The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Monday, 27 January 2014
bliss and the heart
One of the ways in which TM and I differ is that my preferred way of waking up is in the silence of birdsong from outside the window, or to classical music.
TM likes to hit the day running, and waking up to the news on Radio 4 does it for him. I dislike digital clocks and clock radios in the bedroom intensely, and I hate waking to the news. In fact I barely listen to it or read it more than once or twice a week, and that when I'm wide awake and doing OK. First thing in the morning one is vulnerable, and to have the world's disasters, about which one can do so little, pouring in at a tender time feels all wrong to me and can affect my whole day and way of viewing the world. (If I could afford it, and persuade TM of its value, it'd be a beautiful wooden alarm bell from the Mountains and Rivers Zen monastery; now that wakes the soul gently and prepares it for the day.)
Anyway, we find ways of compromising: when, like recently, TM has not had to get up before 6am for work, the radio alarm isn't on at all. If we do have to use it, we set it earlier, so I'm prepared by the time we get to bad news.
From tomorrow, it'll be 5.45. This morning he set the alarm for a practice run for 7 and it was the news. Grrr. But one item was poetry in medicine. How lovely to hear of the poetry award established for NHS practitioners by cardiologist Professor John Martin from UCL and Yale. He founded the award four years ago to counteract the 'intellectual brutalising' of medical staff. Hooray for a man with vision and humanity.
Speaking of hearts, Joseph Campbell, that great mythologian and Jungian, has influenced my way of looking at the world since I began my training in Transpersonal Pyschology way back in my 20s. The 'Hero's Journey' model of psychospiritual development, on which I drew for my first book in 1993 (Riding the Dragon – myth and the inner journey), arose out of Campbell's enquiry into the world's myths: underpinning all cultures, found Campbell, is what he identified as the monomyth, or the quest-motif (he advised George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, on this).
I've been rewatching on DVD the wonderful series made not long before his death, in which he's interviewed by Bill Moyers: The Power of Myth. Last night I watched again 'Sacrifice and Bliss', in which Campbell uses that well-known phrase of his 'follow your bliss', as a dictum for how to live your life, and which he exemplified.
It reminds me that whatever else I could say about my own life, I have done that, mostly. That doesn't mean it's easy; there are sacrifices in a life whichever path you take. My English A level teacher said once that she saw her role as waking us up to the fact that life would imprison us; her main interest was in enabling us to choose our own prisons. Thank you, Mrs Westcott. From time to time fear takes over in me, and tells me I should get a proper job, with a regular salary, a property of my own, money in the bank and a pension. Whenever that happens, though, I know even as the suggestion arises that there is no way that's going to happen. I know I'm living in accord with my soul promptings, more or less; I know I'm doing the work I love. What a privilege that is.
And something of that sits behind my forthcoming weekend workshop, of which the standalone day component, next Saturday, Imbolc, February 1st, is specifically shaped to ask questions of the participants about how to live by following one's bliss.
Campbell says: 'Most of our action is economically and/or socially determined, and does not come out of our LIFE.' His prescription is what he has chosen to follow himself: living according to the principles of the Sanskrit word satchitananda, which he defines like this: 'sat' is 'being'; 'chit' means 'full consciousness' and 'ananda' means 'rapture'. 'Follow your bliss.'
Related to this, you must have a room, or an hour a day, he says, dedicated to incubating the creative imagination, dedicated to the sacred. In this hour, you need to slip the leash of the world's news, of the requirements imposed on you by relationship to others, and of yours on them. In losing your ties, temporarily, this way you might end up glimpsing your bliss.
This, of course, is the function of meditation; of free-writing, or, I find, of my morning walk by the brook, in the woods, on the old trackway, free from humans except perhaps a farmer in the distance on a quad bike checking his lambing ewes (poor little scraps, in this dreadful January weather – but that's off-topic).
All of this, he suggests, is dedicated to letting the sacred and its unity and unifying ability shine through – something it's hard to do in our world. This is, of course, the practice of mindfulness – not just on your cushion for a comfortable half hour, but in each minute we have the choice of bringing our full attention – or not. When we can, that experience of unity and of bliss can enter.
It's also what art can bring us. 'The one radiance shines through all things,' says Campbell. 'That is the function of art – to reveal through the object the radiance behind it.'
Today I wish you, whatever your circumstances, glimpse after glimpse of bliss – no matter how fleeting, no matter how insubstantial. And I wish you time out from the social and economic and domestic pressures of your day – also no matter how brief.
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- two poems
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- our pain for the world
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