from BARDO

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.

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 24 June 2011

'the wind one brilliant day'...

What shall I tell you, lovely people, today, when my mind feels tired and dry and my heart is too full of all the complexities of this being-human business to sort out individual coherent threads?

I guess I start with where I am: and that is in thinking about relationship. And I'm thinking about being awake to the world; what that means.

Just now I was going through a favourite book of poems, Robert Bly's translation of Antonio Machado's Times Alone. Flipping through I came across this little poem; I know it so well, but had forgotten it came from Machado; it seems so Zen in its compass that I'd kind of misremembered it as being from one of the Buddhist teachers:

Beyond living and dreaming
there is something more important:
waking up.

How perfect is that for what preoccupies me, which is how we do our journey here, and how we do relationship. I don't just mean a primary love relationship, except in the widest possible sense – that everything is relationship; it's an inescapable fact of being alive; and our relationship to the world and all the other beings in it will be as good as our relationship to ourselves, and 'whatever I do, let there be love in it', as I think Jefferson Starship sang... (And how hard is that, hey??)

Tempting though it might be at times (certainly for me) to go off and be a recluse, I know that it's through our relationships that we grow, and what we learn of love is through doing the work of love. Love is an active verb, not a cosy state (it was a shock coming across that concept for the first time in my very early thirties, in Scott Peck's book The Road Less Travelled). I don't just mean relationship to humans, whether intimates, friends or the world at large; but certainly that's where most of the challenges to extend ourselves beyond old patterns of behaviour occur, isn't it? Someone in the psycho-spiritual world many years ago said (I paraphrase): 'It may well be that the path of conscious relationship is the most significant spiritual path for our current age.' Seems spot-on to me. I'd add that it's possibly also the most rewarding; and surely one of the hardest paths, being met face-to-face with, and owning, my blind spots, my weaknesses, my ignorance, my unskillful and even destructive habits, my 'delusions and evasions of the ego', as my Zen teacher Ken Jones puts it. But if we can reclaim that stuff, or even a little of that stuff, we must surely be adding to the sum of good in the world...

So as a human being, and a woman, and a friend, and lover, and daughter, and mother, and sister, and eco-organism, and gardener, and lover-of-the-wild, what do my relationships say about me? What are the impulses that express themselves through me? What is my understanding; who and what are my mirrors? How can I enlarge myself beyond the boundaries of egoic self-seeking? What gives my life purpose and meaning? Am I willing to challenge my patterns over and over and over? How might I be the best friend I can be, the best friend I'd like, to myself and to others? Ho yes – answers on the proverbial p/c please...!


Thinking about all this, writing about all this, I notice that the work of tending the garden is a metaphor that is around for me a great deal. I've spoken of this several times in this blog; and written about it in various of my books, in various forms, consistently over the years. The garden is such a potent image, isn't it, from Babylon to Eden, to the alchemical hortus conclusus within which magical and transformative work can occur. A contained space, safe and secluded. It's the work of the soul to make and tend this place. We're not doing such a good job of it, are we, collectively, in this early part of the C21st?

I wonder if you've come across that poignant little poem by Antonio Machado in Robert Bly's translation (and arrogantly I've tweaked some of the wording here):

The wind one brilliant day called
to my soul with the fragrance of jasmine.

"In return for this jasmine perfume
I'd like the fragrance of all your roses."

"I have no roses," I said. "All the flowers
in my garden are dead now."

"Then I'll take the waters of your fountains,
the yellow leaves, the dried-up petals."

The wind left. I wept. I said to my soul:
"What have you done with the garden entrusted to your care?"

There's a beautiful version of this on a Jackie Leven album ('the mysteries of love are greater than the mysteries of death'); and on this album Bly speaks poems over the music. And now, rereading Bly's translation of Machado in Times Alone, and his intro, I am so inspired all over again that I want to share it all with you!

But more on that, and all of this and that, another time. I'm not, by the way, miserable; just reflective (and tired! And wanting time out from being conscious, dammit!).


And by way of light relief for us all, I have some lovely books to tell you about (I mean by other writers, not by me). But that'll be the next post (probably – unless something else grabs my attention first).

Light relief now is the literal garden, where the squirrels are causing a certain amount of havoc (not such a relief). (Can't help but see them symbolically: aspects of the mind and its scamperings – little tricksters who need to be out-tricked! Am working on that.) That's three birdfeeders they've wrecked in as many – or fewer – months, between the five of them (two parents and three youngsters). One birdfeeder declared itself to be squirrel-proof: it foiled them for nearly a fortnight, then they worked out how to simply unravel the metal mesh, having already worked out how to get up the 'squirrel-proof' shepherd's crook-type pole, which incidentally was also greased. They have the guts to come in through the door of my study (in the 'shed' in the garden) if I leave it open, and even prise off the lid of the heavy-duty dustbin at the foot of the stairs where I store the birdfood. The (also trickster) magpies are just as bad (six of them now), swooping down to shoo off all the other birds, and they too have evolved to cling to the mesh feeders, which technically they're not supposed to be able to do, either.

Our veg are all a bit behind this year, except the ones we over-wintered: the onions, which are massive; and the fat red-skinned garlic. I planted the latter on the winter solstice and harvested the first on the summer solstice. Our potatoes are finally flowering, so I guess we'll dig the first earlies soon. And at last the beans and sweetcorn are growing.

Today, in the neighbouring field where a roe deer lifted her head and stared at the dog and me, then dropped it and carried on grazing, I found some wild field mushrooms – very early. They'll go into the pot tonight. My current experiment is using barley instead of rice – for 'food miles' reasons, as it's grown here, and it also seems in keeping with holistic health ideas to eat as much as possible food that grows on the same soil as we do. I have to say though that barley is a rather poor rice substitute.

And meantime my heart medicine is to keep taking the strawberries (see previous post): in my case the hundreds of juicy little sweet wild ones on which I breakfast in the lanes.

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