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Day 4

Today we completed the process of taking care of Mum's earthly remains. Since the funeral and cremation, her ashes have been in the living room of our close family friends, Sue and Murray. Her wish had been to have her ashes interred in the churchyard of St Mary le Tower Church, where she worshipped from 1963 until her death. In a simple ceremony, attended by the close friends who supported Mum in her final years, we fulfilled that wish.

Finality

White powder in black earth.

Ashes to ashes

Dust to dust

Ache in heart.

The body that bore me in the womb

Nursed me at the breast

Held me on warm lap

Dust you are

To dust you shall return.

Your earthly remains

Rest by the path

Where bells peal,

Summoning worshippers

Choristers process

Brides walk

Mourners stand

Flowers offer welcome.

Mother

Your warm voice

Always in my ears

Your love

Always protecting

Your eyes in my eyes

Your wisdom in my heart

Until I too

Return to dust.

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We are on a journey of remembrance, following the same vacation plan we've followed every year in order to visit my mother--except that this year, my mother is no more. I promised to give you a chance to 'walk with me', so here it is.

Day 3:

One feature of any journey of remembrance is that life keeps flowing on, current events impinging upon the time set aside for remembering the departed. This became clear at the end of 2009, when we travelled to Wales for the anniversary of my father's death and to scatter his ashes in the Aeron River. A big crisis erupted in the village, replete with lies, adultery and betrayal, sweeping up a lot of the energy we planned to devote to mourning Dad.

This time, the eruption is being far more intense. We flew into Heathrow Airport on the morning of the referendum. Of course, we were utterly exhausted from the journey and there was no prospect of staying up all night to follow the results--only Gibraltar had declared by the time we tumbled into bed. I peeled my eyes open at eight next morning and turned on the computer only to get a horrible shock--Britain had voted Leave. My mind was spinning with the insanity of quitting the single market, turning our backs on Europe, crashing the economy, degrading the pound, splitting the UK, losing Scotland, jeopardising the Good Friday accord and giving up our ability to live, work and travel freely in twenty-seven countries. Facebook immediately revealed that my siblings, cousins and nieces were just as upset.

In the two days that have followed, the horror has only deepened. Both major parties are falling apart. Scotland is calling for a second referendum on independence. The Prime Minister is resigning, leaving us to be governed by the extreme right of the Tory party. A Polish cultural centre was vandalized. British Muslims and Sikhs are being attacked with cries of, "Get out, we voted Leave!" (Leave the Commonwealth? The World?). The Remainers are calling the Leavers Fascists and the Leavers are calling the Remainers whiny millennials who make poor losers. But the millennials grew up as Europeans and have never known any other reality. The other EU countries are telling us to hurry up with the divorce and yet we seem to have no leadership at all, no plan B, no way forward.

For me, so many emotions are mingling together. It was enough to be dealing with the death of my mother--now my motherland is in crisis. I'm losing my identity as a European. I love my family very much and don't want them to be stuck in an impoverished and divided country with a right wing government. And as my cousin and 'big brother' Garry said, my parents would be really sad. They would be sad not just because they would care what kind of a country and world their grandchildren will live in, but also because they were Francophile, widely travelled, global in perspective and raised us to have broad minds and wide horizons. They did not expect us to live in a Little England where foreigners are unwelcome.

With all these emotions tumbling within me, we went for a walk in Christchurch Park and the arboretum and visited the Lebanon cedars Mum was so proud of. The greenery, flowers, fragrant roses and honeysuckle, bumblebees and birdsong soothed my soul and epitomized the England I love and that my parents loved too.

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Ancient House, Ipswich, formerly a bookstore

We are on a journey of remembrance, following the same vacation plan we've followed every year in order to visit my mother--except that this year, my mother is no more. I promised to give you a chance to 'walk with me' , so here it is.

Day 2:

Saturday today, and we walk to the town centre to do a little shopping at Sainsbury's and Boots. Meanwhile, I experience a flood of reminiscences of Saturdays forty-five or fifty years ago, back in the Sixties. Reminiscence, although perhaps frowned upon by many spiritual and meditative disciplines, seems to be an intrinsic part of the grief process. After Dad died, Mum and I would reminisce together, not only about Dad, but also about her childhood, the War, and long-dead relatives, kept alive by the passing on of memories. So here are my reminiscences of those long-ago Saturday mornings.

I remember Mum working on her menus and shopping list on Friday evening. She had a card index of recipes, things she had learnt in Cordon Bleu classes (I used to believe there was a chef named Gordon Blue!), recipes she had cut out of Woman's Weekly and so on. Mum leafed through recipes, created a menu for the week and made the shopping list accordingly. Fifty years later, I prepare Alandi Ashram's weekly shopping list in very similar way, leafing through Ayurvedic cookbooks and scrolling my own recipe blogs as I create the menu and list.

Next morning, we all set off to the town centre, parking in Mum's parking space at County Hall. The exciting day began with a visit to the County Library. Unlike other Ipswichians, who could only use the town library on Northgate Street, we had County Library privileges because Mum worked for the county. After stocking up on books for the week, we went shopping. Sometimes I accompanied Mum to the butcher, baker, fishmonger, greengrocer, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury's, helping to carry the heavy shopping bags (we brought cloth bags from home, plastic shopping bags lay in the future). At other times I would make my own way to our magnificent Ancient House Bookstore to get the latest assigned reading for History or English Lit, or visit Woolworths to look for sundry items. Without mobile phones, the meet-ups were tricky and might involve quite a bit of waiting. Sometimes we might stop for tea or for a Danish in Marks and Spencer--each shopping day had its unique features and each expressed our family energy in its own way, according to the season and the needs of the group. But they were always happy and exciting expeditions, full of the promise of delicious cheeses, fresh vegetables and new books to read.

Today, Ipswich town centre is not what it was in those days. Pound shops (similar to dollar shops) and charity shops full of secondhand wares have filled much of the once-bustling streets. Yet not all the changes have been for the worse. The last twenty years have brought a tremendous influx of diversity, enriching our provincial town with many cultures, languages, ethnic food stores and cuisines. Today, amid all the darkness and gloom of Brexit, we wandered by chance into the tail end of Ipswich library's Multicultural Day. Vibrant African fabrics and glittering belly dancers filled the hall with life and colour, and world music got us clapping. Surely my parents would have loved it and found hope in the spirit of diversity and friendship that prevailed.

As I wrote in a previous blog, we are on a journey of remembrance, following the same vacation plan we've followed every year in order to visit my mother--except that this year, my mother is no more. I promised to give you a chance to 'walk with me', so here it is.

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A glimpse of Christchurch Park, mapio.net

Day 1:

Yesterday afternoon we arrived in Ipswich, very tired. Aside from the usual jet lag, I had also developed stomach 'flu on the plane journey. And things were so different! On every other visit since 1991, we had arrived to the loving welcome of my parents, or in recent years, of Mum. Now we had to face that empty space. How would we feel? Our Airbnb hosts, Gertrude, Steve and little Angelina, are from Malawi, and offered the kind of warmth and welcome I associate with East African culture. Their genuine human kindness and friendliness went a long way to assuage the initial grief. They made certain that our needs were met and then took off for London, leaving us our own space, peace and quiet.

We had chosen our location carefully, to be in the part of Ipswich where I grew up. In recent years Mum had moved from Ipswich proper to a retirement community in Kesgrave. Now we are back in the old haunts of the family. The bells peal from the churches, thrushes and blackbirds sing and seagulls cry, just as they did when I was a girl. Two minutes from the house where we are staying, we found Bolton Stores. Now part of a chain, the store was started in I973 by a Ugandan Asian, after Idi Amin expelled the Asians. Dad loved to pop over to Bolton Stores for sundry items and chat with the proprietor, who in Uganda had been a philosophy professor. The two men had a natural kinship and Dad spoke enthusiastically about his visits to the store. Another minute away and you get to The Woolpack, Dad's 'local' where he liked to go for 'a swift half' before lunch.

Cross the street and you're in Christchurch Park. I was so blessed to grow up right by this beautiful park, which was like an extension of our own back yard. Here are the lawns where Magnus, my parents' beloved Sheltie, used to romp, the pond where little Nick used to feed the ducks (an activity strictly forbidden in these more ecologically enlightened times), the gently-sloping path where I used to go roller skating, the mighty oaks which Dad portrayed in a powerful and unsettling expressionistic style. Today I saw that my parent's death did not have to mean the loss to me of Ipswich and Suffolk--and that in ways great and small, Ipswich contains my parents and always will. There is a sweet and cherished memory on every corner. In the magic of place, I find my parents still.

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In three weeks, I'll be arriving in Suffolk--visiting my motherland for the first time since my mother's death. What will I find? Will the church bells be loud with her absence or resonant with her presence? Will the oaks in Christchurch Park, the Lebanon cedars, the arboretum, whisper to me of loss or of enduring connexion?

I travel there knowing that my mother is gone. I miss everything about her--the humour, the cheerfulness, the wisdom, the occasional acerbic comments, the dementia wackiness. Her departure leaves a gap that can never be filled. You only have one Mum. Yet I know that, though their physical presence is gone, neither she nor my father can truly be dead, for they live in me. They have given me so much more than chromosomes, for they nurtured my gifts and sowed the seeds of the neuroses that bring me growth.

When I stand by the estuary to watch the ships come in, my father is there, teaching me how to predict the wind and weather. When I hike in the mountains, he is there, reminding me to look back and take a mental photo, so I will find my way on the return journey. When I look at the forest, he is there, showing me that trees are not just green but also indigo, turquoise, silver, red, gold and black. What paint colours must I select to capture this view?

And Mum--she is there in every pot of soup I make, every batch of chutney I stir, every story I tell. She inspires my life as a doctor, reminding me every day to offer my gifts to the world, but she also permeates my most private and intimate life--she, the woman who defined for me what a woman is. When I look in the mirror, I see her eyes; when I breathe, I feel her breath.

In the person I am today, I see my father, the quiet, introverted artist and also my mother, the lively, outgoing doctor and public speaker. Though I miss my parents deeply and feel the loss of them every day, I know that they live on--in me, in my siblings, in their grandchildren, in all whose lives they have touched.

My parents loved Boulder, the Flatirons, Eldorado Canyon, Peaceful Valley and Wild Basin. The places I know and cherish are their special places too. But soon I'll be traveling from the home I've found in the Western United States to the place they brought me to as an eleven year old, the provincial town where they made a home for us and where they lived, worked and loved for over fifty years. What will I experience, how will it be? Will the journey bring tears, joy or both? Walk with me and we shall see.

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Where do the dead go? This question is as old as humankind. As children we used to visit Sutton Hoo, where an Anglo-Saxon king was buried in his ship, perhaps to sail to the next world, accompanied by all kinds of treasure. While some think consciousness ends with death, many of us intuit that our loved ones are still available to us even after physical death. Though subtle and not-so subtle signs, they reach out to let us know they are still here and still care.

Yesterday I received the first real message from my mother. It was Sunday evening, and after a relaxing day enjoying the late autumn sun and last golden leaves, I had jut gone into the bedroom to fold and sort laundry. Sadananda was cleaning the kitchen and I noticed he was listening to a radio programme on KGNU, our local station, which sounded interesting, so I turned on the last five minutes of it. The show seemed to be talking about coming to terms with death of loved ones and remaining inspired by them.

Suddenly my ears pricked up. The show was going to conclude with a poem written by Henry Scott-Holland, Canon of St Paul's Cathedral in London. Now my mother was a London child and St Paul's was the centre of her world throughout her childhood and girlhood. She described to me how each morning, after a night of bombing, she and her parents would go out to look and see if St Paul's was still standing. As long as it was, they were alright. And Mum was a devout Anglican throughout her life. So I could see very clearly that if I had just more-or-less randomly turned the radio on and immediately there was going to be a message from St Paul's Cathedral about death, this was something Mum really wanted me to hear. And here it is.

Death is nothing at all

I have only slipped away into the next room

I am I and you are you

Whatever we were to each other

That we are still

Call me by my old familiar name

Speak to me in the easy way you always used

Put no difference into your tone

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow

Laugh as we always laughed

At the little jokes we always enjoyed together

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was

Let it be spoken without effort

Without the ghost of a shadow in it

Life means all that it ever meant

It is the same as it ever was

There is absolute unbroken continuity

What is death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind

Because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you for an interval

Somewhere very near

Just around the corner

All is well.

Nothing is past; nothing is lost

One brief moment and all will be as it was before

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Canon Henry Scott-Holland, 1847-1918, Canon of St Paul's Cathedral

From, 'The King of Terrors', a sermon on death delivered in St Paul's Cathedral on Whitsunday 1910, while the body of King Edward VII was lying in state at Westminster:

Published in Facts of the Faith, 1919

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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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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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What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

TS Eliot, Little Gidding, Four Quartets.

On New Year's Eve 2008, my father, Peter Daniel Hudis, breathed his last. It was a fitting time for his life to culminate. Dad had always loved New Year's. He enjoyed singing "Auld Lang Syne," listening to the ships sounding their sirens in the port and first-footing across the threshold with a lump of coal. He loved the sense of adventure and freshness that each New Year of his long life brought. After sitting with his body for some time, I left the ward, together with my siblings. As we exited the hospital into the car park, the sky lit up with celebratory fireworks. Church bells pealed through frosty air. It was the stroke of midnight and a new year was beginning in joy and loud cheering. Never before had I felt so strongly the words embroidered by Mary Queen of Scots while in prison before she was beheaded-- " In my end is my beginning."

That frosty night was not my father's first encounter with Yama, the Lord of death. My parent's love story was a remarkable one, not simply because it played out against the backdrop of the London blitz, nor even because relationships between Jews and Christians, such as theirs, were rare and frowned upon at the time. At seventeen, shortly after meeting my mother, my father was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis and sent away to a sanatorium. There was no cure for tuberculosis in 1942, and after some months, he was sent home to die. But love healed what no medicine could. Sixty-six years, four children, five grandchildren, many mountain peaks and a golden wedding anniversary lay ahead before he did indeed die, as each of us must.

My father's time in the sanatorium was a sojourn in the halls of death. He was given the job of pushing the library trolley from ward to ward, a chilling experience that offered him a weekly glimpse of what lay ahead of him, as he visited the wards full of more advanced cases. This time in the hall of Yama, together with the daily brushes with death he had experienced in London during the Battle of Britain, made my father resolve to live his life in the cause of peace, raising children who would advance peace in the world.

The Katha Upanishad opens with the story of a youth, Nauchiketas, who, like my father, takes a journey into the halls of death. Nauchiketas' father, in a fit of temper, gives his son away to Death. Winning three boons from Yama, Nauchiketas takes Death as a teacher of the ultimate meaning of life. Indeed, it is death that endows life with meaning. In his short story "The Immortal," the existentialist author Luis Borges explores the theme of physical immortality. The abyss of endless time reduces life to meaninglessness and ennui, for without death there is no freedom and no choice. Endless time, like a vast desert, engulfs the capacity to choose. The value of anything I choose in this brief and mortal existence rests on the fact that time is finite, so choice has value. My life has a limited number of years, so if I spend those years with you, that choice has meaning. My day has a limited number of hours. If I spend an hour with you, it has meaning, because I chose this over other things. The finitude of our life, the fact of our mortality, offers us the invitation to make meaningful choices.

Taking Death as his teacher, Nauchiketas discovers faith, shraddha, not in the sense of belief in theological postulates, but in Paul Tillich's sense of Ultimate Concern.

O brother, o sister

Don't waste this precious human life

On idle pleasures and futile cares!

Fame and wealth mean nothing when you die.

You can't bring with you even one needle.

This life will vanish like a dream

Or like the clouds before the rising sun.

Nobody knows when death will come

So take the Holy Name while you can

And do a little kindness every day

Yes, do a little kindness every day.

Underlying this short poem is a story of the great Jewish teacher, the Bal Shem Tov. One day, the Bal Shem Tov was informed that one of his devotees, a merchant, was on his deathbed. When the rebbe arrived, he found the dying man busy running his business, instructing his sons about day-to-day details. The Bal Shem approached the man. " I need your help. Remember your old friend who died a few weeks ago? I saw him in a dream. There's a problem. He has a tear in his shroud and can't enter the World to Come. Since you will be passing over yourself soon, would you bring him a needle?"

" But Rebbe, you know I can't!"

" If you can't even carry a needle with you, why worry about all this?"

The grave of the great poet TS Eliot carries a twofold inscription. In my beginning is my end and in my end is my beginning. In my beginning is my end refers to mortality, to the fact of death and impermanence. As the Buddha said, all compounded entities must decay. Strive on with diligence. Our body is a compounded entity and so must die. Yet as we have seen, it is our very mortality that endows our span on Earth with meaning. Choice is the gift of Yama. In the halls of Yama, diagnosed with a fatal and incurable illness, my father chose life and love. Having sought and found meaning in the jaws of death, he lived his life with a passion and thirst for adventure and exploration and a profound understanding of how to walk in ways of peace and guide his offspring in these ways.

In the Katha Upanishad, Nauchiketas first has to make a very important choice--to choose his three boons. His first boon is the one any child in his position might ask for. He wants his father to be happy and reconciled with him. For his second boon, he asks to learn specific rituals that will lead to Heaven. But for his final boon, Nauchiketas asks Yama to answer the ultimate question. What happens when we die? Yama tries in every possible way to put the boy off. He offers him fabulous wealth, luxuries, vast lands, even kingship. But Nauchiketas points out that all these things are impermanent and here, in the Halls of Death, have no meaning. He insists upon the boon he has chosen--to know the meaning of death and hence of life.

And the answer Death gives is simple. There is a fundamental choice in life--a choice between the good and the pleasant. By choosing his final boon, Nauchiketas has already made this choice. We make this choice in a big way once in our lifetime, by choosing to step on the spiritual path. Having made this choice, we will be held to it. If we step off the path, we will be guided back. But we also face this choice in myriad small ways throughout each day. It takes constant discrimination to choose the good, to examine each possibility and ask, "Does it benefit?"

In my beginning is my end leads us to question, as Nauchiketas did, what happens when we die. Who is it that dies? Who am I? In my end is my beginning is the answer to this question. Yama says to Nauchiketas,

The self is never born, never dies. He sprang from nothing, and nothing sprang from him. He is the Unborn, the Eternal, the Abiding, the Ancient one. He is not slain when the body is slain.

As Jesus said, Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. If we understand that when Jesus says 'for Me' he refers to the Eternal Self, he is clearly saying In my end is my beginning. We let go of our clinging to this temporary life, destined to end in death, and enter into our true identity as the one who is never born and never dies.

Yama goes on,

Smaller than the smallest, greater than the greatest, the Self abides in the heart of every being.

All the endings in life are so painful for us. Birth is a joyful occasion, but it ends our womb life in pain and struggle. Weddings too are seen as joyful occasions, yet many tears are shed at weddings, because the new beginning also brings an ending. The dawn of a New Year brings the Old Year to an end as we realize that all it held is just a memory. Death is perceived as a sorrowful event, yet it is a birth into a new reality.

Our experience of pain in endings comes from our deep-rooted identification with temporary things and our ephemeral body. We forget, again and again, That which abides in the heart of everything. Knowing the Self, bodiless among bodies, the abiding among the ephemeral... the wise man does not grieve, says Yama.

Die before you die and be resurrected now! These profound words from Rumi remind us that we do not need to wait for our bodily death to find the new, transcendent beginning contained within our ending. Every day, life offers us fresh invitations to transcendence. For some, as for my father, a life-threatening illness evokes meaning and transcendence, calling upon us to let go of our identification with that which dies. Or perhaps the death of a friend of similar age comes as a reminder that we too will die--unless we enter into That which does not die. I always enjoy my birthday, a few days before the winter solstice, as an occasion to gather with friends and experience warmth and light on a dark evening. Yet with each birthday, life's ending draws closer. So a birthday brings a very special gift, a card from the cosmos saying "Resurrection now!"

At the ending of each day we enter into sleep, the little death. In the sacred moments between waking and sleeping, we have a unique opportunity to direct our minds towards the Dweller in the heart. We sleep, but That does not. The Self remains ever wakeful, conscious and aware. And as day dawns, we are resurrected from the sleep state to the waking state. The sun rises, calling us not just to wake up, but to Awaken. That radiant being in yonder sun, soham asmi--I myself am that, as Isha Upanishad says.

Life and death offer invitations, yet it is up to us to respond. The practice of meditation helps us learn to read the invitation and gain the skills to respond through moment-to-moment awakening. In our meditation, we are choosing to die before we die. We let go of our activities and set aside time to do nothing. The past and the future keep beckoning us, with all the agendas and notions that make up our temporal identity. Yet we bring ourselves back, again and again, to this moment, this breath. We see that each breath dies into the next as day dies into night and night into day. With each day, with each sitting, with each conscious breath, we die before we die and are resurrected now. As Nauchiketas leaves the halls of death alive, awake and enlightened, we awaken, moment by moment into the new beginning that is beyond all endings. In this body, in this life, without any fanfare or grandiose experiences, but with ease, gentleness and simplicity, we pass beyond the sphere of death into the immortality that was and always is our true nature.

We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

TS Eliot, East Coker, Four Quartets.

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Reflections on Turning Sixty

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Reflections on Turning Sixty

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Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: 

The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,  

Hath had elsewhere its setting,           

And cometh from afar.

 

Sixty years ago, I was born into a Postwar Britain of bombsites, rationing and austerity. Neighbours dropped by to borrow sugar and stayed for a 'cuppa' at the kitchen table. Toys and furniture were scarce, optimism abundant. My parents wanted a child who would bring peace to a war-torn world and tell the next Hitler where to go. Their innocent aspiration invoked a tiny freckle-faced Tara.

 

This intention to benefit all beings,

Which does not arise in others even for their own sake,

Is an extraordinary jewel of the mind,

And its birth an unprecedented wonder.

 

 When I was ten, the Cuban Missile crisis erupted. I didn't expect to see eleven. That October Sunday, we sat around the television, watching Russian ships approach Cuba, waiting for JFK to press the button. Mutual Assured Destruction. Slowly, the ships turned.  I saw a world reborn, a hope renewed.

Morning has broken,

Like the first morning

Blackbird has spoken,

Like the first bird.

 

At seventeen I read On the Beach, post Nuclear Holocaust novel, watched Children of Hiroshima, learnt about ICBMs. It seemed impossible that I would live to be twenty. I would be turned into a shadow, only that. Adult insanity ruled.

 

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

 

Today I celebrate sixty years in a world on the brink. Sixty years of adult insanity. Nuclear weapons, My Lai massacre, Chernobyl, TMI, Fukushima, global warming, Age of Stupid, species extinctions, African famines, gulf oil spill, Twin Towers, Afghanistan, Iraq--war and still more war. Sixty years, waiting to be turned into a shadow. Sixty years, yearning for peace. And still my spirit is strong.

 

Drinking a cup of green tea

I stop the war.

 

 I have seen that all faith traditions are true and good and all religions tainted with misogyny and fear of fleshly lusts. Fear drives adult insanity. Fear turns us into shadows, with or without a nuclear holocaust. I have seen that life can be rich and full, even on the brink. I have seen that joy abides in all, beneath the horror, beneath the pain, beneath the fear, for joy is our true nature.

 

From joy all beings come

By joy they live

And unto joy they all return.

 

 

I have learnt that simplicity, contentment and humble pleasure are revolutionary acts capable of transforming the world. And I have seen that Eros, a much-maligned god, deserves a place of honour in my pantheon.  He gives much more than sexual ecstasy. He imbues my life with all-embracing love and transcendent passion, colouring everyday things with his radiance. Eros will never allow me to be turned into a shadow.

 
To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand  
And Eternity in an hour.
 
 

As a teenager I made friends with Roman pagan poet Horace, translating his poetry and even visiting his house in the Aniene valley. Horace has walked with me ever since, tapping me on the shoulder when I sip a glass of water--how good it tastes!--or wander round the garden--see the flowers, feel the warmth of the sunlight, smell the fragrance, pluck today!

 

Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.

Don't trust tomorrow's bough for fruit

Pluck this, here, now!

 

For decades I have studied Vedanta, Hinnayana, Mahayana, Tantrayana, Kabbalah, Hasidut, Sufism, Taoism and the Desert fathers. The essential teachings of all mystic traditions are summed up in a hymn I learnt in St Mary's Infant School.

 

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.

 

Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Make our earth a Heaven,
Like the one above
.

 

In sixty years, I have learnt that this world, with its pains, its wars, its catastrophes, this world on the brink, is the birthplace of compassion, the ground of tenderness. And I have come to know that the greatest treasure we can possess is the human heart, in all its love, in all its sorrow, in all its pathos, for the human heart is where time meets eternity.

 

The clouds that gather round the setting sun

  Do take a sober colouring from an eye 

 That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;

  Another race hath been, and other palms are won. 

 Thanks to the human heart by which we live, 

 Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, 

 To me the meanest flower that blows can give 

 Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

 

 69761_490531118152_98478258152_5948195_778327_n.jpg

 

 Related Posts:

http://www.alandiashram.org/mas_blog/2011/12/remembering-st-marys-infant-sch.html

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