.
Food for thought

I don’t believe there was ever anybody who loved being happy as much as I did. What I mean is that I was so acutely conscious of being happy, so appreciative of it; that I wasn’t ever bored, and was always and continuously grateful for the whole delicious loveliness of the world.”

Elizabeth von Arnim. Author of Elizabeth and her German Garden

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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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A Winding Path or the Dance of Life?

100_0221I’m an unashamed veteran of every whacky new age activity that has ever been available. Some of them are reputable, and some have a reputation for what is known as new age mush – a description which is usually wholly accurate!

The first steps along this eccentric path were taken at a little village fete just outside Stratford- on -Avon. I was detailed, as they say in the army, to look after the guests of honour, actor Sir John Mills and his daughter Juliet – I can’t remember why at this distance, and when I had done my duty I wandered off in my dark green uniform to the fortune- telling tent. The gypsy had a crystal ball, and I didn’t think she needed one to tell that I was in the army. But what she said was that my hands were the hands of a writer and I would spend my whole life writing. As a twenty- one year old lieutenant this was a surprise and seemed unlikely to me – like reaching for the moon.

The next significant step along the road less-travelled was when a friend told me that her stepmother could read tea-leaves! This seemed so really off the planet, that I really wanted to experience it, and it so happened that her stepmother was going to be changing planes at Heathrow, on the way from Bonn where her father was stationed,  to Ireland where their family home had been burned down by the IRA.

We met the stepmother, and rushed off to get cups of tea. But at places like air-ports you don’t have tea-pots. You have huge urns with made-up tea. We explained to the waitress that we really needed tea-leaves and she obligingly scraped the bottom of the urn and tipped a handful of leaves plus some tea into three cups for us. We had a very successful tea-leaf session, and as time went by I saw the various events she’d foretold, unfold.

At the Derby a couple of years later, my first husband mischievously asked an ancient gypsy crone who was going to win the Derby? She went into a trance and kept muttering mysteriously:“Where d’you come from, where d’you come from?” which we dismissed as gibberish. We came from Larkhill actually, and twenty minutes later an outsider, Larkspur, won the Derby.

Marriage, babies, career, all these kept me distracted from esoteric pursuits until the children had left home. And then I became involved in helping to set up a group who ran self-transformation courses ranging from a week to six months. I did every one. It took about seven years of my life. And along the way I began dabbling and experimenting with every other form of New Age activity that offered itself – and have done ever since.

They ranged in alphabetical order from acupuncture, aromatherapy and aura- soma to breath-work, body talk, body harmony and Bowen work. There was chiropractise, channelling, chakra cleansing, cranial osteopathy, flotation tanks and Feldenkrais.  There was holotropic breathing, homeopathy and hypnotherapy, kinesiology, massage, minimum movement, sitting in a pyramid to ease the pain of a chronic illness, psycho-therapy and breath-work to cure it, re-birthing, Reiki, Shiatsu, Tai chi…. I know this isn’t all…. I’m sure there’s more!  There was The Journey, The Enneagram, NSA,( Neuro Spinal Adjustment ) Spiritual Geometry, various Indian groups teaching breath and meditation, and yoga of course.

Then there were the courses with people like Zondra Ray and Jean Houston and Denise Linn,  lectures from Dipak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Stuart Wilde, the Dalai Lama. The books – beginning with Sir George Trevelyan’s ‘A Vision of the Aquarian Age’ and the New Age bible, Marilyn Fergusson’s  ‘ The Aquarian Conspiracy ‘, going on with  Barbara Anne Brennan and Caroline Myss,  Marianne Williamson and Jean Shinoda Bolen’s ‘The Goddesses in Everywoman’. There was ‘The Feminine Face of God’ and Eckhart Tolle and ‘Conversations with God’ and our philosopher and guide to the consciousness evolution, Ken Wilbur, among a host of others we read.

There were years with Self-transformation, years learning about herbs and nutrition, and others. There were Shiatsu courses, Reiki courses, re-incarnation courses, counselling courses; the cleanses and the retreats; meditation, Tibetan chanting, circle dancing – the thing I loved best of all – then there were diets, the Pritikin, the Zone, the Blood Type diet, the Sandra Cabot Liver Cleanse… we were suckers for them all. And the fun fringe, the palmistry, the crystals, the tarot cards, the angel cards, the I Ching – hmm, not so much fun – very severe and serious.

You’ll be surprised to learn that I haven’t done colonic irrigation, Rolfing, sweat lodges or vision quests. I’ve listened to various gurus including the startlingly beautiful Gurumayi.  But I never wanted a guru. So I gave Rajneesh and Sai Baba and Da Free John in his various guises a wide berth.

None of this came cheaply… In the thirty years since I began this career of New Age dissipation I’ve sold old silver, precious rugs, loved china to finance my expensive hobby… I’m an object of ridicule to some members of my family, though not to those closest to me,  I’m glad to say. They also dabble sometimes. Not my husband, who calls me, with some justification, a New Age Nutter.

The others wonder why on earth I do all this… surely one course is enough to discover the secret of life, sort out old personality quirks, learn who and what you are? Why would you want to meditate when you can take Mogadon? And why on earth would I want to buy vitamins and herbs when I could have Prozac and statins, blood pressure pills and flu injections for free! The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I have none of the health problems the others have, and when I had to have a medical this morning for a new driving license the doctor said I was amazing.

So apart from good health, what else did I get out of all this seeking and experimenting? Lots of good friends, on the same path, for one. I have several friends who’ve been on nearly every course with me for the last thirty years. These friendships go deep. And as we’ve let go lots of old tensions, energy blocks and limiting beliefs, life has become easier, more fulfilling. Troubles come, as they do to everyone on earth, but we see them now as flags waving to show us something we haven’t mastered yet. Like many when I first began, it was like rowing across a river, and looking back to the other side, realising there was no way back, no way to go back to thinking the way I had. That from now on, life would be different.

I sometimes think all these activities, books, fads, are like tourist souvenir booths at places like NASA. They keep us amused and busy. The courses are like a conducted tour of the space programme, showing us how things work.  But none of these things take us into space. They can show us what it’s like, but to explore space, we have to do it ourselves. And all the crystals and courses and mushy wallpaper music make outsiders assume that this is all the New Age is about. When really, it’s a rocket taking off to explore and experience the furthest reaches of consciousness. Going, in that old cliché, where no man has gone before – except the mystics. But travellers in these realms feel that this is the next big step for all mankind.

And there are now millions of people all over the world on this journey – ripe and ready – they only needed a nudge, unlike all our exploring. They are, in the words of Arjuna Ardagh, ‘No longer willing to separate spiritual experience from the fabric of our everyday existence. Our most mundane circumstances are the very context in which realisation lives and breathes. An unattended life segregates realisation into a small box called “spirituality.” A well- attended life can make a trip to the grocery store a sacred pilgrimage.’

So did we need to do all that stuff?  Maybe not, but we enjoyed it, learned to love the present, and love creation and all that is, had many moments of insight and bliss, discovered a lot about ourselves and others, and became happier, more relaxed parents, partners and people. If life is a dance, that was our dance. And the more I experience the cosmos, the more I realise it is all a dance, a dance of galaxies and grains of sand, a dance of asteroids and atoms, a dance of energy and ecstasy, a dance of light and love, a dance of you and me.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Family coming for lunch in this freezing weather, so a good hot pudding seems to be called for… blackberry and apple crumble. I’ll be using a tin of boysenberries or fresh frozen if I have any in the deep freeze, with stewed apple, gently mixed together. The crumble is rich – eight ounces of flour, two of ground almonds, six ounces of brown sugar and four of butter. Rub the butter into the flour, add the sugar and almonds, and at this stage I often add the grated rind of a lemon. This mixture keeps in the fridge for a couple of days until I want to use it. Put the fruit in an ovenproof dish, cover with the crumble and bake in a hot oven for forty minutes. Serve with cream or crème fraiche.

( Boysenberries are a cross between a raspberry, a blackberry and a loganberry. They were first bred in California by a man called Mr Boysen..)

Food for Thought

Will the old dinosaur minds draw us all into their conflicts, destroying life as we know it in the process, or will the emerging translucent view midwife us into another way of loving? In the translucent vision of the world there is no other, no enemy. It is a political view that encompasses the well-being of all sentient beings, not just of one group or another. Either we all win or we all lose.

Arjuna Ardagh  – teacher  and writer of ‘The Translucent Revolution,’ a book which has become the equivalent of Marilyn Fergusson’s ‘The Aquarian Conspiracy’ for the 21 century.

 

 

 

 

 

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The longest journey

100_0404I’m sitting by the wood fire with the rain falling steadily outside onto the green garden. It’s fragrant with the scent of all the cyclamens I bought this year to put in pots. I hadn’t realised what a beautiful perfume they had. I picked some roses before the rain drenched them, Monteverdi’s exquisite lilting Vespers – trumpets and choirs –  is playing, and I had for lunch a delicious helping of the grocer’s bargain Gorgonzola Dolce with fresh sour dough bread.

And coffee. My coffee tastes entirely different now that I’ve learnt to put the milk in first, thanks to the coffee drinking bloggers who commented on the blog I’d written about tea, and how Milk in First – so frowned upon by the pukka – is actually more delicious than milk poured in after the tea. So I’m now drinking coffee milk in first.

I’ve been watching a blackbird pecking at a red apple nailed to the fence outside the window. The sparrows love their grain in the swinging blue and white bowl suspended from a tree near the bird-bath. As I watched them, I was amazed to see a host of different birds in the garden, so unusual in this country.

There was a wood pigeon sitting in the guava tree in its approved partridge in a pear tree fashion, three pink-breasted grey doves pecking on the grass, a couple of tuis frisking in the bottle brush tree, sparrows in the feeding bowl, fan tails flitting around between plum tree and bird bath, a couple of lime-green and grey wax- eyes flickering among the leaves, and to my astonishment, a gold finch pecking around the green copper with pink cyclamen – the pink and the gold, and the verdigris of the copper a delight.

The tiny wax-eyes or silver -eyes, which are half the size of a sparrow – would top the list of NZ birds I love. Victorian Walter Buller, the earliest NZ authority on birds, called them silver-eyes. They ‘re supposed to have arrived in New Zealand in June 1856. Buller wrote: ‘…in the early part of June of that year, I first heard of its occurrence at Waikanae, a native settlement on the west coast, about forty miles from Wellington. The native mailman brought in word that a new bird had been seen, and that it was a visitor from another land.

‘A week later he brought intelligence that large flocks had appeared, and that the “tau-hou” (stranger) swarmed in the brushwood near the coast; reporting further that they seemed weary after their journey, and that the natives caught many of them alive’. Buller tells us that they were then seen in numbers in Wellington, and greatly welcomed as they ate the aphis known as American Blight which was ruining the settlers’ apple trees. The little silver-eye has flourished here ever since its epic thousand-mile journey across the Tasman.

Why did they come, flocks of them, not just a few blown by the wind? What a great heart in a tiny frame, and what impelled each one to embark on this huge migration across an ocean? Flocks of them sometimes clung exhausted to the masts of ships in mid-ocean. How did they know that a land, New Zealand, was awaiting them at the other side of the trackless sea? And how sad, that at the end of the endless journey, tiny wings beating against the winds, they were so exhausted, that many were caught by hand by Maoris and ended their lives precipitately in the Promised Land.

Whenever I see the tiny green creatures flitting in and out of the birdbath, sipping the honey in the bottle-brush tree, and nibbling the apples I put out in winter, I remember their great journey and noble hearts. Was their quest a search for a better life, like so many of the settlers, who in those same years also sailed across oceans for six months to reach here, surviving perils which included drowning, sickness and starvation?

This quest of men and birds took not just courage but a leap of imagination, and I wonder if these are the times now when we must all also take another leap of imagination and courage to save the dear earth that we know – to take, in Christopher Fry’s words, “the longest stride of soul men ever took”.  Eckhart Tolle has warned that all the structures that we’ve always known will start to crumble, and we are now seeing trusted institutions, organisations, freedom, democracy, justice, free speech, free press, the environment – all under threat.

So this must be the time to take that long stride of soul – to create new ways of living on this planet, salvaging the best, and joining together to share peace and goodwill, as well as food and resources.  The Dalai Lama has said that meditating is not enough – we need to act – and Thich Nhat Hanh has warned us that we can’t go on the way we are doing.

He says otherwise: “there is no doubt that our civilisation will be destroyed. This will require enlightenment, awakening. The Buddha attained individual awakening. Now we need a collective enlightenment to stop this course of destruction.”  So enlightenment, it seems, is a journey which we can’t delay, and however difficult this may seem, and whatever it means to different people – as Lao Tzu so famously said nearly fifteen hundred years ago – a journey of a thousand leagues begins with the first step.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets 

As a threadbare gourmet, I pride myself on getting at least eight meals out of a chicken, so I put the legs into the deep freeze to take out when I wanted them. After de-frosting and taking the skin off, I added them to a pan in which I’d sauted garlic and chopped mushrooms in butter and cream. I also crumbled a chicken cube in a little boiling water and added it to the mix to boil up and thicken. Then I stirred in half a teasp of Dijon mustard, some nutmeg, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sometimes I serve this on pasta, this time I served it with buttery, creamy mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots.

Food for Thought

Life is an endless struggle full of frustration and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like!

 

 

 

 

 

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The good enough life

 

 

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Back in the last century, a psychologist called Dr Winnicott coined the comforting phrase ‘A good – enough mother’ …. I looked back at yesterday, and thought, yes, I suppose it was a good enough day …

I woke to the sound of the sea smashing onto the rocks. Good, I thought. I love it when there’s a thundering sea running. Up early to take my husband for minor surgery, I went to the cliff edge to see the white foam breaking over the rocks, and looked out to the horizon. The sun was just rising, a flaming red band above the sea, fading to amber, and then to palest turquoise, the few clouds black in the pearly lightening sky. Still. Not a breath of wind in spite of the pounding waves.

I fed the birds and then drove into our nearest country town, and it was chill enough for rags of white mist to drape the hollows, and drift across the dips in the road. By the time we had reached the surgical centre, the sun was up and the burnt gold and brown fields were lying defenceless in the baking heat again. Animals lying heaped in scraps of precious shade …

Leaving the old chap to the anaesthetic and the knife, I searched for a cafe open at 7.30 to have some breakfast, and decided that Eggs Benedict would help to while away the two hours  until I fetched him. But by the time I’d picked up the invalid and driven back home with my wonky liver making its grumpy presence known, I realised that Eggs Benedict that early in the day was not a good idea.

Later the morning soared into joy with a long phone call from eldest grandson, completing a double degree in arts and science at Uni. By the time we’d debated GM experimentation and the environment, knocked off Schopenhauer and his will to live, breezed through Nietzsche, explored  his theory of the nature of pain, tried to define happiness a propos Nietzsche and his fulfilment of will,  covered the architecture of Paris, categorised various behaviours as schizoid, narcissistic etc,  explored Maslow’s concept of peak experiences, agreed on beauty, argued about the number of different species of birds, butterflies and animals, discussed his fitness regime and the nuances of rock climbing, I felt as though my brain had had its own peak experience and a mental workout as well.

I put down the phone smiling like a Cheshire cat. Nothing – not even a peak experience – beats talking to my grandchildren.  Lunch was a breeze, as a neighbour had dropped in some hot savoury scones and cheese turnovers, so I didn’t have to cook. I replenished the bird’s various feeding bowls with wheat, and then tooled back into town to the surgeon for the invalid’s dressing to be changed, and various instructions for his care. At the chemist, picking up the prescriptions to administer, I was greeted warmly by another customer, a youngish woman in a huge multi-coloured caftan to disguise her weight, and only one arm. As her joyful goodness enveloped me, I felt ashamed of my livery grumpiness.

So I’m now not only cook, bottle-washer, car-washer, gardener, log- carrier, accountant, chauffeur but also nurse. Not, my friends tell me, the sort of cheeky flirty sort that they were in their young days, “ All the men in my ward fell in love with me,” giggled one still beautiful seventy- year- old on the phone…

Stopping at the village shop for milk on the way home I found a parcel waiting for me. It was ‘Carolina Cavalier’, the biography of James Johnston Pettigrew, the other General who led Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. One of his descendants, a dear friend, had sent it, knowing my fascination for the Civil War.

Early to bed, too tired to start my new book – I just needed some mental knitting – so skipped happily through a Georgette Heyer. Before putting out the light, and opening the window wide so that the sound of the sea would fill the room and all the spaces of the night, I thought about that phrase, a good enough day… and remembered that old legend about the poor man who had a horse he treasured.

One day it disappeared, and all the villagers commiserated with him about his bad luck. But he brushed aside their sympathy saying it wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. A few days later the horse re-appeared bringing with him a herd of wild horses. Everyone congratulated the old man on his good fortune, but he again brushed it off, saying it was neither good nor bad. His son began breaking in the horses, so that they could sell them, but one day he was thrown, and broke his leg.

More commiserating moans from the villagers, and once more the old man shrugged and refused to judge what had happened. While the son was laid up, the king levied a call on all young men to join the army to fight for their country. How lucky you are that your son can’t go, exclaimed the villagers. And the old man made no comment again. He never judged anything that happened, recognising that he actually never knew whether what happened was fortunate or unfortunate. Life just is.

So I looked back on another daily round filled with common tasks, which furnished all we ought to ask, in the words of the hymn, and there were unexpected gifts as well as the expected challenges. I don’t know what the hidden significance of any of it is… maybe one day I will. Maybe I will never know. Maybe I will know when I reach the other side. It was simply another good enough day. Neither good nor bad. The stuff of life.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I have people coming for dinner on Sunday. It started out as four of us, but visiting overseas mutual friends, means that we’re now eight. So I’ve decided to haul a small turkey out of the deep freeze. I’m also going to Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem in Auckland on Saturday night with my daughter, and a party afterwards, and know I won’t be as on the ball on Sunday as I’d like to be. So I cooked the pudding today and it will reheat perfectly. Because it’s a sort of Christmas turkey, I thought I’d do one Christmassy- type pudding, and one refresher – a lemon cream. The Christmassy option is apple crumble, the stewed apple mixed with Christmas mincemeat. It lifts apple crumble into another realm, especially with a little brandy added to the apple- mincemeat mixture, and the crumble a really rich one.

For the crumble – a big one – I used ten ounces of flour, and two of ground almonds, six ounces of butter and eight ounces of sugar, plus grated lemon rind. Mix the butter into the flour, add the rest of the ingredients, tip over the fruit in an ovenproof dish, and bake for forty minutes or so in a medium to hot oven. It will wait in the fridge, and re-heat on the day. I’ll serve it with crème fraiche.

 

Food for Thought

Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.

Eckhart Tolle  born 1948  Influential teacher, philosopher, and best- selling author of spiritual books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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