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Often called the festival of light, Divali or Dipavali is actually the festival of little lights or little lamps. Dipavali means a row of lights. We kindle rows of little lights or dipas to guide Lakshmi into our home. In other traditions, the little lights guide Lord Rama home from Lanka to Ayodhya. The real Ayodhya is not a place on a map. 'Ayodhya' means 'no conflict'. The real Ayodhya is the state of living free from conflict.

In this Divali blog, I want to draw our attention to some people who are overcoming the darkness of adversity, lighting little lamps of hope.These three young women--two of them still schoolgirls--have been inspiring me all year long and brightening the flame of my heart.

 Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yusufzai faced the adversity of turmoil and extremism in her native Swat, followed by a journey through the valley of the shadow of death after she was shot in the head. She woke to find herself in a hospital in Birmingham, far from her friends and her beloved native land. Yet she continues lighting candles of hope for children around the world and speaking truth to power, even telling President Obama to stop the drone attacks in Pakistan. As a Nobel laureate at her young age, she holds an unique position in tending the lights of truth and justice that guide us towards the place beyond conflict. To hear Malala speaking for herself, watch her entire Nobel acceptance speech.

My friend Sabina England faces the adversity of profound deafness. Sabina and I have never actually met, but I feel that she really is my friend, as we share so many cultural connections, and we do correspond from time to time. Sabina is a remarkable writer, film-maker and performance artist. Her films express her activism, love of life, passion, spirituality and humour in an extraordinary way. Like Malala's peace work, Sabina's films are bright dipas of awakening, offered to all of us who are deafened by the busy noisiness of the world. Take a look at her eight minute film Deaf Brown Gurl for some special inspiration this Divali. 

Lastly, but never least, I'll mention my niece Ruth. Born with Down Syndrome, Ruth faces a lot of adversity in finding her autonomy and actualizing her quite amazing creative vision. She is interested in  puppetry and has her own Punch and Judy puppets. Last New Year, Ruth and I saw the New Year in together with my mother, who is in her late eighties and suffers with dementia. We spent New Year's Eve making music. I would play a song on my fiddle and then Ruth would strum her guitar and sing a song. We talked about the people and events that were important to us in the past year and our hopes for the year to come. Finally we sang Auld Lang Syne as 2014 arrived.

 Ruth might not be a Nobel Laureate or a famous performance artist like the other young women in this blog (or not yet, anyway), but she definitely lights lamps of joy for my mother. Ruth showers Mum with affection in a way that is truly healing. The challenges Ruth faces don't stop her giving a lot to anyone who is open to receive what she has to offer.

The dipas that are lit on Divali are quite tiny. Yet when billions of these little lamps are twinkling, India shines so brightly that the radiance can be seen from space. Malala, Sabina and Ruth are keeping their lamps shining in the face of challenges and adversity. And as the dipa is made more lovely by the surrounding darkness, they are turning their adversity into a gift. If each one of us keeps brightening our little dipas by the daily practice of being true to ourselves, we can light the way to the city beyond conflict.
A diya - Indian oil lamp.

A diya - Indian oil lamp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)






Nanny: A deaf woman in wartime

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Nanny and me! 1952

The recent International Deaf Awareness Week (last week of September) has got me thinking. I do feel especially close to deaf people because of my maternal grandmother, Emily Board nee Hunt, known to us as Nanny. Born in London in 1896, Nanny contracted measles at age three and lost her hearing. She never received any special education, was teased and despised as 'deafy' and started work as a factory girl at age twelve. Nanny was a brilliant self-taught lip-reader and could snoop on conversations across the room--or private asides whispered on the television!

During the London blitz, Nanny was especially vulnerable because she could not hear the air raid sirens. She was living in Shenley Road in the London borough of Camberwell at the time. Nanny's  fox terrier, Skippy, would bring her to the basement when the sirens wailed and lead her out again when the 'all clear' sounded. Natually, Nanny felt a special bond of gratitude to her dog. When I was a baby, she gave me a straw and rag fox terrier toy called--of course--Skippy. I loved that simple toy like no other, even when I was a big girl.

When the National Health Service started up in 1948, Nanny's life changed dramatically. Finally, she received a hearing aid. Nanny said that until that day, she had never heard a watch tick or a bird sing. She had lived in a silent world, isolated in many ways.

History nearly repeated itself when I contracted a severe case of measles at age three and ruptured both eardrums. But the healthcare and nutrition available in postwar Britain was dramatically better than that of Old London, and my  hearing was saved. Unlike Nanny and millions of people worldwide to this day, I do not suffer from preventable deafness.

Nanny's story serves to remind us of how uniquely vulnerable deaf people are in conflict zones around the world. When civilians are caught up in war, the disabled and special needs population is affected in ways we can barely imagine; both from imminent danger and from deprivation of ongoing support necessities. Deaf people need the opportunity to fulfill their potential and to be afforded the same basic human rights so many of us take for granted.




Afghan Schoolchildren in Kabul

Afghan Schoolchildren in Kabul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Here are a few words of my memories of travel through Afghanistan in 1978:

When I was traveling from England to India, mostly hitch-hiking, I passed through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, reaching my destination in India.Today I want to speak about my travels in Afghanistan.

People verily make up a wonderful garden wherever one may go.The people of Afghanistan were particularly striking--the music, dance, physical beauty and vitality, tremendous hospitality, tangible heartfelt-ness and peacefulness. The children especially struck me as they seemed so interwoven into the whole of life.

I can remember the day the Communist coup began, to overthrow the government of President Mohammed Daoud. I was present in Kabul at this historic moment, which led to the Soviet invasion of 1979 and ushered in more than thirty years of continuous warfare
, mostly at the hands of the world's superpowers. I recall that the army rebelled, fighting the police. I remember planes bombing government buildings and bullets flying in the streets. Afghanistan hasn't been at peace yet.

Since I have traveled to Afghanistan my heart has had a tear in it, a wound. All people on this earth are my people. The Afghans are my people, my brothers and sisters, daughters and sons. I can't forget them--the people of Afghanistan have been through so much!

I pray that peace and justice will come  to this land and people.

June Haibun

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Torrential rain
Crushed poppy petals
Blood on paving stones.

When I see the magnificent blooms beaten down, their glory cut short, sorrow of a thousand mothers wells up in me.

poppies

poppies (Photo credit: __o__)



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Silver Gelatin

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They are elders now

If death has not yet taken them.

Hair is grey

Lines crease their faces.

They have birthed children

Buried loved ones

Toiled and laughed,

Yet always innocent

Always alight

Their radiant childhood greeting us

In silver gelatin print.


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Cherry Blossom Haiku

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Cherry tree blossom Русский: Цветущая ветка ви...

Cherry tree blossom Русский: Цветущая ветка вишни Latina: Prunus cerasus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



I
Lilac breeze
White petal shower
Bees in cherry blossom.

II
Bagpipes skirl
Dancing together
Cherry and chokecherry.


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With the New Moon in Taurus, the eclipse cycle ends. It was a particularly intense cycle, involving both a total lunar eclipse and the Cardinal Grand Cross. At such a time, seemingly ordinary events take on a dream-like symbolic quality. Two events, on on either side of the lunation, captured for me what this New Moon is about.
On Monday, less than twelve hours before the eclipse, Alandi Gurukula student Joanna arrived with two buzzing swarm boxes. Soon we were installing the two queen bees and their myriad attendants in our topbar hives, left empty since the Boulder Flood Disaster.
In Hindu mythology, Bhramaramba, the Queen Bee
, is a form of the Goddess, she whose fragrance draws all beings to her. Divine Mother's arrival at the ashram in Her form as Queen Bee spoke of the rich, abundant feminine energy of Taurus that that New Moon ushered in. It was a promise of beauty and abundance to come, as honey-making pollinators crowded our garden, sipping apple-blossom nectar or turning golden with dandelion pollen.
Next day, as we entered the energy of the waxing moon, Martine, our indigenous Peruvian friend, arrived at the ashram garden with his lovely consort and vigorously set to work tilling the ground. Rich and earthy, Taurus was here, bringing the Earth People of the First nations and the groundedness of  soil, humus, compost and earthworms. June and July will bring lush greenness and blooming roses-- for Taurus, the soil itself is the thing, as the brown beauty of Earth reveals herself.
May this eclipse cycle bring abundance and groundedness to all of us!

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Philip Hudis, bottom left, Isaac "Jack" Hudis top left.

My grandfather, Philip Hudis, was an intelligent, deeply caring and highly ethical man. He was also extremely tense and prone to pacing the room in agitation. He seemed most comfortable with Uncle Jack, his elder brother and war buddy in the Middlesex regiment, or with his friend Mr. Bunn, a First World War poet. While Grandpa's anxiety could have been a result of parenting styles he experienced, I have often wondered what he would have been like without the trauma of his wartime experience. As a French translator, Grandpa was not in the trenches himself. Yet he found the so called Great War a horrific and senseless experience, pointing out to my cousin that the soldiers on the other side had families who loved them, just like 'our boys.' The war violated my grandfather's innate sense of basic human decency and created memories he could not live down and rarely voiced. He carried the sadness of this betrayal of humanitarian values to his dying day.


On the other side of the family, my grandfather Joe Board entered London Regiment as a stretcher-bearer at the tender age of sixteen. Joe survived, but his elder brother Albert did not. My great-uncle was killed in action at Loos in 1916. His death did  not only rob my great-grandmother of her son. War steals from the future as well. The great-uncle I never met would have been a beloved relative and positive influence in my life, had he not been killed in a senseless war thirty-five years before my birth.



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Albert George Board


My grandfathers and their elder brothers were just four of the sixty- five million men mobilized to fight in the1914-1918 war.  The war left millions of mothers grieving their sons. Many millions of veterans came home maimed in body and spirit and millions of civilians died due to crimes against humanity or starved to death.


The so-called war to end all wars served only to inflame geopolitical tensions, setting the stage for the unspeakable death and destruction wrought by the Second World WarAnd the struggle for global dominion and control of resources continues today in the form of proxy wars--millions of Syrians suffering in refugee camps or starving in besieged cities, Ukraine on the verge of disintegration, endless war in the Middle East and Iraq.


The generation that fought in World War I have left the stage. Their children, the World War II generation, are slowly dying out. It falls to my generation, the grandchildren of the veterans of such horror, to hold the memory, to bear witness to the pain of the survivors and to mourn the loss of those we never had a chance to meet.


Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments.

                                                  
      -T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets


To Philip Hudis, any inhumanity was unbearable. As a civil servant in the Home Office, he fought for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, doing whatever was in his power to redress the wrongs he experienced in his wartime youth. Beauty can come forth from the senseless suffering of war; the beauty we make by raising our voices for the voiceless and opening our hearts to those who suffer today in a seemingly endless cycle of global conflict.


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Empty Tomb (Ravenna)

Empty Tomb (Ravenna) (Photo credit: jimforest)

The chocolate egg is full of gilt-wrapped sweets.

The tomb is empty.

 

For me, Easter has always brought an experience of soaring joy and also of profound disquiet. As a child I enjoyed singing 'Jesus Christ is risen today' with choir and organ and relished chocolate Easter eggs as much for their shiny beauty as for their taste. Sometimes we went to London for the Easter Monday celebration with the Easter bonnet parade and the glittering Pearly Kings and Pearly Queens. Yet at the centre of all the fun and celebration was the Easter gospel, rousing in me the same feelings of fear and astonishment that affected the first witnesses of the resurrection. As a child, I wondered if I understood the Easter mystery. Today, I know that I don't.

 

At the heart of Easter is emptiness--the empty tomb. Years ago, I brought my parents on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As a pilgrim discipline, I didn't carry any money and just accepted what my parents gave me. When we visited the Holy Sepulchre, the supposed site of the resurrection, a black clad Syrian priest screamed at me for not giving him alms. It could have been a devastating experience. But my father gazed in my eyes and said to me, "He is not here".

 

He is not here; He is risen.


I don't understand the resurrection and can't explain it to myself, can't make the unsettling feeling, the disquiet, go away. The resurrection is not just an article of faith, not just a celebration of the rising of Spring from the cold dark of winter--not even simply an enactment of psychological death and rebirth. Easter brings profound disquiet--the disquiet of emptiness. We seek the risen Lord in the place we left him yesterday--in our habits, our beliefs, our ideas, our concepts. And what we find is emptiness. He is not here. Life and Truth cannot be embalmed, cannot be static, cannot be conceptualized, can never be contained in the Known. He is risen, alive in the now, in the freshness we glimpse each Easter. He is here in the disquiet, the not knowing, the simultaneous holding of faith and doubt. This Easter, every Easter, may we meet the unknowing, the  mystery of emptiness.

 

 

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Just a few words on my retreat. I've been back one month from six months of silence--no talking or eye contact except for brief meetings with the meditation teachers every 3-4 days. And no reading during the first three months; minimal reading the second three months.

The retreat took place at Insight Meditation Centre in Barre MA, among the most benevolent woods, stretching for miles & miles. I did most of my inquiry under an oak tree. It is hard to describe the wonder of that tree.

My god-wrestling was mainly done there, under the spreading canopy of that tree, except when it was too cold to sit outside. Doubt and faith were the questions that burned in my heart and mind. 'Who am I?', the arrow that reveals glimpses of the silent Reality within.

Now I'm back in the world with all its heartbreak--getting the news about Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Ukraine, Egypt--giving myself over to the tender wounded heart. I'm often exhausted by so many stimuli; talk, internet, and the fast pace of life that surrounds me. Being back is exciting but also very fatiguing. I'm trusting, trusting, trusting, in the still small voice of guidance.